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Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended without pay for six games on Monday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy following accusations of sexual misconduct brought against him by two dozen women at the Texas, two people familiar with the decision said.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been made public. Watson, who played four seasons with Houston before being traded to Cleveland in March, recently settled 23 of 24 lawsuits filed by women alleging sexual harassment and assault during massage therapy appointments in 2020 and 2021.
The NFL has three days to appeal Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson’s decision. The NFL Players Association has already said it will respect his decision. If either party appeals, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designate will make the decision, in accordance with the terms of the collective agreement. The union could then try to challenge this decision in federal court.
The league had sought an indefinite suspension of at least a year and a fine of at least $5 million for Watson, 26, during a three-day hearing before Robinson in June.
Watson can continue to train and play in exhibition games before his suspension begins the first week of the regular season. He could return Oct. 23 when the Browns play in Baltimore.
Watson, who signed a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract, will only lose $345,000 if the suspension remains unchanged, as his base salary this season is $1.035 million. His $45 million signing bonus is unaffected by the suspension.
After learning the decision was imminent, the NFLPA released a joint statement with Watson on Sunday night, saying it would not appeal Robinson’s decision and urged the league to follow suit.
“Every player, owner, business partner and stakeholder deserves to know that our process is legitimate and will not be tarnished by the whims of the League office,” the union said in a statement.
While awaiting the decision, Watson has been in training camp with the Browns. He continued to take most of the reps with the first-team attack, which will be handled by substitute Jacoby Brissett while he is sidelined.
While the NFL demanded a harsh sentence, the union had argued that Watson should not be punished at all because he had not been convicted of any crime.
Two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson over criminal complaints filed by 10 of the women.
It was the first case for Robinson, a former U.S. district judge jointly appointed by the NFL and the union to handle player misconduct – a role previously held by Goodell.
A three-time Pro Bowl draft pick with the Texans, Watson saw his playing career stymied by allegations he acted inappropriately around women during massage therapy sessions he scheduled via social media. He missed the 2021 season.
In their lawsuits, the women accused Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will. A woman alleged that Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
Watson denied any wrongdoing, insisting any sexual activity with three of the women was consensual. He publicly insisted his goal was to clear his name before agreeing to confidential financial settlements with 20 of the women on June 21.
“This case started because a woman had the courage to come forward and speak out,” said attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing the women in the civil lawsuit. “His courage has inspired many others with the same experience. None of this saga would have happened without this courageous voice. One person can change things.
‘I’ve been asked many times how I feel about the NFL’s proceedings with Deshaun Watson. Although some of my clients have strong feelings about this, I have nothing meaningful to say about this process. I said at the beginning that civil procedure and disciplinary procedure in the NFL are very different. My role was to advance the cause of my clients, before the civil courts_nothing more. I did this. I am extremely proud of these women and the efforts of our legal team. Settlements are confidential. I will not comment on them further.”
Watson’s high-profile case has renewed scrutiny of the league’s handling of player misconduct, as well as its support for women, and left the Browns wondering if they’ll ever find a quarterback. of franchise.
Since the trade, Watson has been exposed to the public, with fans wondering if the league had the authority to ban him from playing despite the lack of criminal charges.
The league has been sensitive to his image and imposed appropriate discipline on Watson after he was criticized for his handling of prior cases of domestic violence or sexual misconduct against women involving Baltimore running back Ray Rice, quarterback Pittsburgh guard Ben Roethlisberger and Cleveland running back Kareem Hunt among others.
For their part, the Browns have been widely condemned for signing Watson. The team is desperate for a long-term answer at quarterback – they’ve had 32 starters, a league-high since 1999 – and many have wondered why the team would face a player with so much baggage.
During his introductory press conference after his transfer to Cleveland, Watson was adamant about his innocence.
“I’ve never assaulted, disrespected or harassed a woman in my life,” he told the stage, where he was joined by Browns general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski. “I was brought up differently. It’s not my DNA. It’s not my culture. It’s not me as a person.’
He repeated those comments three months later during the Browns’ minicamp, insisting his only goal was to clear his name. However, a week later he settled 20 of the civil lawsuits. Any remaining lawsuits could still go to trial, but not until 2023 after both sides agreed to wait until the upcoming season.
On July 15, 30 women settled lawsuits against the Texans after they claimed the team ignored and cleared Watson as he harassed and assaulted them during therapy sessions. The terms of the settlements have been kept confidential.
Despite Watson’s legal entanglement, the Browns _ along with several other teams _ sued Watson after the first grand jury declined to indict him.
Initially, Watson turned down the Browns. But Cleveland owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam lured him in with the richest fully guaranteed contract in league history, up to that point.
Watson had other offers but chose the Browns and waived his no-trade clause to join a team coming off a disappointing 8-9 season. Cleveland completed the deal on March 18 by agreeing to send Houston three first-round picks and six overall picks for Watson.
The Haslams said any concerns they had about his character or behavior were alleviated when they flew to Houston with Berry and Stefanski and spent time talking to Watson.
All-American at Clemson, Watson was drafted by the Texans as the No. 12 pick in 2017. He started six games as a rookie before passing for 4,165 yards and 26 touchdowns in his sophomore year.
Watson has become one of the league’s elite QBs, throwing for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2020 despite playing on a Texas team that went just 4-12.