For the two dozen lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct and assault by Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, the National Football League’s disciplinary officer handed down a suspension of just six games, according to multiple reports.
Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge jointly appointed by the NFL and National Football League Players’ Association to serve as the disciplinary officer in the case, suspended Watson for six games Monday, according to multiple reports. The decision follows a three-day disciplinary hearing in Delaware in June.
Watson had been sued by 24 women, who accused him of behavior ranging from harassment to sexual assault during massage therapy sessions. Two women accused Watson of forcing them to perform oral sex on him, while others accused of him of exposing and coercing masseuses to touch his penis, as the New York Times reported in June.
Watson has denied the allegations but has settled all but one of those lawsuits in recent months, and the Houston Texans have also been named as a defendant in at least one lawsuit, for allegedly enabling him. And though Watson was not suspended by the league itself, the relatively weak suspension will do the NFL no favors in repairing its reputation for excusing abusive and violent off-field behavior.
The league and the players’ union will have three days to appeal the ruling, according to the Times; if the league appeals, the case would be handled by either NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person of his choosing. The union said Sunday it would not appeal whatever punishment Robinson handed down, and “we call on the NFL to do the same.”
Watson played four years for the Texans but sat out the entire 2021 season after the first lawsuits were filed last March. But this March, the Cleveland Browns traded for Watson and signed him to a five-year deal worth $230 million fully guaranteed, the most expensive contract of its type in the history of the league.
Watson will not be fined in addition to the suspension, according to multiple reports.
The NFL has a history of lenient punishments for serious allegations of and even proven instances of assault. In 2010, the league suspended Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for six games after a 20-year-old college student accused Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her. Goodell later reduced that suspension to just four games; Roethlisberger continued as the Steelers quarterback for 11 more years before retiring at the end of last season.
And in 2014, the league suspended running back Ray Rice, then with the Baltimore Ravens, for just two games, after he was arrested and charged with assaulting his wife. After CCTV footage showing Rice punching his wife unconscious and dragging her out of an elevator was leaked to TMZ, Rice was indefinitely suspended, though his suspension was later overturned on appeal. (Rice never played in the league again.)
Watson’s suspension is also miniscule compared to more recent examples that have nothing to do with violence or sexual misconduct. Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended for multiple years throughout his career for personal conduct violations related to using cannabis and alcohol, while the league suspended Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley for at least the entire 2022 season for betting on football games while he was injured and not with the team.
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