The NFL is seeking an indefinite suspension of at least one year plus a fine in appealing a disciplinary officer’s decision to suspend Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, a person familiar with the filing told The Associated Press on Wednesday, August 03, 2022.
Deshaun Watson, who played four seasons with the Texans before sitting out last season and then being traded to Cleveland in March, recently settled 23 of 24 lawsuits filed by the women who alleged sexual harassment or assault during massage treatments in 2020 and 2021. Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints brought by 10 of the women.
According to the NFL, 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 league initially recommended an $8 million fine and asked during settlement negotiations for at least a $5 million fine plus a 12-game suspension that never materialized.
The NFL’s appeal gives Commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates authority to impose a stiffer penalty. League spokesman Brian McCarthy said it’s still to be determined whether Goodell or someone else will hear the appeal.
Former federal judge Sue L. Robinson issued her ruling Monday, August 01, 2022, after Watson was accused by two dozen women in Texas of sexual misconduct during massage treatments while he played for the Houston Texans.
In her 16-page report, Robinson described Watson’s behavior as “more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL.” But her punishment fell far short of the NFL’s request. So, the league on Wednesday exercised its right to appeal, per the collective bargaining agreement.
The players’ union has until the end of business on Friday to respond in writing. The union could challenge the appeal ruling in federal court, setting the stage for a prolonged fight. Both sides could still reach a settlement to avoid a lengthy battle. The NFLPA didn’t immediately comment on the appeal.
According to 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.”
This is the first time since the new CBA was signed in 2020 that the league and the NFLPA turned to a jointly appointed disciplinary officer to determine violations of the personal conduct policy. In the past, Goodell has served as judge and jury to impose penalties on players. By appealing, the NFL is giving that power back to Goodell, who can choose another person to levy any punishment.
The league proceeded with an appeal amid backlash from some fans and intense public pressure in the media. Here are some fan reactions to Deshaun Watson’s 6-game suspension penalty:
Sending love to all the women who have to cover this Deshaun Watson ruling today. They’re going to face nonstop abuse from fans who are either upset that his suspension only was 6 games, or thought it should have been longer. Please don’t let these assholes infect your spirit.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) August 1, 2022
Federal Judge: “Deshaun Watson will be suspended 6 games”
Roger Goodell: pic.twitter.com/by56KWQjmE
— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) August 3, 2022
Want to know what is wrong wirh America? Deshaun Watson commits at least 24 known crimes and is free and suspended for 6 games.
Colin Kaepernick exercises his rights as a concerned citizen and is barred from the NFL.
— Bob Muñoz (@bobmunoz) August 2, 2022
Watson has continued to practice with the Browns while awaiting resolution to his case, which has raised questions about the league’s handling of off-field player behavior, inconsistencies in its personal conduct policy and its overall support of women.
The Browns have been in a state of limbo as well, not knowing when or if Watson will be able to play this season. Cleveland traded three first-round picks to Houston for the three-time Pro Bowl QB and signed him to a five-year, $230 million contract.
Watson will lose only $345,000 if the suspension is unchanged because his base salary this season is $1.035 million. Watson didn’t comment to the AP when asked for a reaction to the league’s decision to appeal. He was then escorted inside the Browns’ facility by a member of the team’s security staff.