The National Football League on Wednesday filed an appeal against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson., NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. Watson on Monday was suspended by retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson, who found that Watson had violated the league’s personal conduct policy after 24 women accused him of sexual misconduct during massage treatments.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will appoint a candidate to hear the appeal, McCarthy said.
In her 16-page report, Robinson described Watson’s behavior as “more outrageous than any previous evaluation by the NFL.”
Robinson’s punishment — her first since being appointed jointly by the league and the NFL players union — was far less than the indefinite suspension of at least one year the league had requested.
So the NFL on Wednesday exercised its right to appeal under the collective bargaining agreement, which allows both the league and the players’ union to challenge the punishment. The NFLPA had announced the day before the decision that it would “support” Robinson’s decision and called on the NFL to do the same.
The players’ union has until the end of business on Friday to respond in writing. The union could challenge the decision on appeal in federal court, setting the stage for a protracted battle.
This is the first time since the signing of the new collective bargaining agreement in 2020 that the league and the NFLPA have turned to a jointly appointed disciplinary official to determine violations of the personal conduct policy. In the past, Goodell has served as judge and jury to hand down punishments to players.
A league official told The Associated Press before Watson’s three-day disciplinary hearing ended in June that the NFL wanted to avoid an appeal.
But the league went ahead with one amid backlash from some fans. Other factors include Watson’s lack of remorse, which Robinson noted in her report.
The NFL argued for an unprecedented punishment and wanted to fine Watson at least $5 million, a person familiar with the discussions told the AP on condition of anonymity because the hearing was private.
Watson, who played four seasons with the Texans before leaving last season and then being traded to Cleveland in March, recently settled 23 of 24 lawsuits filed by women who alleged sexual harassment or assault during massage treatments in 2020 and 2021. Two judges in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints filed by 10 of the women.
Robinson concluded that Watson violated three provisions of the personal conduct policy: sexual assault; conduct that poses a real risk to the safety and well-being of another person; and conduct that undermines or jeopardizes the integrity of the NFL.
He declined to suspend Watson for a full year based on precedent and current league policy. But Robinson concluded that a longer suspension could be justified if it was already outlined in the personal conduct policy.
“While it may be entirely appropriate to punish players more severely for non-violent sexual conduct, I do not believe it is appropriate to do so without warning of the extraordinary change this position portends for the NFL and its players,” Robinson wrote . report.
Watson has continued to practice with the Browns pending the resolution of his case, which has raised questions about the handling of player behavior off the field, inconsistencies in the personal conduct policy and overall support for women.
The Browns have also been in limbo, not knowing when or if Watson will be able to play this season.
Cleveland traded three first-round picks to Houston for the three-time Pro Bowl QB and signed him to a five-year, $230 million contract.
Watson will only lose $345,000 if the suspension stands because his base salary this season is $1.035 million.