CLEVELAND — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has been suspended for six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The punishment follows accusations of sexual misconduct by two dozen women in Texas during massage treatments, in what the person responsible for reviewing the case called behavior “more egregious than any before.” reviewed by the NFL. »
Watson, who played four seasons with the Houston Texans before being traded to the Browns in March, recently settled 23 of 24 lawsuits filed by women alleging sexual harassment and assault during treatment in 2020 and 2021.
The NFL has three days to appeal the decision of retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson.
“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 previously reviewed by the NFL,” wrote Robinson in the conclusion of his 16-page report.
Even though the only disciplinary action in the collective agreement is a fine or suspension, Robinson demanded as a condition of reinstatement that Watson “limit his massage therapy to club-directed sessions and club-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career.” .
She added that Watson must have “no negative involvement with law enforcement and must not commit additional violations” of the Personal Conduct Policy.
The NFL Players Association has already indicated that it will respect Robinson’s 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 US$5 million for the 26-year-old Watson during a three-day hearing before Robinson in June, AFP told Associated Press two people familiar with the case on the condition of obtaining anonymity because the hearing was not public.
Watson, who signed a fully guaranteed five-year, US$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 not affected by the suspension.
In a statement, the league thanked Robinson for reviewing “the voluminous record that led to its finding of multiple violations of the NFL Personal Conduct Policy by Deshaun Watson.”
“In light of his findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a decision on next steps,” the statement said.
Watson can continue training with the team and play preseason games before his suspension begins, the first week of the regular season. He will be able to return to practice in Week 4 and will be eligible to return on Oct. 23 when the Browns play in Baltimore.
He attended training camp for the Browns. He continued to take most of the rehearsals with the first offensive unit, which will be handled by reservist Jacoby Brissett during his absence.
Two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson over 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 selection with the Texans, Watson saw his playing career tarnished 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.