Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson received a six-game suspension and no fine for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy following two dozen lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault, according to multiple reports.
Former federal judge Sue L. Robinson, who was named the disciplinary officer in the case, reportedly handed down the ruling Monday. Watson had recently settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits in Texas in which he was accused of sexual assault, according to the attorney representing the women.
The NFL has not made a decision whether it would appeal the ruling. The league has three days to decide, ESPN reported.
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The league issued a statement later Monday, saying it would take time to make a decision on an appeal.
“We thank Judge Sue L. Robinson, the independent disciplinary officer, for her review of the voluminous record and attention during a three-day hearing that resulted in her finding multiple violations of the NFL Personal Conduct Policy by Deshaun Watson. We appreciate Judge Robinson’s diligence and professionalism throughout this process,” the NFL said in a statement.
“Pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL or the NFLPA on behalf of Watson may appeal the decision within three days. In light of her findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a determination on next steps.”
The NFL Players Association said Sunday it would not appeal the ruling and called on the league to do the same.
“In advance of Judge Robinson’s decision, we wanted to reiterate the facts of this proceeding. First, we have fully cooperated with every NFL inquiry and provided the NFL with the most comprehensive set of information for any personal conduct policy investigation,” the union said in a statement.
“A former Federal Judge — appointed jointly by the NFLPA and NFL — held a full and fair hearing, has read thousands of pages of investigative documents and reviewed arguments from both sides impartially. Every player, owner, business partner and stakeholder deserves to know that our process is legitimate and will not be tarnished based on the whims of the League office. This is why, regardless of her decision, Deshaun and the NFLPA will stand by her ruling and we call on the NFL to do the same.”
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If either side appeal, the terms of the collective bargaining agreement say that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates will make the decision. The union could try to challenge the ruling in federal court.
In June’s hearing, the NFL argued for an indefinite suspension of at least one year and a $5 million fine. The union argued Watson should not be punished at all because he was not convicted of a crime. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges.
The lawsuits alleged Watson would expose himself to female massage therapists, touching them with his penis or kissing them without permission. One woman alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
Watson has denied any wrongdoing throughout the matter and made his stance clear in his introductory press conference after he was traded to the Browns from the Houston Texans.
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“I have never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life,” he said as he sat next to head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry. “I was raised differently. That is not my DNA. That is not my culture. That is not me as a person.”
In July, the Texans settled with 30 women after the team was accused of ignoring concerns and enabling Watson. Terms of the settlement remained confidential.
Watson missed the 2021 season as he initially requested a trade from the Texans. He signed a fully guaranteed five-year contract with the Browns upon joining the team.
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In 2020, he had 4,823 passing yards and 33 touchdown passes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.