Rob Maaddi, FISM News
Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension is under review as NFL officials seek far stiffer penalties.
The NFL has appealed a disciplinary officer’s decision to suspend the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback for only six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will hear the appeal, which was filed Wednesday in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association.
The league is seeking an indefinite suspension of at least one year plus a significant fine of up to $8 million, per multiple reports.
Watson was accused by two dozen women in Texas of sexual misconduct during massage treatments while he played for the Houston Texans. He has settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits.
Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge, issued the six-game suspension on Monday, calling Watson’s behavior “more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL” in a 16-page report.
Robinson concluded that Watson violated three provisions of the personal conduct policy: sexual assault, conduct posing a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person, and conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL.
The NFLPA has until Friday to respond in writing to the appeal. The union could then try to challenge the appeal ruling in federal court.
A settlement remains an option, though previous talks didn’t progress.
Per the league’s personal conduct policy, the appeal will be processed on an expedited basis. Also, it will be “limited to consideration of the terms of discipline imposed” and “based upon a review of the existing record without reference to evidence or testimony not previously considered.”
The policy also states the “decision of the Commissioner or his designee, which may overturn, reduce, modify or increase the discipline previously issued, will be final and binding on all parties.”
Before the new CBA was signed in 2020, Goodell had the sole authority to impose punishment for these infractions. The league and the NFLPA jointly appointed Robinson to hear such cases. This was her first case.
The appeal gives power back to Goodell, who can choose someone else to hear the appeal.
The NFL has faced intense public pressure to increase Watson’s suspension since Robinson’s decision was announced.
The Associated Press reported that other factors in the league’s appeal decision included Watson’s lack of expressed remorse, which Robinson noted in her report, the fact he didn’t report the first incident when it happened, and that he wasn’t truthful with the league’s investigators.
Robinson questioned Watson’s testimony in her report, saying: “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 declined to suspend Watson for a full year based on precedents and the league’s current policy. But Robinson concluded a longer suspension could be justified if it was already outlined in the personal conduct policy.
“While it may be entirely appropriate to more severely discipline players for non-violent sexual conduct, I do not believe it is appropriate to do so without notice of the extraordinary change this position portends for the NFL and its players,” Robinson wrote in her report.
The Browns traded three first-round picks to Houston for Watson in March and gave the three-time Pro Bowl QB a five-year, $230 million contract.
Jacoby Brissett will replace Watson as the starter during his absence. Watson has been practicing with the team in training camp amid the uncertainty. The 26-year-old would begin serving any suspension the first week of the regular season.
Based on the way Cleveland structured his contract, Watson would lose only $345,000 if the suspension wasn’t increased because his base salary this season is $1.035 million.