Independent disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson ruled Monday that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should be suspended for six games in the 2022 season, according to multiple reports. The suspension stems from allegations that Watson committed multiple acts of sexual harassment during massage therapy sessions.
Twenty-four women filed civil lawsuits against Watson seeking damages for their experiences with him. To date, Watson has settled 20 of those lawsuits, leaving four pending. Thirty women also accused the Texans for triggering Watson’s alleged sexual harassment. The Texans have settled in with all 30 women. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson, which is not unusual in sexual assault cases. The grand jury in Texas is closed and there is no way to know what evidence prosecutors chose to present. Watson has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Watson’s disciplinary hearing with the league began on Tuesday, June 28, and was presided over by retired federal judge Sue Lewis Robinson. Robinson was appointed as the league’s disciplinary officer jointly by the NFL and the NFLPA, under the current collective bargaining agreement.
Under the current CBA, Watson and the NFLPA had three days to appeal the decision in writing to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Prior to the decision, the NFLPA and Watson announced that they would abide by the arbitrator’s decision. The NFL announced Wednesday that it will appeal the decision. According to Judy Bautista of NFL.comthe league is seeking a full season suspension for Watson.
According to Rob Maaddi at the Associated Pressleague sources suggested the NFL was initially pushing for a minimum one-year suspension for Watson, while Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, and his legal team were – unsurprisingly – pushing for no suspension.
Maaddi also indicated that the league would be willing to consider a shorter suspension of six to eight games simply to avoid the appeals process.
More: I’m also told the NFL, despite insisting on an indefinite suspension, wants to avoid the appeals process — the source said “a terrible situation for everyone involved” — so the league is more likely to comply decision by Sue Robinson, AN returned with 6-8 games.
— Rob Maaddi (@RobMaaddi) June 28, 2022
The NFL has been inconsistent in disciplining players accused of domestic violence or sexual assault, starting with the two-game suspension of former Ravens wide receiver Ray Rice, who was caught on video punching his then-fiancee, knocking her unconscious her. The league faced backlash for suspending Rice for just two games, and its response was to suspend Rice indefinitely. After that, the NFL instituted a six-game suspension as the basis for players who committed sexual assault or domestic violence.
But the league rarely sticks to that baseline. In 2016, Giants shortstop Josh Brown was suspended for one game after being arrested for domestic violence against his then-wife. It was later revealed that the Giants were aware of Brown’s extensive history of domestic violence.
And the list goes on. Jameis Winston was suspended for three games for allegedly sexually assaulting an Uber driver. Greg Hardy allegedly tried to strangle a woman and threw her on a futon covered in guns, and the NFL reduced his initial 10-game suspension to just four games. It happened before the NFL established the six-game baseline, but Ben Roethlisberger served just a three-game suspension in 2010 after being reliably accused of sexual assault.
Watson signed a five-year, $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns. after the Texans were courted by the Browns, Panthers, Saints and Falcons everyone is looking to trade for Watson. According to Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing Watson’s accusers, zero groups have attempted to speak with any of the women to learn more about their experiences with Watson. The NFL has spoken to a few accusers during its investigation into Watson’s conduct, but Buzbee told SB Nation he got the impression the NFL was just going through the motions.
“I think eight or 10 of my clients, early on, were interviewed by the NFL,” Buzbee said. “And I think we came to the conclusion very quickly that the NFL was not serious about the situation. So I closed this process.”
Further complicating the issue is Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who is facing a season ban for betting on NFL games last season. Ridley placed the bets during his time away from the team to focus on his mental health. The NFL has embraced the sports betting industry in recent years and was reportedly set to implement $270 million from these partnerships last yearbut he still apparently believes that betting on games that a player had no chance to influence is more serious than two dozen credible allegations of serial sexual harassment.
The Browns structured Watson’s contract to make his base salary just over $1 million in 2022, protecting Watson financially from the suspension everyone knew was coming.