CLEVELAND — NFL and NFLPA's jointly appointed disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson handed down a six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson on Monday. Here's how she made her decision.
Watson's is the first case to be 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.
Rusty Hardin, who has also defended Watson in the many civil lawsuits against him, represented the quarterback in the league hearings with Robinson, also supported by the NFLPA.
Watson's hearings began on June 28 and lasted three days before wrapping on June 30. The NFL was responsible for presenting evidence that Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy, and, after doing so, both sides were given around two weeks to submit post-hearing briefs to Robinson, which the CBA maxes out at five pages, single-spaced. The CBA outlines three days as the deadline after the hearing to file the briefs but also allows the timelines to be extended by mutual agreement, which occurred in Watson's case, and the briefs were set to be filed by July 12.
According to Robinson's report, the NFL was told about Watson allegedly working with more than 60 massage therapists in a 15-month period from fall 2019 until winter 2021.
The NFL investigated the 24 therapists who sued Watson, before bringing only four of them to testify against Watson, the report states.
Of the four who testified for the NFL, only three were licensed therapists, while the fourth was still working towards her license.
The NFL argued that Watson reached out to therapists via Instagram and would request that they used Gatorade towels to cover his private areas instead of the usual sheet, according to the report.
The report states that once in the massage sessions, each of the therapists alleged that Watson engaged in what the NFL has characterized as “sexualized behavior.”
"When he turned over on his back, it is alleged that Mr. Watson exposed his erect penis and purposefully contacted the therapists’ hands and arms multiple times with his erect penis. One of the therapists alleges that Mr. Watson not only contacted her arm multiple times, but that he ejaculated on her arm. There is no allegation that Mr. Watson exerted any force against any of the therapists," the report states.
According to Robinson, the NFL needed to prove that Watson violated three provisions which were sexual assault, conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person and, conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL.
In regards to sexual assault, Robinson's report shows that the NFL was able to support its claim.
Robinson said Watson not caring about massage therapists' credentials, using a towel instead of a sheet, and the probability that he had an erection during these sessions led to her decision on that claim.
In regards to conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person, Robinson's report shows that the NFL proved its claim.
The NFL said therapists were afraid after their interaction with Watson and one even sought therapy, according to the report.
"Mr. Watson’s conduct posed a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person," Robinson wrote.
In regards to conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL, Robinson said the NFL sufficiently supported this claim.
Robinson said that Watson used his role as a member of the Houston Texans to hire therapists and reinforce the massages happening to his glutes, abs, and groin area.
Robinson said she wanted to come to a fair decision after the NFL requested that Watson be suspended for the entire season due to his "unprecedented behavior."
The NFLPA argued that Ray Rice was only suspended for two games in 2015 and that players on average were suspended for six games following domestic or gendered violence claims. Only two players have ever been suspended for eight games and one player was suspended for 10 following multiple incidents.
Based on the evidence provided, Robinson said Watson fell under the six-game category for suspension.
"Mr. Watson is hereby suspended for six (6) regular-season games without pay. Although this is the most significant punishment ever imposed on an NFL player for allegations of non-violent sexual conduct, Mr. Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL," Robinson wrote.
She noted his cooperation in the investigation and believes he has "paid restitution," also noting his absence from the 2021 season.
Robinson also said that any upcoming massage therapy session that Watson is scheduled for should be during club-approved sessions with club-approved therapists.
To read the 15-page report, click here.
The NFL and NFLPA have three days to appeal the decision.