CLEVELAND — While Deshaun Watson was initially issued a six-game suspension as the result of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, as it turns out, the Cleveland Browns quarterback isn’t finished with the NFL’s disciplinary process. On Wednesday, the league announced that it will be making an appeal on Watson’s suspension, which was handed out by former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson earlier this week.
"On Monday, Judge Sue L. Robinson, the independent Disciplinary Officer jointly appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association, issued her ruling in the Personal Conduct Policy matter regarding Deshaun Watson," the league said in a statement. "Under the 2020 NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement ('CBA'), the factual findings of the Disciplinary Officer are binding and may not be appealed. Judge Robinson found that Mr. Watson violated the NFL's personal-conduct policy on multiple occasions and suspended him for six games. The CBA affords the NFL or NFLPA the right to appeal the discipline imposed by the Disciplinary Officer. Such an appeal must be filed within three days and would be heard by the Commissioner or his designee.
Although Robinson was jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to serve as the Disciplinary Officer in Watson’s case, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) gives either side the ability to make an appeal, which is then heard by either NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a designee. On the eve of Robinson’s ruling, Watson and the NFLPA released a statement pledging not to appeal Robinson’s ruling, and asking the NFL not to either.
As it turns out, however, the league will ultimately make an appeal, which could result in a lengthening of Watson's suspension and/or a monetary fine. The NFL entered last month’s disciplinary hearing with Watson seeking an indefinite suspension lasting no less than the entirety of the 2022 NFL season.
But while Robinson ruled that Watson violated the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy on three counts, including “Conduct that Qualifies as a Sexual Assault,” “Conduct that Poses a Genuine Danger to the Safety and Well-Being of Another Person,” and "Conduct that Undermines, or Puts at Risk, the Integrity of the NFL,” Robinson also said that she couldn’t justify issuing a suspension longer than six-games based on the precedent of previous cases and the wording of the CBA. She did, however, state in her 16-page ruling that Watson’s pattern of conduct was "more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL."
As for what’s next, per the CBA, any response to the appeal is required to be issued in writing within the next two days. Additionally, the basis of the appeal is required to be limited to the evidentiary record that was established during the disciplinary hearing.
Once the ruling on the appeal is made by Goodell or his designee, the decision is considered binding with no further appeals process. It has been reported that should the NFL appeal Robinson’s ruling, Watson and the NFLPA would sue the league, which could potentially result in an injunction on his punishment being issued.
While last month’s disciplinary hearing focused on just four specific cases, Watson has been sued by 25 women alleging sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault, during his time with the Houston Texans. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback has since settled 23 of his lawsuits, with a 24th having been dropped.
Two Texas grand juries have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges as a result of the accusations. The 26-year-old has publicly maintained his innocence throughout the process.
Last month the Texans, reached settlements with 30 women regarding allegations that they enabled the star quarterback's behavior during his time with the team. In a statement, the Texans said they admitted no guilt in making the settlements.