The NFL appealed the six-game ban from Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson on Wednesday, according to a league spokesperson.
The association appealed the sentence issued Monday by a third-party disciplinary officer as a result of a hearing over accusations that Watson engaged in coercive and sexually obscene behavior towards twenty women he hired as a massage therapist. The NFL is defending an indefinite suspension with the option to restore after a year, according to a person with knowledge of the league’s resumption and not authorized to speak publicly.
The league also recommended a fine and treatment for Watson and cited concerns about his lack of remorse in his memo filed on Wednesday, the person said.
The union, which declined to comment, had until closing business on Friday to respond.
Following an agreed process in the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association, the appeal will be heard by Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person of his choosing. The association did not immediately specify who would oversee the appeal, which would be heard on an “urgent” basis.
There is no set timetable provided in the CBA for a decision to be made.
Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge appointed jointly by the NFL and the players union to oversee the disciplinary hearing, found that Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy by engaging in unwanted sexual contact with another person, endangering the Safety and security at risk. To be from someone else and undermine the integrity of the NFL. In her 16-page report, she suggested that Watson’s behavior, which she called “predatory” and “obscene,” may have merited a heavier punishment, but it was constrained by league policies and past discipline record.
Watson denied the charges, and a Texas grand jury refused to indict him. He settled all but one of the 24 lawsuits brought against him by the women he hired for massages. Brown’s owners Jimmy and de Haslam said they would “continue to support” the midfielder who awarded him a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract in March.
Robinson said in his report that Watson’s denial did not appear to be credible and that he showed no remorse.
The Players Association said before Robinson’s decision it would not appeal, but after announcing the suspension on Monday, the NFL said it would review its findings and “make a decision on next steps” within the three business days the NFL allows for challenges. .
Tony Busby, the attorney representing most of Watson’s accusers, criticized the six-match suspension, as well as sports law experts and advocates for sexual assault victims. The league argued to Robinson that Watson deserved at least a full year suspension while the union was fighting for a lower sentence.
Robinson said her decision to suspend Watson for six matches was based on penalties the league had imposed in other cases of gender-based violence.
The association began its investigation into Watson in March 2021, when Ashley Solis, a licensed massage therapist in Houston, filed its first lawsuit against him. The women said he assaulted or molested them during massage dates in 2020 and 2021, when Watson played for the Houston Texans. In a brief submitted to Robinson, the league wrote that Watson “used his status as an NFL player as an excuse to engage in a deliberate pattern of predatory behavior towards several women.”
Watson’s case was the first to be dealt with under a new process established in the Canadian Arbitration Act 2020 by appointing an arbitrator to oversee the review of the facts and decision on the preliminary penalty, the review intended to stem criticism of Goodell’s outsized and sometimes volatile power in the disciplinary process.
If Robinson finds that Watson did not violate the personal conduct policy, there would be no discipline and neither side could appeal. But it concluded that there was sufficient evidence, including accounts by four women she said were “largely supportive,” to support multiple violations of policy by Watson.
According to the CBA, decisions by Goodell, or his designee, are “complete, final and complete” and binding on all parties, including the player.
The association may appeal the association’s appeal in federal court, as it has done over player conduct decisions in the past. One noteworthy example occurred in 2015, when quarterback Tom Brady challenged his four-game suspension in the so-called Deflategate scandal. A district court judge sided with Brady, saying Goodell overstepped his bounds by suspending the quarterback for his role in an alleged scheme to get air out of game balls to improve their grip. However, Goodell’s decision was upheld in 2016 by a federal appeals court panel that affirmed his broad power to discipline players.
Michael Leroy, an arbitrator who studies labor law at the University of Illinois, said the CBA language provided an “emphatic point” about the finality of the process the two sides agreed to.
“I think it’s virtually arbitrary against judicial coup d’etat,” Leroy said. “Courts greatly respect the findings of the facts as well as the conclusions about a breach of contract or not. So I think Watson would lean toward the windmills if he challenged that in federal court.”
Watson can continue to practice with the Browns during bootcamp while the resumption continues.
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