The league faced the punishment issued Monday by a third-party disciplinary official as a result of a hearing into allegations that Watson engaged in coercive and distressing sexual behavior toward two dozen women he hired for massages. The NFL is arguing for an indefinite suspension with the option of reinstatement after a year, according to a person with knowledge of the league’s appeal who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The league also recommended a fine and treatment for Watson and cited concerns about his lack of remorse in the brief it filed Wednesday, the person said.
The union, which declined to comment, has until close of business on Friday to respond.
Following a process agreed upon in the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association, the appeal will be heard by Commissioner Roger Goodell or a designee. The league did not immediately say who would oversee the appeal, which will be heard on an “early” basis.
There is no set timeline in the CBA for ruling.
Sue L. Robinson, the retired federal judge jointly appointed by the NFL and the players’ union to oversee the disciplinary hearing, Watson was found to have violated the league’s personal conduct policy by unwanted sexual contact with another person, endangering the safety and well-being of another person and affecting the integrity of the NFL. She suggested in her 16-page report that Watson’s behavior, which she called “predatory” and “egregious,” may have merited a more severe punishment, but was limited by the league’s policies and past disciplinary record.
Watson denied the allegations against him, and two Texas grand juries declined to indict him. He settled all but one of the 24 lawsuits filed against him by women he hired for massages. Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam said they would continue to support their prized quarterback. a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract in March.
Robinson said in her report that Watson’s denials did not appear credible and that he had shown no remorse.
The players’ union said before Robinson’s decision it would not appeal, but after the suspension was announced Monday the NFL said it would review its findings and “decide on next steps” within three days. business that the CBA allows challenges.
The six-game suspension was criticized by Tony Buzbee, the lawyer representing most of Watson’s accusers, as well as sports law experts and advocates for victims of sexual abuse. The league argued with Robinson that Watson deserved at least a full year suspension while the union fought for a lesser penalty.
Robinson said its decision to suspend Watson for six games was based on the league’s penalties in other cases involving gender-based violence.
The series began its investigation of Watson in March 2021, when Ashley Solis, a licensed massage therapist in Houston, filed the first lawsuit against him. The women said he assaulted or harassed them during massage dates in 2020 and 2021, when Watson played for the Houston Texans. In a brief filed with Robinson, the league wrote that Watson “used his status as an NFL player as an excuse to engage in a premeditated pattern of predatory behavior toward multiple women.”
Watson’s case was the first to be handled under a new process established in the 2020 CBA By assigning an arbitrator to oversee the review of the facts and decide the initial penalty, the review was intended to prevent on criticism of Goodell’s profound and sometimes capricious power in the disciplinary process.
If Robinson found that Watson did not violate the personal conduct policy, there would be no discipline and neither side could appeal. But she concluded there was enough evidence, including accounts from four women that she said were “substantially corroborating,” to support Watson’s multiple violations of the policy.
According to the CBA, the decisions of Goodell, or his brother, are “full, final and complete” and binding on all parties, including the player.
The union may challenge the league’s appeal in federal court, as it has done with player conduct decisions in the past. One notable instance occurred in 2015, when quarterback Tom Brady served his four-game suspension in the game known as Deflategate scandal. A district court judge sided with Brady, saying Goodell exceeded his power by suspending the quarterback for his role in an alleged scheme to remove air from game balls to improve their grip. Goodell’s decision, however, was upheld in 2016 by a federal appeals court panel that affirmed his broad authority to discipline players.
Michael LeRoy, an arbitrator who teaches labor law at the University of Illinois, said the language of the CBA made a “tick point” about the end of the process agreed upon by the two sides.
“I think it’s almost airtight against judicial reversal,” LeRoy said. “Courts are very averse to findings of fact as well as conclusions regarding breach of contract or non-breach. So I think Watson is going to tilt the windmills if he challenges this in federal court.”
Watson can continue to practice with the Browns during training camp as the appeal continues.