The National Football League said Wednesday it is appealing a former federal judge’s decision to suspend the Cleveland Browns quarterback. Deshaun Watson for six games.
On Monday, Watson was suspended with pay for the first six games of the season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy in private meetings with massage therapists while with the Houston Texans.
The NFL asked Sue L. Robinson, a former referee hired by the NFL and its players union, to rule on Watson’s punishment and suspension of 17 games in the regular season and playoffs. No player accused of nonviolent sexual misconduct, as Watson was, has been suspended for more than six games, Robinson said in a 16-page ruling released 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 decide who will hear the appeal.”
Watson has repeatedly denied the allegations.
“I have never assaulted, never disrespected, never harassed any woman in my life,” Watson said. said. “I have no regrets.”
The NFL Players Association has already said it will not appeal. The union declined to comment on Wednesday.
CNN has reached out to the Browns for comment.
The attorney for Watson’s accusers said the NFL “doesn’t care about women’s rights” after the Cleveland Browns quarterback was suspended amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Appearing on ESPN’s “First Take” on Tuesday, attorney Tony Buzbee attacked the investigation, saying he expects the NFL to appeal the case, but that his clients are angry and disappointed by the disciplinary official’s lenient suspension.
“Don’t expect the NFL to do anything heroic here,” Buzbee said.
Two Texas grand juries declined to charge Watson with any crimes.
Watson had 24 civil lawsuits, 23 of which were settled confidentially.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, told CNN he would not comment until the NFL decides whether to appeal.
Judge Robinson said she was suspending the 26-year-old because of his “predatory behaviour”.
“While this is the most significant punishment ever handed down to an NFL player for allegations of non-violent sexual conduct, Mr. Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than any previously reviewed by the NFL,” Robinson wrote in the 16-page ruling.
But despite those findings, Judge Robinson criticized the NFL for seeking an unprecedented full-season suspension, far longer than other players accused of nonviolent sexual misconduct.
On Tuesday, Buzbee — the attorney for the plaintiffs in the case against Watson — told ESPN that he expects the NFL to move forward with an appeal because the gesture will be well received by prosecutors.
“I think it would change the messaging and it would be well received by the women I represent,” he said.
In her findings, Robinson wrote that her judgment was limited by the record provided to her by NFL investigators, former prosecutors with decades of experience investigating sexual assault cases. She noted that Watson “allegedly worked with more than 60 massage therapists” during the time period in question and that the NFL “investigated only 24 claims for damages by therapists.”
And of the 24, Robinson wrote, the NFL was able to interview only 12 of the alleged victims. They relied on the testimony of four of the 12 individuals in the case before her for review.
Buzbee attacked the way the investigation was conducted.
“None of my clients have testified before a federal judge. I think this is a common misconception that four people have witnessed. This is not the case. None of them showed up. Not one of them was asked to appear and testify,” he said. “Since those interviews, we have had no contact with the NFL.
“They care about the bottom line. They care about making money,” Buzbee told ESPN.
“They’re trying to manage this as a PR crisis, but as far as trying to do anything to defend these particular women or women’s rights — or fight women’s rights in general — that’s not part of their mission, and they’ve made that very clear throughout this process.”
On Tuesday, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center said it was “disappointed” by the ruling, which only suspended Watson for six games.
“The six-game suspension handed down dangerously reflects the weaknesses of 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 celebrities who abuse others are not held accountable for their actions.
“These constant headlines are stirring up so much. To the survivors, we see you and we believe you. Your story matters. The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is available 24/7/365 online or by calling/texting (216) 619-6192.
The decision comes after a number of female masseurs 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 over alleged misconduct by Watson settled their claims, according to a statement from Buzbee and Texans ownership.
Watson, a three-time Pro Bowler, sat out last season with the Houston Texans because of a trade requirement and investigations into the allegations.
A few days later, the Browns traded three first-round picks for Watson and signed him to a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million deal. USD contract, the most guaranteed money in NFL history.
Watson won’t be paid during his suspension, but the Browns made his new contract a base salary of $690,000 in the first year and $46 million after that. $ for each of the next four years, according to salary tracking website Spotrac.