Editor’s note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org.
Deshaun Watson was handed a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy after the NFL and NFLPA’s appointed disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson gave her verdict on Monday.
Even though the Browns quarterback won’t be allowed to take the field in at least the first six games of the regular season, he still has a chance to start during the preseason.
A source told ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio this week that the Browns plan to utilize Watson during the preseason. It’s unclear if the team plans to start him in all three games, but as of now, it is likely that Watson will take the field on Friday, Aug. 12 vs. the Jaguars in their first preseason game. If this happens, it will mark Watson’s first time playing since Jan. 3, 2021.
However, the NFL appealed the suspension handed down by Robinson on Wednesday, and the league is looking for an indefinite suspension for the quarterback. If this ends up being the case, then Watson would most likely not be able to play in the preseason as the suspension would begin immediately.
This week’s ruling comes after the league’s investigation into the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Watson. More than two dozen women have detailed graphic accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault that occurred during massage therapy sessions. The accounts range from Watson allegedly refusing to cover his genitals to the quarterback “touching [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.”
Twenty-five women filed civil lawsuits against Watson starting in March 2021, and only one dropped her case due to privacy concerns in April ’21. Watson, then, agreed to settle 20 of the 24 civil lawsuits in June ’22. Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, announced the news, saying the terms and amounts agreed to are confidential and that they “won’t comment further on the settlements or those cases.”
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Watson reportedly settled three of the remaining four civil cases against him ahead of Monday’s disciplinary decision.
Shortly after a Harris County grand jury returned nine “no” bills on nine criminal complaints against Watson, Cleveland traded for the former Texans star, signing him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million. A clause built into the contract mandates Watson will lose only $55,556 for every game in which he’s suspended this season.
Additionally, Watson is set to lose six of his game checks this campaign, equating to a total of about $345,000 of his $1.035 million base salary.
Robinson’s ruling included a mandate that Watson must receive all massage therapy from Browns therapists.
In Robinson’s 16-page report, she differentiated between what was violent and nonviolent conduct, coming to the conclusion that Watson’s behavior “does not fall into the category of violent conduct that would require the minimum six-game suspension” that the league had established as “by far the most commonly-imposed discipline for domestic or gendered violence and sexual acts.”
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