Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage treatments, was suspended Monday for six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy and has not been fined, according to a person familiar with the lawsuit. He is not authorized to speak publicly.
The NFL and NFL Players Association did not immediately return calls for comment.
The verdict was delivered by Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge who was jointly appointed by the NFL and the players’ union to oversee player discipline. The league and the players’ union have three business days to file a written appeal, which will be dealt with by Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person of his choice. The players’ union said in a statement Sunday evening – before Robinson informed both sides of its decision – that it would not appeal and called on the NFL to allow the referee to stand.
By the time Watson becomes eligible to return from suspension, it will have been about 22 months since he last played in an NFL game.
The ruling comes 15 months after an investigation into allegations that Watson, then a quarterback of the Houston Texans, engaged in coercive and sexually profane behavior towards the women he hired for massages from fall 2019 through March 2021. Watson denied the allegations. Juries in two Texas counties refused to bring criminal charges against Watson.
Watson reached settlements with all but one of the 24 women who brought civil lawsuits against him. Twenty cases were settled in June, and shortly before Robinson issued her ruling, Watson reached agreements with three other women, including Ashley Solis, the licensed massage therapist who filed the first lawsuit against Watson in March 2021, the women’s attorney confirmed.
Deshaun Watson’s disturbing behavior
The Cleveland Browns quarterback has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage treatments.
Among the behaviors prohibited under the league’s Personal Conduct Policy are sexual offenses, acts that threaten the safety and well-being of another person and anything that undermines the integrity of the association. The policy aims to place the people who represent the association “at a higher level,” regardless of how cases are adjudicated elsewhere.
The Browns made a major investment in Watson, trading top draft picks for his services and then signing him to a five-year, $230 million fully-guaranteed contract to be the franchisee quarterback. An elite talent, Watson requested a deal from Texans after the 2020 season when Houston struggled for a 4-12 record.
He traded Brown in March, after a Texas grand jury denied him criminal charges, for three first-round picks and three additional picks in the NFL draft. Another grand jury also chose not to indict Watson.
League representatives and Watson were unable to negotiate a mutually agreed discipline, placing the initial decision in Robinson’s hands. She oversaw a three-day hearing in late June, during which the NFL recommended that Watson be suspended indefinitely and asked him to wait at least a full season to reintroduce, while representatives of the union and Watson argued against the extended ban.
It was the first personal conduct issue in the NFL to be heard by a discipline officer in place of Goodell, a protocol created in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement. Prior to Robinson’s decision, the federation described the new process as impartial and legitimate while appealing to the NFL not to Require Goodell or his designee to override its judgment on appeal.
The decision on Watson’s discipline was widely anticipated, not only as a result of Brown’s investment in him, but because the breadth of the allegations against Watson set this apart from any other personal conduct issue considered by the league. The decision comes as scrutiny of the NFL’s treatment of women has included a congressional investigation into the workplace’s treatment of female employees in Washington leaders and a warning from attorneys general in six states, including New York, that they will investigate the league unless addressed. Allegations of workplace harassment of women and minorities.
The NFL began its investigation into the Watson case in March 2021, when the first defendants’ lawsuits were filed. League investigators, who have no subpoena power, met with ten of the women who had filed lawsuits against Watson, contemporary witnesses to verify their accounts and other women who worked with Watson.
Brown expected Watson to be suspended for at least part of the 2022 season and structured his contract accordingly, charging most of his $46 million in compensation for the year into a signing bonus. He will only lose a portion of his base salary of approximately $1 million.
Watson can continue to work with the Browns during bootcamp. Pending any potential appeal, his suspension will begin with the Browns’ first regular game on September 11 against the Carolina Panthers and he will be eligible to return for the Browns’ seventh game, against the Baltimore Ravens, on October 23.