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Editors’ note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org.

The NFL is appealing independent disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson’s recommendation of a six-game suspension for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the league will seek an indefinite suspension. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported Watson’s contract could be a factor, stating that a source told him “the NFL’s appeal will also include a monetary fine.”

It will now be up to commissioner Roger Goodell to decide whether he or a designee will hear the appeal. Robinson’s ruling came after the league’s investigation into the sexual harassment and assault allegations levied against Watson. 

The league said in a statement that it “notified the NFLPA that it will appeal Judge Robinson’s disciplinary decision and filed its brief this afternoon.”

The players association now has two business days to file its response to the appeal, and it must be in writing. 

Per Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement, “the Commissioner or his designee will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), Club(s) and the parties to this Agreement.” The NFL also detailed in its statement how, under the personal conduct policy, “the appeal will be: (i) processed on an expedited basis; (ii) limited to consideration of the terms of discipline imposed; and (iii) based upon a review of the existing record without reference to evidence or testimony not previously considered. No additional evidence or testimony shall be presented to or accepted by the Commissioner or his designee.”

Additionally, “any factual findings and evidentiary determinations of the Disciplinary Officer will be binding to the parties on appeal, and the decision of the Commissioner or his designee, which may overturn, reduce, modify or increase the discipline previously issued, will be final and binding on all parties.”

Rosenberg: Deshaun Watson Allegations Should Stick to Him for the Rest of His Career

More than two dozen women have detailed graphic accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault that occurred during massage therapy sessions. The accounts range from Watson allegedly refusing to cover his genitals to the quarterback “touching [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.”

Twenty-five women filed civil lawsuits against Watson starting in March 2021, and only one dropped her case due to privacy concerns in April ’21. He has now reportedly settled all civil lawsuits but one. 

The quarterback has denied all allegations against him, and two Texas grand juries declined to indict him on criminal charges earlier this spring.

Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam issued a statement following Robinson’s ruling, stating that “throughout this process, Deshaun and his representatives have abided by the newly created and agreed upon process for the NFLPA and the NFL to defer to the objective Judge Sue L. Robinson to comprehensively review all information and make a fair decision. We respect Judge Robinson’s decision and at the same time, empathize and understand that there have been many individuals triggered throughout this process.

“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.”

Shortly after a Harris County grand jury returned nine “no” bills on nine criminal complaints against Watson, Cleveland traded for the former Texans star, signing him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million. A clause built into the contract mandates Watson will lose only $55,556 for every game in which he’s suspended this season.

Watson is set to lose six of his game checks this campaign, equating to a total of about $345,000 of his $1.035 million base salary. 

Robinson’s ruling included an interesting mandate—Watson must receive all massage therapy from Browns’ therapists. 

The NFLPA had the option of appealing the ruling as well, but it released a joint statement with Watson on Sunday that they would stand by Robinson’s ruling, calling for the league to do the same. They said, in part, “Every player, owner, business partner and stakeholder deserves to know that our process is legitimate and will not be tarnished based on the whims of the League office. This is why, regardless of her decision, Deshaun and the NFLPA will stand by her ruling and we call on the NFL to do the same.”

In Robinson’s 16-page report, she stated “the NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report.” Additionally, the former federal judge found that the Browns’ quarterback engaged in conduct that created “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.”

Robinson differentiated between what was violent and nonviolent conduct, coming to the conclusion that Watson’s behavior “does not fall into the category of violent conduct that would require the minimum six-game suspension” that the league had established as “by far the most commonly-imposed discipline for domestic or gendered violence and sexual acts.”

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