Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has been suspended for six games without pay for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy amid sexual misconduct allegations against him, a judge has ruled named jointly by the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
“While this is the largest sentence ever handed down to an NFL player for allegations of nonviolent sexual conduct, Mr. Watson’s behavior is more egregious than any other reviewed by the NFL,” he said. writes former federal judge Sue L. Robinson in the 16-page ruling.
The six-game suspension falls well short of the NFL’s request to suspend Watson for at least the entire 17-game season and playoffs. In his decision, Robinson criticized the NFL for seeking an unprecedented full-season suspension that would be significantly longer than other players charged with nonviolent sexual conduct.
“While it may be entirely appropriate to discipline players more harshly for nonviolent sexual conduct, I do not think it is appropriate to do so without notice of the extraordinary change that this position portends for the NFL and its communities. players,” she wrote.
The NFL or the NFL Players Association can now appeal in writing to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell within three business days, in accordance with the collective agreement. Goodell or his delegate “will render a written decision which will constitute a complete, final and complete disposition of the dispute and which will be binding on the player”, according to the agreement.
In a statement, the NFL praised Robinson’s “diligence and professionalism” in the process and said it was considering its next steps.
On Sunday night, the NFL Players Association and Watson released a joint statement saying they would not appeal the decision and asked the NFL to do the same.
The decision comes after a number of women who worked as massage therapists filed lawsuits against Watson alleging sexual assault or misconduct during massage sessions. A total of 24 women have sued the quarterback, and all but one of the cases have since been settled, according to plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee.
Watson, a three-time Pro Bowler, sat out last season while a member of the Houston Texans due to trade demand as well as investigations into those allegations. He has repeatedly denied the allegations against him and said he does not regret any of his actions.
In March, a Harris County, Texas grand jury declined to indict Watson on allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct after determining there was insufficient evidence to charge him with a crime. The incidents were described as “arising from massage therapy sessions,” according to a statement posted on the NFL’s website.
Days later, the Browns traded three first-round picks for Watson, then signed him to a fully guaranteed, 5-year, $230 million deal, the most guaranteed money in NFL history.
Watson won’t be paid during his 6-game suspension, but the Browns have structured his new contract so his base salary is $690,000 his first year, then $46 million for each of the next four years.
In July, 30 women who “made or intended to make claims” against the Texas-based organization over sexual misconduct allegations against Watson settled their claims, according to a statement from Buzbee and a statement released by the property of the Texans.
CNN has reached out to the NFLPA and the Browns for comment.
Robinson’s decision comes after she held hearings into the case for three days in late June and reviewed the 215-page NFL investigation report into Watson’s case, which included testimony from four of the massage therapists. .
The decision states that the NFL has proven by a preponderance of evidence that Watson violated three aspects of the league’s personal conduct policy: sexual assault, conduct that poses a real danger to the safety and well-being of another nobody; and conduct that compromises or endangers the integrity of the NFL.
Robinson also expressed skepticism of Watson’s denial of wrongdoing.
“It is difficult to give weight to a complete denial when weighed against the credible testimony of the investigators who interviewed the therapists and other third parties,” she wrote.
The most common discipline for domestic or gender-based violence and sexual acts is a six-game suspension, and prior instances of non-violent sexual assault, such as with Watson, have resulted in at most a three-game suspension, Robinson wrote. .
She said the league appears to be basing its disciplinary decisions on public outcry, noting the case of former running back Ray Rice. In 2014, the NFL initially suspended Rice for two games for violating the league’s domestic violence policy, but later extended that suspension indefinitely after TMZ Sports released video of the incident; a decision that was eventually overturned by a referee.
“Just as the NFL responded to violent conduct after a public outcry, it appears the NFL is responding to another public outcry regarding Mr. Watson’s conduct,” Robinson wrote. “Here, the NFL is attempting to impose a more sweeping change in its culture without the benefit of fair notice to — and consistency of consequence for — those in the NFL subject to the policy.”
Robinson also asked Watson to limit her massage therapy to team-led sessions and therapists for the rest of her career.
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