Cleveland Browns quarterback, Deshaun Watson has been suspended by the NFL for only six games of the 2022 season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy following accusations of sexual misconduct.
The 26-year-old quarterback was accused of sexually assaulting and harassing dozens of female massage therapists in the Houston area between 2019 and 2021, when he was a member of the Texans.
Watson, who played for four seasons with the Houston Texans before being traded to Cleveland in March, recently settled 23 of 24 lawsuits filed by massage therapists alleging sexual harassment and assault during massage sessions in 2020 and 2021.
In their lawsuits, the women accused Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will. One woman alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
Watson denied all wrongdoing, insisting any sexual activity with three of the women was consensual. He publicly insisted his goal was to clear his name before agreeing to confidential financial settlements with the women on 21 June.
Monday’s ruling came from NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson. The players’ union, in a statement on Sunday night, made it clear that it will “stand by” Robinson’s ruling and urged the NFL to do the same.
Robinson’s comprehensive 15-page conclusion stated that although Watson violated the personal conduct policy, there was not enough evidence to justify an indefinite suspension.
In her report, Robinson wrote that “the NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report. Mr. Watson violated the Policy in this regard.”
The ruling relied on 32 previous suspensions under the league’s personal conduct policy since 2015. In 21 of those instances, the league suspended the player for six games, including the cases of Derrius Guice and Johnny Manziel. Greg Hardy was suspended for four games.
The longest suspension, 10 games for Jarron Jones in 2021, involved a criminal plea and multiple incidents of domestic violence. The two eight-game suspensions of Kareem Hunt in 2019 and Mark Walton in 2020 also took into account multiple incidents of domestic violence.
Robinson ruled that Watson is “to limit his massage therapy to Club-directed sessions and Club-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career, and so [I] impose this mandate as a condition to his reinstatement.”
She also ruled that Watson is “to have no adverse involvement with law enforcement, and must not commit any additional violations of the Policy.”
Watson is eligible to return for the Browns’ Oct. 23 game at Baltimore.
The NFL Players Association, in a statement Sunday night, made it clear that it will “stand by” Robinson’s ruling and urged the NFL to do the same.
The NFL released a statement Monday saying it would determine whether to 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 statement read.
“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.”