Deshaun Watson: NFL to appeal six-game suspension of Cleveland Browns quarterback

On Monday, Watson was suspended without pay for the first six games of this season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy in private meetings with massage therapists while with the Houston Texans.

The NFL had asked Sue L. Robinson, the former judge hired by the NFL and its players’ union to rule on Watson’s punishment, a suspension covering the 17-game regular season and the playoffs. No player accused of nonviolent sexual misconduct, as Watson has been, has received a suspension of more than six games, Robinson said in his 16-page ruling issued Monday.

“The NFL has notified the NFLPA that it will appeal Judge Robinson’s disciplinary decision and filed its brief this afternoon,” league officials said Wednesday. “Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal.”

Watson has repeatedly denied the allegations.

“I have never assaulted, never disrespected and never harassed any woman in my life,” Watson said. “I do not regret anything”.

The NFL Players Association has already said it would not appeal. The union declined to comment Wednesday.

CNN has reached out to the Browns for comment.

Watson’s accusers’ attorney said the NFL “doesn’t care about women’s rights” following the Cleveland Browns quarterback’s suspension over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Appearing on ESPN’s “First Take” Tuesday, attorney Tony Buzbee attacked the investigation, saying he hopes the NFL will appeal the case, but his clients are angry and disappointed about a lenient suspension imposed by a disciplinary officer.

“Don’t expect the NFL to do anything heroic here,” Buzbee said.

Two grand juries in Texas declined to charge Watson with any crime.

Watson throws a pass during Browns training camp.

Twenty-four civil lawsuits have been filed against Watson, 23 have been settled confidentially.

Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, told CNN he will not comment until the NFL decides whether to appeal.

Judge Robinson said she would suspend the 26-year-old for his “predatory conduct.”

“While this is the most significant punishment ever imposed on an NFL player for allegations of nonviolent sexual conduct, Mr. Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than any previously reviewed by the NFL,” Robinson wrote in the ruling. 16 pages.

But despite those findings, Judge Robinson criticized the NFL for asking for an unprecedented full-season suspension that would be much longer than other players accused of nonviolent sexual conduct.

On Tuesday, Buzbee, the plaintiffs’ attorney in the case against Watson, told ESPN that he hopes the NFL moves forward with an appeal because such a move would be welcomed by the accusers.

“I think that would change the message and I think it would be well received by the women that I represent,” she said.

In his findings, Robinson wrote that his decision is limited by the record presented to him by NFL investigators, who are former prosecutors with decades of experience investigating sexual assault cases. He noted that Watson “allegedly worked with more than 60 massage therapists” during the period under consideration, and that the NFL “only investigated the claims of the 24 therapists who sued Mr. Watson for damages.”

And of the 24, Robinson wrote that the NFL was only able to interview 12 alleged victims. They relied on the testimony of four of the 12 in the case presented to her for her review.

Buzbee attacked the way the investigation was conducted.

“None of my clients testified before the federal judge. I think it’s a common misconception that four people testified. That’s not the case. None of them showed up. None of them were asked to show up and testify,” he said. . he said she. “Since those interviews, we have had no contact with the NFL.

Buzbee represents women in the civil cases against Watson, accusing him of sexual assault.

“They care about the bottom line. They care about making money,” Buzbee said on ESPN.

“They’re trying to run this as a public relations crisis, but as far as trying to do something to alleviate these women in particular or women’s rights, or dealing with women’s rights in general, that’s not part of it. of their mission statement and they’ve made that very clear throughout this process.”

On Tuesday, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center said it was “disappointed” by the decision to suspend Watson for just six games.

“The 6-game suspension given dangerously reflects the failings in our criminal justice systems and sends a serious message to our communities,” the organization said in a statement to CNN on Tuesday. “Too often, those in positions of power and celebrity who commit violence against others are not held accountable for their actions.

“These ongoing headlines are a cause for concern for many. To survivors, we say we see you and we believe you. Your story matters. The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. week, 365 days a year online or by calling or texting (216) 619-6192. .”

The ruling comes after several women who worked as massage therapists filed lawsuits against Watson alleging sexual assault or misconduct during massage sessions. Last month, 30 women who filed or intended to file claims against the Texans organization for alleged misconduct by Watson reached a settlement, according to a statement from Buzbee and Texans ownership.

Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl player, did not play last season while a member of the Houston Texans due to a trade lawsuit as well as investigations into these allegations.

Days later, the Browns traded three first-round picks for Watson and then signed him to a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract, the most guaranteed money in NFL history.

Watson will not be paid during his suspension, but the Browns have structured his new contract so his base salary is $690,000 in his first year and then $46 million for each of the next four years, according to the Browns’ tracking website. Spotrac salaries.

CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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