Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson suspended for 6 games
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will be suspended for six games by the National Football League for breaking the personal conduct policy.
Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam released the following statement on the suspension:
“Throughout this process, Deshaun and his representatives have abided by the newly created and agreed upon process for the NFLPA and the NFL to defer to the objective Judge Sue L. Robinson to comprehensively review all information and make a fair decision. We respect Judge Robinson’s decision, and at the same time, empathize and understand that there have been many individuals triggered throughout this process. We know Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused much heartache to many and he will continue the work needed to show who he is on and off the field, and we will continue to support him.”
Judge Sue Robinson’s ruling was released Monday, and 19 News obtained a copy her decision from the NFL.
** Editor’s Note/Warning: The below document contains graphic details involving sexual misconduct. Viewer discretion is advised. **
Key points in Robinson’s ruling include no additional fine for Watson, and a recommendation he receives future massage therapy only in “Club-directed sessions and [from] Club-approved massage therapists.”
Hearings between the NFL and Watson began June 28.
The NFL and NFLPA mutually selected Robinson, a former U.S. District Court Judge in Delaware for over 25 years, to oversee the disciplinary hearing and provide a ruling on whether Watson breached protocols.
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski reiterated that he supported the process of the investigation in an opening statement to the media late Monday afternoon.
“I’m going to respect Judge Robinson and her opinion,” Stefanski said in part.
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy released the following statement after the suspension was announced:
“We thank Judge Sue L. Robinson, the independent disciplinary officer, for her review of the voluminous record and attention during a three-day hearing that resulted in her finding multiple violations of the NFL Personal Conduct Policy by Deshaun Watson. We appreciate Judge Robinson’s diligence and professionalism throughout this process.
“Pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL or the NFLPA on behalf of Watson may appeal the decision within three days. In light of her findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a determination on next steps.”
Alongside Texas-based attorney Rusty Hardin, Watson was represented during the hearings by Jeffrey Kessler, known for representing the NFLPA for Tom Brady in the “Deflategate” case, Ray Rice, Ezekiel Elliot and Adrian Peterson, among others who challenged disciplinary rulings from the league in the past.
Twenty-four women, all of whom are represented by attorney Tony Buzbee, previously filed civil lawsuits against Watson, who was traded to the Browns in a blockbuster deal with the Houston Texans in March, for alleged sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.
According to a previous report from Jenny Vrentas of the New York Times, the QB met with ‘at least’ 66 different women between the span of 2019 and 2021, including the 24 women who filed lawsuits against him.
Buzbee also filed lawsuits against the Houston Texans organization in connection to Watson’s actions.
The Texans organization previously said in a statement to 19 News they have complied with law enforcement officials and various investigations since 2021.
“We are aware of the lawsuit filed against us today,” the statement read. “Since March 2021, we have fully supported and complied with law enforcement and the various investigations. We will continue to take the necessary steps to address the allegations against our organization.”
The Texans settled the 30 lawsuits filed against them July 15. Despite settling with the 30 women, the organization denied any wrongdoing.
Watson settled 20 of the 24 lawsuits on June 21. Early Monday, Buzbee confirmed that Watson settled three more cases.
“After lengthy and intense negotiations, I can confirm that, late last night, our team resolved three of the four remaining civil cases with Deshaun Watson. We will continue to discuss the remaining case with Watson’s legal team, as appropriate,” the statement said in part. “This case started because one woman had the fortitude to step forward and make her voice heard. Her courage inspired many others with the same experience. None of this saga would have occurred without that one brave voice. One person can make a difference.”
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy previously said the settlements had “no impact” on the disciplinary process at that time.
The league confirmed to Watson, Robinson and the NFLPA that they would be pushing for an indefinite suspension on June 27, according to a report from USA Today.
An indefinite suspension would have given the NFL the flexibility to keep him out for longer based on a variety of factors, including whether more cases surface, the report said.
The report also said Watson declined to accept a 1-year suspension from the NFL in preliminary talks regarding a settlement with the league.
Watson was not criminally indicted after two grand juries in Harris County, Texas reviewed the allegations against him.
Watson and NFL officials met May 17 to begin the process to determine if he broke the league policies.
Watson, who received a fully-guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract from the Browns, denied all allegations of sexual misconduct during his introductory press conference in Berea on March 25.
“I understand the circumstances are difficult, especially for the women fans of this community,” he previously said. “I’m not naïve to that. I know these allegations are very, very serious. Like I mentioned before, I never assaulted any woman, I never disrespected any woman. I was raised by a single-parent mom, who has two aunties as her sisters. That’s who raised me. I was raised to be genuine and respect everything and everyone around me.”
Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam said they felt comfortable with the QB in a press conference shortly after Watson’s arrival to Cleveland.
“We put more time, more thought, more effort, talked to more people, did more research on this decision, by far, than any other decision we’ve made with the Cleveland Browns,” Jimmy Haslam previously said.
Watson continued to retain his innocence in a press conference during the Browns minicamp on June 14, his first media appearance since his introductory press conference:
“Like I said, I just want to clear my name and be able to let the facts and the legal procedures continue to play out. Right now, that is all I am doing is wanting to clear my name and be able to let all of the facts come out in the court of law and be able to focus on that.”
Buzbee also previously said in a comment to 19 News there could be more lawsuits potentially on the way.
We have been referred a very compelling case by a respected lawyer from Atlanta. We expect to file that case in due course. And, we have been contacted by another victim who saw the HBO special and was compelled to come forward. We have vetted other calls but haven’t yet made decisions on any further filings beyond that and will continue to do our due diligence consistent with our ethical obligations. With regard to any impending filings, we will allow the facts of the particular cases to speak for themselves.
The Browns QB room, with the suspension in play, currently consists of Jacoby Brissett at the helm of the offense, now that former starting QB and 2018 No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield is no longer a Brown after being traded to the Carolina Panthers for a conditional 2024 draft pick.
Brissett has previously been named a starting quarterback in the NFL, most prominently after Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck suddenly announced his retirement from the league in 2019.
He threw for 2,942 yards on an 18-4 TD-INT ratio that year.
The NFLPA and Watson released a joint statement saying they would not challenge Robinson’s ruling July 31.
Prior reports indicated Watson’s camp and the NFLPA would be prepared to sue the NFL in federal court if he was suspended by the league for a full season.
The last time Watson played in a game in the NFL was 2020, when he threw for 4,823 yards on a 70.2 percent clip, while throwing 33 touchdowns to seven interceptions for the Texans. Watson did not play a single down for the Texans in 2021.
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