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Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson handed six-game suspension

Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson has been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault by several women.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will be suspended for six games this season for violating the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.

A former federal judge appointed by the National Football League and the union representing players has decided that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should be suspended for six games this season.

Watson was accused of sexual misconduct by 25 massage therapists. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict him on criminal charges and Watson has now settled 23 of the 24 civil suits against him. Another was dropped.

In her ruling released Monday, NFL Disciplinary Officer Sue Robinson wrote, “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.”

The ruling does not include a fine, but it does stipulate that Watson must get all of his massage therapy through the team. Robinson conducted a three-day hearing in June and considered briefs filed by both sides last month.

The NFL acknowledged the ruling in a statement Monday, saying that it appreciated Robinson’s “diligence and professionalism throughout this process.” The league did not say whether it would appeal, stating that it’s reviewing the decision and will make a determination on next steps.

Watson and the NFL Players Association issued a statement Sunday night saying they'd abide by the ruling. The NFL had sought an indefinite suspension of at least one year and could appeal the ruling within three days. If it does appeal, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would make the final decision on punishment.

Disappointment, respect and relief

Following news of the ruling Monday, reactions from inside and outside the Cleveland sports world were abundant. Among them was the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, which released a statement expressing disappointment with the decision.

“The 6-game suspension given dangerously mirrors the flaws in our criminal justice systems and sends a grave message to our communities,” the organization said in its statement. “Far too often those in positions of power and celebrity who commit violence against others are not held accountable for their actions.”

The center added that the decision could be triggering to survivors of sexual assault and encouraged individuals to reach out to the organization if they need additional support.

Speaking later in the day following the team’s practice, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said he'll continue to respect the disciplinary process for Watson.

“This is a jointly agreed upon process from the NFLPA and the NFL,” Stefanski said. “This was collectively bargained, so I'm going to respect Judge Robinson and her opinion right now.”

Robinson's report cited a lack of expressed remorse on Watson's part, but team owners Jimmy and Dee Halsam said in a statement, “We know Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused much heartache to many and he will continue the work needed to show who he is on and off the field, and we will continue to support him.”

Stefanski said Watson is committed to improving.

“He wants to be the best version of himself,” Stefanski said. “I believe that wholeheartedly. He's working on that, and I'll let Deshaun at some point speak for himself.”

Outside the Browns training camp practice Monday, several fans said they were satisfied with the six-game suspension.

Watson sign at training camp
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Browns fans pose with a sign outside the training camp practice in Berea on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. Lily Taggart (second from left), who made the sign, said she thought Deshaun Watson's six-game suspension was fair.

North Ridgeville resident Jason Steinbrick, who said he is a lifelong Browns fan, is looking forward to Watson’s return.

“If he didn’t get anything from the courts, then I don’t know why he should get anything from the NFL, but that’s up to them. So, we just have to deal with it,” Steinbrick said.

Another fan, Lily Taggart, held a homemade sign reading, “Watson Chubb ‘24 – Make Cleveland Great Again." Watson’s punishment is necessary and reasonable, Taggart said.

“I want him to still be accountable for what he did, but at the same time, you don’t want to see your quarterback on the sideline for half the season,” she said.

Taggart added that she was glad a female judge handled the case and thought Robinson was qualified to make the decision.

Ali Hamdeh of Cleveland is relieved the suspension was not a longer length of time, although he said the situation surrounding Watson did affect his overall thoughts on the upcoming season.

“You have a family, you’ve got sisters, wives, aunts — to say it had no effect, I’d be lying to you,” Hamdeh said. “We’ll take it. We’re happy. We’ll move forward and (will be) ready for the season.”

Cleveland resident Nichole Malachin, on the other hand, said the situation did not affect her feelings about the team at all.

“I’m used to quarterback drama with this team,” she said.

The Browns signed Watson in March to a record five-year, $230 million guaranteed contract, according to the Associated Press.

If the six-game ban holds, Watson would return on Oct. 23 against Baltimore and make his home debut on Halloween against Cincinnati. Watson can practice and play in preseason games and return to regular season practice after game 3. Jacoby Brissett will start for Cleveland while Watson is out.

Updated: August 1, 2022 at 4:49 PM EDT
Mike is the executive editor of Ideastream Public Media.
Glenn has worked in radio newsrooms in Ashtabula, Toledo, Newark, OH and Cleveland.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron and Canton for Ideastream Public Media.