Following a 15-month NFL investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, a decision is expected Monday on how or if Watson will be disciplined under the league’s personal conduct policy.
Sue L. Robinson, the retired federal judge jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association to oversee player discipline, told both the league and the players’ union on Sunday morning that it would issue its decision Monday, according to two directs persons aware of Robinson’s communications. These people asked for anonymity because Robinson has not publicly discussed the process.
More than two dozen women have accused Watson of sexually coercive and lewd behavior toward women he hired for massages from the fall of 2019 to March 2021 when he was a member of the Houston Texans. 24 women filed civil lawsuits against Watson and 20 lawsuits were settled in June. Watson denied the claims, and grand juries in two Texas counties declined to criminally indict Watson.
Conduct prohibited by the League’s Personal Conduct Policy includes sexual offenses, acts that endanger the safety and well-being of another person, and anything that undermines the integrity of the League.
The Browns traded Watson in March after a first grand jury refused to indict him but before a second did, awarding him a five-year, $230 million full-guarantee contract. The decision on Watson’s discipline was widely anticipated, not only because of the Browns’ investment in him, but because the breadth of the allegations against Watson sets this apart from any other case of personal conduct examined by the league.
Unable to negotiate a mutually agreed discipline, the league and Watson’s representatives placed the initial decision in Robinson’s hands. She oversaw a three-day hearing in late June in which the NFL recommended that Watson be suspended indefinitely and wait at least a full season before reapplying, while the union and Watson’s reps argued against a longer ban. This was the first NFL personal conduct case to be heard by a disciplinary officer in place of Commissioner Roger Goodell, a protocol set out in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement.
The league and players’ association would have three working days following Robinson’s decision to submit a written appeal, which would be processed by Goodell or someone of his choice. But the players’ union said in a statement Sunday night — before Robinson issued her decision — that it would not appeal and urged the NFL to let the ruling stand.
“Every player, owner, business partner and stakeholder deserves to know that our process is legitimate and not being clouded by the whims of the league office,” the union said. “For that reason, regardless of their decision, Deshaun and the NFLPA will stand by their decision, and we call on the NFL to do the same.”
The NFL began its investigation into Watson in March 2021, when accusers first filed lawsuits. League investigators, who have no subpoena authority, met with 10 of the women who filed suits against Watson, eyewitnesses to verify their accounts, and other women who worked with Watson.