Deshaun Watson: How a lawsuit settlement led to an 11-game suspension

By: Shelby Harding, Senior Editor 

On August 18th, 2022, news dropped that Cleveland Browns suspended quarterback, Deshaun Watson for 11 games after civil and criminal lawsuits were brought against Watson alleging sexual misconduct. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on the criminal complaints, and Watson reached confidential settlements in 23 of the 24 civil lawsuits filed against him. Despite both the criminal and civil charges being resolved, many people questioned the NFL’s decision to proceed with Watson’s suspension and $5 million fine for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.  

However, the August 18th agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) was not Watson’s initial discipline. The NFL and the NFLPA jointly appointed  former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson to be the disciplinary officer in Watson’s case. At the end of June, Watson had a three-day hearing in front of Robinson, where the NFL was responsible for establishing the burden of proof that Watson violated the personal conduct policy. Following the hearing, Robinson ruled to suspend Watson for six games with no additional fine. It is worth noting the NFL recommended to suspend Watson for the entire 2022 season, but Robinson stated that she was “bound by standards of fairness and consistency of treatment among players similarly situated”. 

The NFL officially appealed Watson’s six game suspension, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell designated former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to rule on the appeal. The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA outlines each party’s right to appeal the decision. Prior to Harvey ruling on the appeal, the NFL and NFLPA reached a settlement for an eleven-game suspension and $5 million dollar fine. Watson will be eligible for reinstatement on November 28th to play in the Brown’s Week 13 matchup against the Houston Texans.  

Many fans were confused about the NFL’s authority to discipline Watson after the criminal charges were not pursued by the Texas courts. The answer is fairly simple. The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA outlines the NFL’s disciplinary discretion and procedure which both parties must approve. The Collective Bargaining Agreement includes all the rules and procedures the teams, players, and employees must follow. Deshaun Watson’s story with the NFL and the NFLPA’s disciplinary procedures continues as an additional civil lawsuit was filed against him in October. The NFL stated that they will be monitoring the newly filed litigation and will address the possibility of additional sanctions based on developments in the new case.  

Works Cited 

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