Jake Trotter, ESPN, August 1, 2022
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will serve a six-game suspension without pay but will not be fined for violating the league’s personal conduct policy following accusations of sexual misconduct, disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson ruled Monday.
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.
Robinson wrote in her ruling that the league recommended Watson be suspended for the entire 2022 regular season and postseason.
In relying on precedent, Robinson sought to differentiate between violent and non-violent sexual conduct. Robinson concluded that Watson’s conduct “does not fall into the category of violent conduct that would require the minimum 6-game suspension” which the league had established as “by far the most commonly-imposed discipline for domestic or gendered violence and sexual acts.”
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 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.”
Robinson also found that Watson’s “predatory conduct cast ‘a negative light on the League and its players.’ ”
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.”
Sources close to Watson say they believe six games is too much, but they respect the decision, sources told ESPN’s Dianna Russini.
Watson has been accused of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women. The encounters alleged in the lawsuits took place from March 2020 to March 2021, while Watson was a member of the Houston Texans. One of the 25 lawsuits was dropped following a judge’s ruling in April 2021 that the plaintiffs needed to amend their petitions to disclose their names. In June, Watson settled 20 of the 24 lawsuits he was facing; on Monday, he agreed to settle three of the remaining four, according to Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the women suing Watson.
Buzbee told ESPN’s John Barr that Ashley Solis, the first woman to sue Watson and the first to go public with her name and story, settled her case.
Last month, the Texans reached settlements with 30 women who made claims or were prepared to make them against the organization for its alleged role regarding the allegations against Watson.
Robinson heard arguments from the league, the union and Watson’s attorney during a three-day hearing held in her home state of Delaware in late June. The NFL had been pushing for a suspension of at least a year, while the players’ union and Watson’s attorney argued that the quarterback should not be suspended at all. The sides discussed a potential settlement all the way up through the hearing, but they could not agree to a deal.