Deshaun Watson suspended by NFL for sexual misconduct

Deshaun WatsonThe Cleveland Browns quarterback, accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct during a massage treatment, was suspended for six games Monday for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. but was not penalized, according to two people familiar with the ruling that had no jurisdiction. to speak publicly.

As a condition of his recovery, Watson was also instructed to use only club-approved massage therapies during club-directed therapy sessions, for the duration of his career, a one of them said.

The ruling was made by Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge co-appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association to oversee player discipline. Leagues and players’ unions have three business days to submit a written appeal, which will be resolved by Commissioner Roger Goodell or someone of his choice. Players’ Union said in a statement on Sunday night – before Robinson informed both parties of his decision – that it would not appeal and called on the union to give the ruling.

In a statement, the NFL left the door open to appeal the decision, saying it “will be determined on the next steps” and thanking Robinson for her “diligence and professionalism.”

The NFL Players Association was not immediately available for comment.

The ruling comes after a 15-month investigation into allegations that Houston Texans defender Watson committed sexually compulsive and lewd acts against women he hired to cool- away from the fall of 2019 to March 2021. Watson denies the allegations and Grand jury in two Texas counties refuses to charge Watson criminally.

The breadth of the charges against Watson sets this apart from any other case of individual conduct that has been reviewed by the league, at a time when the NFL is facing increased scrutiny over the alleged abuse. deal with women. Watson’s disciplinary decision is also highly anticipated, in part because of the substantial investment the Browns have made in him, trading top draft picks to obtain his services and then awarded him a 5-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract to be their franchise quarterback. .

A rising star in the NFL, Watson is also the most famous player to be investigated for sexual misconduct since Pittsburgh Steelers defender Ben Roethlisberger was given a six-game ban in 2010 after being banned. accused of sexual assault of a 20-year-old college student after an encounter in a bar in Georgia. Like Watson, Roethlisberger, whose punishment was reduced to four games, was not charged.

Watson reached settlements with all but one of the 24 women who filed civil lawsuits against him. 20 lawsuits were settled in June, and shortly before Robinson delivered his verdict, Watson reached settlements with three other women, including Ashley Solis, the licensed masseuse filed The first lawsuit against Watson was filed in March 2021, an attorney for the women confirmed.

Among the acts prohibited under the federation’s individual conduct policy are sex crimes, acts that endanger the safety and well-being of others, and any conduct that undermines the integrity and well-being of others. integrity of the union. The policy is intended to hold union representatives to a “higher standard”, regardless of how cases are heard elsewhere.

The union and Watson’s representatives were unable to negotiate a mutually agreed discipline, leaving the case in the hands of Robinson. She oversaw a three-day hearing in late June in which the NFL recommended that Watson be suspended indefinitely and must wait at least a full season to reapply, while the union and representatives Watson’s representative argued against an extended ban.

This is the first NFL case of individual conduct handled by a disciplinary officer instead of Goodell, a protocol established in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement. In light of Robinson’s decision, the union called the new process is impartial and legal while begging the NFL not to ask Goodell or his designee to supersede her ruling on appeal. The CBA gave Goodell the final word.

The decision was made when scrutiny of the NFL’s treatment of women included congressional inquiry into workplace treatment of female employees at Washington Command and warnings from attorneys general in six states, including New York, that they will investigate the union unless the union addresses allegations of harassment of women and minorities at the workplace.

The NFL has been under the microscope for what has been deemed inconsistent in the way it delivers discipline.

In 2014, after Goodell was criticized for his handling of the suspension, The NFL has created its own investigative unit systematize the handling of cases related to allegations of violence against women. However, the federation has struggled to find a uniform way to try these cases because each case has its own complications, especially when no criminal charges have been brought. This has led critics, including NFL owners at times, to argue that Goodell and the penalties the league has introduced are erratic.

In 2017, Dallas Cowboys Run Again Ezekiel Elliott is suspended for six games based on assault allegations dating back to his college days, leading to questions about the union’s jurisdiction over the case. New York’s giant striker Josh Brown originally suspended one game turned out to be based on inadequate evidence of domestic violence. When the federation reviewed the incident, they suspended Brown for six more games.

In contrast, last year’s Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for at least one season to bet on NFL games.

Watson’s case, too, presented unique challenges: Two grand juries denied charges, but The New York Times report suggests that Watson’s use of massage therapies and his questionable behavior is much broader than is known. The number of allegations and disclosures has increased scrutiny of the case and led to many calls for a substantial penalty.

“Six games are boring,” said Helen Drew, who teaches sports law at the University of Buffalo.

Drew added that while the NFL may want to seek a longer suspension, it will have to appeal the decision to Goodell. That could lead to allegations that the commissioner was in conflict and could lead to challenges from the union and Watson’s representation in federal court.

NFL started the Watson investigation in March In 2021, when the first lawsuits by the accusers are filed. Union investigators, who do not have the authority to subpoena, met with 10 women who had filed the lawsuit, contemporary witnesses to verify their accounts, and other women who had worked with Watson .

An elite talent, Watson requested a trade from Texas after the 2020 season as Houston struggled with a 4-12 record. He was dealing with the Browns in March, after a grand jury in Texas refused to charge him criminally, for three first-round picks and three additional picks in the NFL draft. A grand jury in another county also decided not to bring charges against Watson.

The Browns predict Watson will be suspended for at least part of the 2022 season and structure his contract accordingly, putting most of his $46 million compensation for this year into signing bonuses. He will lose only a portion of his roughly $1 million base salary.

Watson can continue to train with the Browns in training camp. Pending any potential appeal, his suspension will begin with the Browns’ first regular game on September 11 against the Carolina Panthers and he will be eligible to return for the game. Saturday’s play by the Browns, against the Baltimore Ravens, on October 23.

By the time Watson was eligible to return from suspension, it had been about 22 months since he last played in an NFL game.

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