On Monday, Watson was suspended without pay for the first six games of this season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy in private meetings with massage therapists while with the Houston Texans.
The NFL had asked Sue L. Robinson, the former judge hired by the NFL and its players’ union, to decide Watson’s punishment, for a suspension spanning the 17-game regular season and the playoffs. No player charged with nonviolent sexual misconduct, as Watson was, has received a suspension of more than six games, Robinson said in her 16-page decision released Monday.
“The NFL has notified the NFLPA that it will appeal Judge Robinson’s disciplinary decision and filed its brief this afternoon,” league officials said Wednesday. “Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal.”
Watson has repeatedly denied the charges.
The NFL Player’s Association has already announced that it will not appeal. The union declined to comment on Wednesday.
CNN has reached out to the Browns for comment.
The attorney for Watson’s accusers says the NFL “doesn’t care about women’s rights” following the Cleveland Browns quarterback’s suspension for sexual misconduct allegations.
Appearing on ESPN’s “First Take” on Tuesday, attorney Tony Buzbee attacked the investigation, saying he hopes the NFL will appeal the case, but his clients are angered and disappointed by the lenient suspension handed down by a disciplinary officer.
“Don’t expect the NFL to do anything heroic here,” Buzbee said.
Two Texas grand juries declined to charge Watson with any crime.
Twenty-four civil lawsuits have been filed against Watson – 23 have been settled confidentially.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, told CNN he would not comment until the NFL decided to appeal.
Judge Robinson said she was suspending the 26-year-old for his “predatory conduct”.
“While this is the largest sentence ever handed down to an NFL player for allegations of nonviolent sexual conduct, Mr. Watson’s behavior is more egregious than any other reviewed by the NFL,” he said. writes Robinson in the 16-page decision.
But, despite those findings, Judge Robinson criticized the NFL for seeking an unprecedented full-season suspension that would be far longer than other players charged with nonviolent sexual conduct.
On Tuesday, Buzbee — the plaintiffs’ attorney in the case against Watson — told ESPN he hopes the NFL will pursue its appeal because the move would be welcomed by the accusers.
“I think it would change the message and I think it would be well received by the women I represent,” he said.
In his closing remarks, Robinson wrote that his decision is limited by the case presented to him by NFL investigators who are former prosecutors with decades of experience investigating sexual assault cases. She noted that Watson had “allegedly worked with more than 60 massage therapists” during the reporting period and that the NFL had “only investigated the claims of the 24 therapists suing Mr. Watson for damages.”
And of the 24, Robinson wrote that the NFL was only able to interview 12 alleged victims. They relied on the testimony of four of the 12 people in the case presented to them for consideration.
Buzbee attacked the way the investigation was conducted.
“None of my clients testified before the federal judge. I think it’s a common misconception that four people testified. That’s not the case. None of them showed up. None of them was invited to come forward and testify,” he said. said. “Since those interviews, we have had no contact with the NFL.
“They care about the bottom line. They care about making money,” Buzbee said on ESPN.
“They’re trying to handle this as a public relations crisis, but as far as trying to do anything to appease these particular women or women’s rights – or address women’s rights in general – it’s not part of their mission statement and they’ve made that very clear throughout this process.”
On Tuesday, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center said it was “disappointed” with the decision to suspend Watson for just six games.
“The 6-game suspension granted dangerously reflects the flaws in our criminal justice systems and sends a serious message to our communities,” the organization said in a statement to CNN on Tuesday. “Far too often, people in positions of power and celebrities who commit violence against others are not held accountable for their actions.
“These ongoing headlines are triggering for so many. To survivors, we say we see you and we believe you. Your story matters. The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is available 24/7/365 online or by calling/texting a Text to (216) 619-6192.”
The decision comes after a number of women who worked as massage therapists filed lawsuits against Watson alleging sexual assault or misconduct during massage sessions. Last month, 30 women who made or intended to make claims against the Texas organization for Watson’s alleged misconduct settled their claims, according to a statement from Buzbee and Texans Property.
Watson, a three-time Pro Bowler, sat out last season while a member of the Houston Texans due to trade demand as well as investigations into those allegations.
Days later, the Browns traded three first-round picks for Watson, then signed him to a five-year, fully guaranteed, $230 million deal, the most guaranteed money in NFL history.
Watson will not be paid during his suspension, but the Browns have structured his new contract so that his base salary is $690,000 his first year and then $46 million for each of the next four years, according to the website. Spotrac Salary Tracker.
CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.