The NFL’s appeal of the six-game suspension applied to Deshaun Watson by independent arbiter Judge Sue Robinson is completed. The NFL was reportedly able to reach a settlement with Watson, and the Browns quarterback will serve an 11-game suspension to start the 2022 season and will be hit with a $5 million fine.
The fine will be combined with donations from the NFL and the Cleveland Browns, and the $7 million total will be donated to organizations working to prevent sexual misconduct and assault.
The suspension stems from multiple allegations of sexual misconduct that resulted in civil suits against Watson from 24 different massage therapists he sought massages from over a 17-month period. Reporting from the New York Times revealed that Watson got massages from at least 66 different massage therapists over that time. Sworn statements from the 24 women who filed civil suits against Watson detailed that he contacted them on Instagram to secure their services, he did not show interest in their experience level, qualifications, or even certification, and during the scheduled massages, Watson committed various acts of sexual misconduct and sexual assault.
The NFL completed an investigation, and the league and Watson both had opportunities to present evidence for Judge Robinson to consider while making her decision. Ultimately, Robinson did conclude that the preponderance of the evidence presented by the NFL confirmed Watson committed sexual assault against these women, that his actions did harm to the women impacted by his behavior, and that his actions did harm to the reputation of the National Football League.
Robinson issued a six-game suspension based on the league’s own standards for discipline in cases involving violence against women or children. Judge Robinson noted that this case was unprecedented in the NFL, and she also made note of the lack of remorse Watson has shown for his actions and the impact they’ve had on these women. Robinson noted that she was bound “by standards of fairness and consistency of treatment among players similarly situated,” and in lieu of any similar precedent with NFL discipline, six games was the most fair outcome in her view.
Reports leading up to the decision suggested that the NFL was seeking a minimum one-year suspension. Both parties, under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, had the right to appeal the decision within three days of its issuance. The NFL did choose to appeal, and though Roger Goodell could have heard the case himself, he engaged former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal on his behalf. The two parties were able to reach this settlement, so no decision from Harvey will be necessary.
“We’ve seen the evidence,” Goodell said after the original suspension was announced. “[Judge Sue L. Robinson] was very clear about the evidence, should we enforce the evidence. That there [were] multiple violations here, and they were egregious, and it was predatory behavior. Those are things that we always felt were important for us to address in a way that’s responsible.”
The 11-game suspension is quite a change from the original six-game suspension, and it does send a strong message from the league about Watson’s behavior. But when the Browns traded for Watson, they structured his $230 million contract with just under $700k as his 2022 base salary in anticipation of a suspension. Even with the $5 million fine assessed as part of this discipline, Watson will barely feel any financial impact from this suspension.
Notably, the attorney representing Watson’s accusers confirmed to SB Nation that the Browns did not attempt to speak with any of the women who raised allegations against Watson. Neither did the Saints, Falcons, or Panthers, though all were actively involved in trade negotiations before Watson chose the Browns.
It’s worth mentioning that when Watson’s suspension is served and he’s able to return to the field, he’ll do so just in time for the Browns to face his former team, the Houston Texans, in Week 13 of the 2022 season.
All but one of the women who filed civil suits against Watson have reached settlements with the quarterback. The Texans, Watson’s former team, also reached settlements with 30 women for their role in providing non-disclosure agreements for Watson to have the women sign prior to performing massages on the quarterback.