NFL has three days to appeal retired federal judge’s findings Sue L. Robinsonwho presided over the disciplinary hearing and rendered the decision.
Robinson ruled there was “sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the NFL’s claim” that Watson sought sexual contact with several massage therapists he contacted through social media.
The quarterback “knew that such sexualized contact was not wanted,” Judge added.
But she questioned the NFL’s desire to bench Watson for all of 2022.
“According to the NFL, if this recommended penalty is unprecedented (as characterized by Mr. Watson and the NFLPA), it is because his conduct is unprecedented,” Robinson added.
“It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unfair to alter penalties for such conduct after the fact.”
The most typical suspensions for acts of domestic violence have been six-game bans, according to Robinson, adding that Watson is entitled to the benefit of certain mitigating considerations.
He is a “first-time offender”, had “an excellent reputation in his community before these events” and has already been sidelined throughout 2021 while these accusations hovered over him, according to the judge.
“Mr. Watson is hereby suspended for six (6) regular season games without pay,” she ruled. “While this is the most significant punishment ever meted out to an NFL player for allegations of nonviolent sexual conduct, Mr. Watson’s behavior is more egregious than any previously reviewed by the NFL.”
The NFL said Monday it is evaluating the decision.
“We appreciate Judge Robinson’s diligence and professionalism throughout this process,” said a league statement says. “In light of his findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a decision on next steps.”
Watson signed a five-year, $230 million guaranteed contact with the Browns in March amid allegations of sexual misconduct in massage sessions involving more than 20 women.
His attorney and representatives for the Browns and the National Football League Players Association could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.
Watson has already missed a lot of time on the court, not playing for the Houston Texans all last season as his legal challenges unfolded and the team tried to exchange it.
Before the suspension was lifted, the National Football League Players Association and Watson said in a joint statement Sunday that they “will stand by its decision” and called on “the NFL to do the same.”
Few, if any, American companies are more closely scrutinized for their handling of incidents of domestic violence by employees than the NFL.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was initially suspended for only two games in 2014 after disturbing surveillance video showed him knocking out his future wife and dragging her body out of an elevator.
The rice was finally suspended indefinitely but the seemingly light initial discipline forced the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to admit“I didn’t quite understand. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
Other notable cases suspensions for domestic violence in recent years have included: Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (six games in 2017), Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (10 matches in 2015) and Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith (four games in 2018).
The lawyer representing the women accusing Watson of misconduct announced confidential settlements in 23 of the 24 civil lawsuits.
“Today I am announcing that all cases against Deshaun Watson, except for four, have been settled. We are working on paperwork related to those settlements. Once we do, those particular cases will be dismissed,” attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement to NBC News.
“The terms and amounts of the settlements are confidential. We will not comment further on the settlements or these cases.
In her statement, Buzbee paid tribute to complainant Ashley Solis, who was the first to come forward and accuse Watson of sexual misconduct. Solis’ case remains one of four outstanding cases.
Buzbee said of the open cases: “Ashley Solis is one of the heroes of this story. Her case is unsettled and so her story and that of the other three brave women will continue. I look forward to trying these cases. in a timely manner, in accordance with the other obligations of the docket and the timetable of the court.
Buzbee declined to speak substantively about any NFL action against Watson.
“I have been asked many times what I think of the NFL process with Deshaun Watson. Although some of my clients have strong feelings about it, I have nothing meaningful to say about this process” , did he declare.
“I said at the beginning that the civil procedure and the disciplinary procedure in the NFL are very different. My role was to advance the case of my clients, in civil court, nothing more.”
Watson’s accusers allege he touched them inappropriately after hiring them as massage therapists and personal trainers.
Two grand juries in Texas declined to press charges against Watson in March. District attorneys in both cases did not specify why the grand juries declined to indict.
Watson has denied any wrongdoing.
His lawyer, Rusty Hardin, said in a statement in June: “Deshaun Watson did nothing wrong. And as two grand juries have made clear, Deshaun did nothing illegal.
“Deshaun always acknowledged consensual sexual activity with three of the complaining massage therapists after the massages. And Deshaun has repeatedly sworn under oath that he did not force any of his accusers to have sexual contact.
Watson, 26, a native of Gainesville, Georgia, and alumnus of Clemson University, has been in the NFL since 2017. Watson had his best season of 2020 with the Texans, leading the league with 4,823 passing yards and 33 touchdowns.
A six-game ban would make Watson eligible to play in the Browns’ Game 7 this coming season on October 23 when Cleveland is set to visit the Baltimore Ravens.
This is a developing story. Please refresh here for updates.