BEREA, Ohio — Deshaun Watson’s suspension has been increased from six games to 11, and he will pay a $5 million fine to the NFL, which had sought a harsher penalty for the Browns quarterback, News 5's Camryn Justice has confirmed. The decision was reached by settlement.
With this unusually long suspension, Watson is set to make his regular-season debut for Cleveland Week 13 against his former team, the Houston Texans.
The NFL has come to a settlement with #Browns QB Deshaun Watson. He will be suspended 11 games and fined $5 million, source confirms.— Camryn Justice (@camijustice) August 18, 2022
Watson, who has said he was undergoing counseling, will be required to continue that as part of the settlement agreement, Justice confirmed.
Watson's $5 million fine and $1 million contributions from both the NFL and the Browns will create a $7 million fund that "will support the work of non-profit organizations across the country that educate young people on healthy relationships, promote education and prevention of sexual misconduct and assault, support survivors, and related causes," league officials stated in a news release.
Watson released a statement after the suspension was announced:
“I’m grateful that the disciplinary process has ended and extremely appreciative of the tremendous support I have received throughout my short time with the Browns organization. I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made. My focus going forward is on working to become the best version of myself on and off the field and supporting my teammates however possible while I’m away from the team. I’m excited about what the future holds for me in Cleveland.”
When speaking later to reporters, he maintained his innocence.
Watch his full interview with the press on Thursday below:
Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam provided this statement:
“As we have previously conveyed, Deshaun and his representatives have abided by the NFL and NFLPA structure awaiting a final decision and we have respected the process. Now that a decision on discipline has been reached, we understand this is a real opportunity to create meaningful change and we are committed to investing in programs in Northeast Ohio that will educate our youth regarding awareness, understanding, and most importantly, prevention of sexual misconduct and the many underlying causes of such behavior. Since Deshaun entered our building, he has been an outstanding member of our organization and shown a true dedication to working on himself both on and off the field. We will continue to support him as he focuses on earning the trust of our community.”
Watch Dee and Jimmy Haslam, and Browns General Manager Andrew Berry, speaking to the press Thursday in the two videos below.
In the NFL news release, Commissioner Roger Goodell stated:
"Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL. This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension. We are grateful to Judge Robinson and Peter Harvey for their efforts in addressing these matters, which laid the foundation for reaching this conclusion."
Tony Buzbee, the attorney for Watson's accusers, released the following statement:
"By settling this matter the way he has, Roger Goodell has proven one of two things: either his recent rhetoric was utter baloney, or his bark is much worse than his bite. My belief is that he is nothing more than a paper tiger. The message today to all victims is clear, if you believe you have been sexually assaulted by a powerful person, keep your mouth shut and go away. The NFL has certainly demonstrated that its ownership and the organization doesn’t care. To all sexual assault survivors, do not allow this recent 'punishment' to deter you. Keep speaking up and keep speaking out. Your voice matters. You are making a difference. We stand with you.”
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center issued a statement saying it "stands with those who have been hurt by Deshaun Watson."
"While traditional avenues of criminal justice may have failed his accusers, today’s NFL and NFLPA settlement of increased punishment is a step towards validating their experiences. Healing comes to survivors in many forms. Cleveland Rape Crisis Center believes and supports survivors. Continued headlines are triggering for many. Our staff is available 24/7/365 online or by calling/texting (216) 619-6192.”
Sondra Miller, President & CEO, said, “Cleveland Rape Crisis Center applauds anytime resources are dedicated to the prevention of sexual violence. In order to eradicate rape and sexual assault, we must hold sex offenders and the systems and institutions enabling them, accountable.”
The settlement reached between the league and Watson will be signed Thursday, but has been agreed to by both parties, sources said.
Watson's suspension will take effect at the final roster cutdown and he will be eligible for reinstatement on Nov. 28, the league's news release states. The Browns play the Texans on Dec. 4.
At the request of the NFL, Watson’s case had been under review by former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey after the league appealed the Aug. 1 decision by Sue L. Robinson, an independent disciplinary officer who recommended the NFL suspend Watson for six games.
Robinson’s suspension decision followed the NFL’s investigation into allegations made by women who accused him of sexual assault and harassment. The NFL was hoping for a stricter decision and a fine for Watson, and in the end they almost doubled the number of games suspended from Robinson's initial ruling.
"We've seen the evidence, [Robinson] was very clear about the evidence, she reinforced the evidence,'' said Commissioner Roger Goodell on August 9. "There were multiple violations that were egregious and it was predatory behavior.'”
Watson's was the first case heard by Robinson as part of the new league discipline policy agreed upon in the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2020. As per the CBA, violations of the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy are initially determined by a jointly appointed disciplinary officer after serving as the hearing officer.
In her 16-page ruling, Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association, called Watson’s behavior “egregious” and “predatory,” as Goodell reiterated in his comments Tuesday. The women alleged he sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them during massage therapy sessions when the quarterback played for the Houston Texans.
The former federal judge concluded that Watson violated the league's policy by engaging in unwanted sexual contact with another person, endangering the safety and well-being of another person and undermining the league’s integrity.
However, in imposing the suspension, Robinson pointed out flaws in the league's guidelines for player misconduct, which limited her authority to penalize him.
Leading up to the decision, Watson and the NFLPA announced that they would not be appealing Robinson’s decision no matter the outcome and urged the league to do the same, but the NFL did not comply with that request.
One day before Watson started in the Browns first pre-season game against the Jaguars, sources confirmed to the Associated Press that Watson proposed an eight-game suspension and a $5 million fine to settle the matter and avoid missing the 2022 season.
Then, hours before the game on Friday, Watson publicly expressed remorse and contrition for the first time since he was accused of sexually harassing or assaulting the women during therapy sessions in 2020 and 2021.
Watson apologized “to all the women I have impacted” after being accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.
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