NFL to appeal against Deshaun Watson's six-game suspension

Cleveland, Ohio - The NFL has formally appealed the six-game suspension that was handed down to Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson by an independent arbiter earlier this week.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was facing 24 separate civil lawsuits filed by female massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct between 2020 and 2021.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was facing 24 separate civil lawsuits filed by female massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct between 2020 and 2021.  © Nick Cammett / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The league is seeking a harsher penalty for Watson, who had been facing 24 separate civil lawsuits filed by female massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct between 2020 and 2021 during his time with the Houston Texans.

"The NFL notified the NFLPA (NFL Players' Association) that it will appeal Judge [Sue L.] Robinson's disciplinary decision and filed its brief this afternoon," the league announced in a statement on Wednesday. "Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal."

Judge Robinson, the appointed disciplinary officer for the case, confirmed in Monday's ruling that the NFL sought to have Watson suspended for the entire 2022 season, but stated that a longer ban would be inconsistent with previous punishments levied for players found in violation of the league's personal conduct policy.

"Although I have found Mr. Watson to have violated the Policy, I have done so using the NFL's post-hoc definitions of the prohibited conduct at issue," Robinson wrote. "It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unjust to change the penalties for such conduct after the fact."

"The NFL is a private organization and can operate as it deems fit, but the post-hoc determination of what constitutes the prohibited conduct here cannot genuinely satisfy the 'fairness' prong of the standard of review or justify the imposition of the unprecedented sanction requested by the NFL."

NFL also seeking larger financial penalty for Watson

Deshaun Watson runs a drill during a July 2022 Cleveland Browns training camp in Berea, Ohio.
Deshaun Watson runs a drill during a July 2022 Cleveland Browns training camp in Berea, Ohio.  © Nick Cammett / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Robinson did note in the ruling that she found Watson's behavior to be egregious and unremorseful, and said that a sterner punishment would be justifiable had it been outlined in the personal conduct policy.

"While it may be entirely appropriate to more severely discipline players for non-violent sexual conduct, I do not believe it is appropriate to do so without notice of the extraordinary change this position portends for the NFL and its players," she wrote.

The Texans held Watson out of all of their 2021 games during a criminal investigation into the allegations, though he was paid his entire $10.54-million salary. A grand jury ultimately dropped all criminal charges in March, and Watson's attorneys have since settled all but one of the 24 civil cases.

Houston traded the three-time Pro Bowler to Cleveland in March, and the Browns promptly signed Watson to a five-year, $230-million extension that is entirely guaranteed.

According to the Associated Press, the NFL also requested Watson receive a minimum fine of $5 million. Robinson did not issue any additional financial penalties beyond the $345,000 in salary Watson will forfeit over the course of the suspension.

The NFLPA announced prior to Robinson's ruling that it would abide by the decision regardless of the result.

Cover photo: Nick Cammett / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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