Ron Schwan / AP
NFL Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson has ordered Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson to be suspended without pay for six games, the Broadcasting Association confirmed Monday.
The punishment comes after 24 women accused Watson of sexual misconduct, sparking civil lawsuits and putting the star quarterback on the sidelines in 2021. Watson settled 20 of the cases against him in June.
In her decision, Robinson said the six-game suspension is “the most significant sanction ever imposed on an NFL player for allegations of non-violent sexual conduct,” adding that “Mr. Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than ever before reviewed.” NFL.
Robinson found Watson responsible for “multiple violations of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told NPR via email.
Specifically, she said, the NFL has established that Watson engaged in: sexual assault (as defined by NFL policies); behavior that poses a danger to another person; and conduct that undermines the integrity of the NFL.
The accusations against Watson came from more than 60 massage therapists he worked with in one 15-month period, from late 2019 through the winter of 2021.
In scheduling appointments with massage therapists, Robinson said, Watson had a “sexual purpose—not just a therapeutic one”.
“I found the evidence sufficient to show that Mr. Watson knew, or should have known, that any contact between his penis and these handlers was undesirable,” said Robinson.
Earlier this year, two Texas grand jurors refused to indict Watson on criminal charges, paving the way for his eventual return to the playing field.
Watson has the right to appeal the decision within three days, through the NFL Players Association. The league can also file its own appeal.
The NFL says it is “reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will decide on next steps.”
Robinson is a former federal judge who began working with the NFL after retiring from the District Court in the US District Court of Delaware.
Describing the factors she reviewed in Watson’s sentencing report, Robinson acknowledged that he had “an excellent reputation in his community prior to these events”, adding that he had cooperated in the investigation and in the payment of damages.
But she said Watson – who categorically denied doing anything inappropriate during her massage sessions – also did not express remorse. It also noted that he did not immediately inform the NFL when the first lawsuit was filed in March 2021.
As for the NFL star’s intentions before and during the massage sessions, Robinson wrote, “Mr. Watson had a reckless disregard for the consequences of his behavior, which I find to be equivalent to willful behavior.”
Watson was playing for the Houston Texans when the allegations came to light against him. In March, he signed a five-year deal to become the quarterback at the Browns.