Following an appeal by the NFL, the league and the NFL Players Association have reached a settlement on discipline for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
Watson will be suspended for the first 11 games of the regular season and fined $5 million. He is also required to undergo evaluation and treatment.
Adam Schefter of ESPN added:
Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter
Deshaun Watson has to comply with eval and treatment recommendations of a third-party behavioral expert to be reinstated. His reinstatement is contingent upon his compliance with the treatment plan. If he doesn’t comply, his reinstatement could be delayed, plus further discipline
Watson released a statement through the Browns:
Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam released a statement as well:
Attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the women who have filed civil lawsuits against Watson, called out NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement:
The NFL announced Aug. 3 that it was appealing the six-game suspension handed down by disciplinary officer and former federal judge Sue L. Robinson:
Albert Breer @AlbertBreer
The NFL has appealed Sue L. Robinson’s recommendation of a six-game suspension. Roger Goodell will decide whether he or a designer will hear the appeal.<br><br>Here’s the league’s statement and a note on the process. <a href="https://t.co/tmasBcHIRh">pic.twitter.com/tmasBcHIRh</a>
Per ESPN's Jeff Darlington, the NFL wanted an indefinite suspension of at least one year for Watson and a monetary fine.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reported July 18 that Watson and the NFLPA had decided to file a lawsuit against the NFL in federal court if the QB received a one-year suspension from either Robinson or the league on appeal.
Twenty-five women filed civil lawsuits against Watson between March 2020 and March 2021 accusing him of sexual assault or misconduct during massage therapy appointments while he was with the Houston Texans.
As of July 31, 23 of the 25 lawsuits have been settled, while one was dropped.
Robinson ruled Watson should be suspended six games Aug. 1. The decision came after a three-day disciplinary hearing between the NFL and NFL Players Association from June 28 to 30.
In her 16-page ruling about the decision, Robinson said Watson's "pattern of behavior was egregious" and the NFL's investigation showed Watson committed sexual assault and engaged in "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."
She outlined that Watson should "limit his massage therapy to club-directed sessions and club-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career." The ruling also noted the league only interviewed 12 of the women who filed civil lawsuits against Watson, and "of those 12, the NFL relied for its conclusions on the testimony of four therapists."
In deciding on the six-game ban with no fine for Watson, Robinson noted she was "looking at the record when compared to the relevant precedent, and looking forward to how this disciplinary determination might be used in the future."
When the NFL and NFLPA agreed to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement in 2020, one of the changes made was over how discipline was imposed under the personal conduct policy.
Under the previous system, Goodell was in charge of all rulings. The new policy requires the league to inform a player of a potential violation, and a jointly appointed disciplinary officer decides whether a player is suspended and for how long.
If a suspension is rendered by the disciplinary officer, as happened in Watson's case, the players association and league have the right to appeal. If an appeal is filed, Goodell, or his hand-picked designee, will hear the appeal and have final authority on the discipline.
Prior to Robinson's ruling, the NFLPA issued a statement calling on the union and NFL to "stand by" the decision in the interest of making sure every "player, owner, business partner and stakeholder deserves to know that our process is legitimate and will not be tarnished based on the whims of the League office."
Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley, two of the women who filed civil lawsuits against Watson, publicly discussed their experiences with him during massage therapy sessions in April 2021.
Solis noted during a press conference that Watson "tainted a profession in which I take enormous pride," that she suffers from "panic attacks, anxiety and depression" and has sought counseling "as a result of Deshaun Watson's actions."
Attorney Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey read a letter written by Baxley, who was not present at the press conference. Baxley noted she wrote the letter to Watson at the recommendation of her trauma therapist so he "can know without excuse or justification that you have deeply and irreversibly brought terror to me and others."
In June, Jenny Vrentas of the New York Times reported that Watson scheduled massage appointments with at least 66 women between the fall of 2019 and spring of 2021. Per Vrentas, the Texans indirectly helped to facilitate those appointments by providing Watson with a membership to the Houstonian hotel and club, where he allegedly had some of his massage appointments.
Vrentas also reported that Watson said in a deposition he made some of his massage therapists sign a nondisclosure agreement that had been left in his locker by Brent Naccara, Texans' director of security.
The Texans reached settlements with 30 women who made claims or were prepared to make claims against the organization for allegedly enabling Watson's behavior.
The Browns acquired Watson from the Texans on March 18 and signed the three-time Pro Bowler to a contract extension worth a fully guaranteed $230 million over five years.
Watson's 11-game suspension means he will be eligible to return for the Browns' Week 13 game against the Texans at NRG Stadium on Dec. 4.