Browns QB Watson suspended for six video games, NFL weighs attraction

Cleveland Browns winger Deshaun Watson was given a six-game suspension Monday after being accused by two dozen women in Texas of sexual misconduct during a massage treatment, in which a staff member The law states that the conduct is “more serious than any conduct prior to the NFL’s review”.

The punishment was handed down by the game’s disciplinary officer, former federal judge Sue L. Robinson, did not quite get what the NFL had asked for: a public suspension of at least a year for violating the league’s individual conduct policy.

Watson, who played for four seasons with Houston before being transferred to Cleveland in March, recently settled 23 of 24 lawsuits filed by women alleging sexual harassment and assault during the trial. in 2020 and 2021.

The NFL has three days to appeal the decision.

“While this is the most significant punishment ever imposed against an NFL player for allegedly engaging in nonviolent sexual conduct, Mr Watson’s pattern of behavior is more severe than any previous punishment. reviewed by the NFL,” wrote Robinson in the conclusion to his 16-page report.

Although the only discipline in the collective bargaining agreement was a fine or suspension, Robinson requested the rehabilitation condition that Watson “limit his massage therapy to Club-only therapy sessions.” directors and club-approved masseuses” for the rest of his career.

She added that Watson must “have no adverse association with law enforcement and must not commit any further conduct” to the personal conduct policy.

The NFL Players Association said it would abide by Robinson’s ruling. If either party appeals, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee will make a decision, on the terms of the CBA. The union can then try to challenge that ruling in federal court.

The league pushed for a suspension of at least a year and a $5 million fine against 26-year-old Watson during a three-day hearing before Robinson in June, two people familiar with the discussions told The Associated Press on the condition anonymously because the hearing is not open to the public.

The NFL presented a 215-page report based on the testimony of 4 of 12 women interviewed by union investigators and 37 other third parties. Robinson determined, based on the federation’s burden of proof, that Watson violated three provisions of the personal conduct policy: sexual assault; conduct that poses a real danger to the safety and well-being of others; and proceed to undermine or jeopardize the integrity of the NFL.

Robinson noted that the federation admitted at the hearing that its proposed punishment was “unprecedented” and she concluded the NFL should not change its disciplinary standards for nonviolent sexual assault. act without giving fair notice to the player.

“Determining prohibited behavior plays an important role in the rule of law, allowing people to predict the consequences of their behaviour,” she writes. “It is inherently unfair to determine a prohibited behavior only after it has been committed, nor is it inherently unfair to change the penalty for that conduct after it is in fact unfair.”

Robinson dismissed Watson’s denial of wrongdoing and cited his “lack of expression of remorse” as an aggravating factor.

“In terms of mitigating factors, he was the first to commit a crime and had an excellent reputation in the community prior to these events. He has cooperated in the investigation and has paid restitution,” she wrote.

Watson, who signed a fully guaranteed five-year $230 million contract, will lose only $345,000 if the suspension does not change as his base salary this season is $1,035 million. dollars. His $45 million signing bonus is unaffected by the suspension.

In a statement, the federation said it was “considering the imposition of Judge Robinson’s six-match suspension and will make a determination on next steps.”

This is the first case for Robinson, who has been jointly appointed by the NFL and the union to tackle player misconduct – a role previously held by Goodell.

Watson can continue to practice and compete in exhibition games before the start of his suspension in the first week of the regular season. He can return to practice in Week 4 and will be eligible to play on October 23 when the Browns play in Baltimore.

He waved at cheering fans as he and his teammates began a tense period ahead of Monday’s practice session in Berea, Ohio. “We’ve got you, Watson!” shouted one.

After learning of the impending ruling, the NFLPA issued a joint statement with Watson on Sunday night, saying it would not appeal and urging the federation to follow suit. The union argued that Watson should not be punished because he was not convicted of a crime.

Two large juries in Texas have refused to indict Watson on criminal complaints brought by 10 women.

Watson, who three-time Pro Bowl pick with Texas, has seen his playing career stalled by the allegations. He sat out the 2021 season after requesting an exchange before the allegations were made.

In their lawsuit, the women accuse Watson of exposing themselves, touching his penis or kissing them against their will. One woman accused Watson of forcing her to perform oral sex.

Watson has denied any wrongdoing, insisting any sexual activity with three of the women was consensual. He publicly stated his goal was to make his name clear before agreeing to confidential financial deals with 20 women on June 21.

Attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing the women in the civil lawsuit, said: “This case started because one woman was able to step forward and make her voice heard. “Her courage has inspired many others to have the same experience. None of these stories would have happened without that brave voice. One person can make a difference.

Buzbee said that while some of his clients “have strong feelings” about the NFL’s proceedings, he noted that the NFL’s civil process and disciplinary process are “very different.”

Regarding the suspension, Buzbee noted that his legal team was not involved in that process.

“We do not know what was presented to Judge Robinson by NFL attorneys. We don’t know how the NFL’s case is presented,” he said, adding that “only a small fraction of the women we represent have ever been spoken to by NFL attorneys.” In addition, we cannot speculate and do not comment on this decision.”

Watson’s high-profile case has renewed the league’s scrutiny of player misconduct, along with its support for women, and left the Browns wondering if they’ll ever find one. franchise quarterback or not.

Since the transaction, fans have questioned whether the federation has the authority to ban Watson from competing despite the absence of criminal charges.

The federation has been sensitive about its image and took appropriate disciplinary action against Watson after being criticized for his handling of previous cases of domestic violence or sexual misconduct against women. involving Baltimore rerun Ray Rice, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Cleveland rerun Kareem Hunt, among others.

The Browns were widely condemned for signing Watson. The team has struggled to find a long-term answer to midfield – they have had the highest 32 starts in the league since 1999 – and many have questioned why the team would use a player with too much baggage.

At his introductory press conference after being traded to Cleveland, Watson was adamant about his innocence.

“I’ve never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life,” he said at dais, where he was joined by Browns general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski. “I was raised differently. That’s not my DNA. That’s not my culture. That’s not who I am.”

He repeated those remarks three months later at the Browns minicamp. However, a week later, he had settled 20 civil lawsuits. Any remaining lawsuits could still go to trial, but not until 2023 after both sides agreed to wait until after the upcoming season.

On July 15, 30 women settled lawsuits against Texans after claiming the group ignored and activated Watson when he harassed and assaulted them during therapy sessions. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

Despite Watson’s legal entanglement, the Browns and several other teams pursued him after the first grand jury refused to convict him.

Initially, Watson rejected the Browns. But Cleveland owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam enticed him with the richest guaranteed outright signing in league history, up to that point.

Watson had other offers but opted for the Browns and waive his no-trade clause to join a team that was nearing the end of the 8-9 season. Cleveland completed the deal on March 18 by agreeing to send Houston three first-round draft picks and six overall picks to Watson.

An all-American at Clemson, Watson was drafted by the Texan with a 12th pick in 2017. He started six games as a rookie before racking up 4,165 yards and 26 touchdowns. ball in his second year.

Watson has grown into one of the league’s elite QBs, throwing 4,823 yards and 33 TDs in 2020 despite playing on a Texas team 4-12.

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AP Sports writers Tom Withers of Berea, Ohio, and Kristie Rieken of Houston contributed.

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