BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday the league is seeking a tougher penalty for Deshaun Watson because the quarterback’s actions were “flagrant” and “predatory behavior.”
Last week, the NFL officially appealed Watson’s six-game suspension, which was rendered by NFL Disciplinary Officer Sue. L Robinson earlier this month. At a league meeting called to formally approve the Denver Broncos‘ new ownership group Tuesday, Goodell was asked why the NFL appealed Robinson’s decision and is seeking a suspension of at least a year for the Cleveland Browns strategist.
“We saw the evidence, she was very clear about the evidence, she reinforced the evidence,” Goodell said. “There were multiple flagrant violations and it was predatory behavior.”
Last week, the NFL appointed Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, to hear the appeal of Watson’s suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Goodell said Tuesday he didn’t know when Harvey would make a decision.
Also on Tuesday, Goodell addressed recent sanctions on the Miami Dolphinsteam owners Stephen Ross and vice president/limited partner Bruce Beal which includes the removal of several draft picks, including his 2023 first-round selection, as well as fines for Ross ($1.5 million dollars) and Beal ($500,000).
After a six-month investigation, the league announced last week that the Dolphins violated the anti-tampering policy three times from 2019 to 2022 during conversations with the quarterback. Tom Brady and the agent for then-New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.
The NFL, however, found no evidence the team intentionally lost games during the 2019 season. In February, former Dolphins coach Brian Flores said in his lawsuit alleging racism in sports practices. hiring from the league that Ross had tried to trick him into “tanking up” or deliberately losing games, shortly after he was hired in 2019, Ross reportedly offered Flores $100,000. for every loss this season.
Goodell said Tuesday he specifically addressed the Dolphins sanctions and investigation with owners during the meeting after the Broncos’ new ownership group was officially approved.
“Well, several things, the integrity of the game is critically important,” Goodell said. “I think the results are very clear…and while the tanking clearly didn’t happen here, we all need to understand our words, our actions have implications and we need to be careful.
Robinson issued the six-game suspension in a 16-page report, writing that “the NFL has met its burden of proving, 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.
She also said in the report that Watson had engaged in conduct that posed “a real danger to the safety and well-being of another person, and conduct that undermines or endangers the integrity of the NFL”.
Robinson wrote that the NFL had recommended Watson’s suspension for the entire 2022 regular season and playoffs.
While building on the precedent, Robinson sought to differentiate between violent and non-violent sexual behavior. Robinson concluded that Watson’s conduct “does not fall into the category of violent conduct that would warrant the minimum six-game suspension” that the league had established as “by far the most common discipline imposed for domestic or gender-based violence and sexual acts”.
Robinson also said “Watson’s predatory conduct casts ‘a negative light on the League and its players’.”
Watson has been charged with sexual assault and other inappropriate behavior during massage sessions in civil lawsuits brought by 25 women. The meetings alleged in the lawsuits took place between March 2020 and March 2021, while Watson was with the Houston Texans.
One of the 25 lawsuits was dropped after a judge ruled in April 2021 that the plaintiffs should amend their motions to release their names. In June, Watson settled 20 of the remaining 24 lawsuits. He then agreed to settle three of the other four.