Rob Maaddi, FISM News
Deshaun Watson’s “egregious” and “predatory behavior” toward women forced the NFL to continue seeking a one-year suspension and significant fine, Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the league’s first public comments since appealing an independent arbiter’s decision to suspend the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback six games.
Goodell selected Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, to handle the appeal. There’s no timeline for a decision, but the matter is supposed to be “expedited” per the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.
“Because we’ve seen the evidence,” Goodell said when asked why the league is seeking to increase Watson’s penalty handed down by retired federal judge Sue Robinson. “She was very clear about the evidence. She reinforced the evidence, that there [were] multiple violations here and they were egregious, and that it was predatory behavior. Those were always things we felt [were] really important for us to address and in a way that’s responsible.”
Two dozen female massage therapists accused Watson of sexual assault or harassment while he played for the Houston Texans. He has settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits filed by the women, though he has denied any wrongdoing.
Robinson found Watson guilty of violating the league’s personal conduct policy and also cited his lack of “expressed remorse” in her 16-page report.
The players’ union accepted her decision and declined to appeal the ruling, but the NFL exercised its right to appeal. Goodell had the right to handle it, per the CBA, but passed it to Harvey, who is considered an expert in sexual assault cases.
“Either party could certainly challenge and appeal that and that was something that we felt was our right to do as well as NFLPA,” Goodell said Tuesday at the NFL owners’ meetings in Bloomington, Minnesota. “So we decided it was the right thing to do.”
Harvey has previously worked as an arbiter in league cases. In 2020, he found that former Browns coach Hue Jackson’s arbitration claims against the team couldn’t proceed, because of the release he signed in order to secure his buyout after being fired during the 2018 season. Jackson claimed the Browns incentivized tanking by tying bonuses for the coaches and front office to factors that cut against winning in the short term. Harvey concluded that Jackson had agreed to waive any claims in order to receive ongoing compensation.
The Browns traded three first-round picks for Watson after two separate grand juries in Texas declined to indict him. They gave the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract. Watson’s base salary for 2022 is only $1.035 million. The league is seeking a significant fine of around $8 million.
The NFL also wants Watson to undergo a professional evaluation and treatment as determined by medical experts.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam had little to say about the ongoing appeal while attending the meetings in Minnesota.
“We’ll respect and honor the process,” he told reporters.
The Browns open their preseason in Jacksonville on Friday night. Watson is eligible to play in the game, but Browns coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t reveal his plan.
“We have a framework for how we are going to handle this preseason,” Stefanski told reporters. “As you know, you always reserve the right to change your mind based on how practice goes and those type of things, but we are pretty confident in the plan we have.”
Many teams don’t play their starters, especially quarterbacks, in the early preseason. Tom Brady won’t play for the Buccaneers against Miami in the first game on Saturday. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t played in the preseason for Green Bay since 2018. Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley said he doesn’t plan to use starting quarterback Justin Herbert again this preseason.
Stefanski said Watson will make the trip to Florida.