NFL files appeal over six-game suspension of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson
The NFL has notified the NFL Players Association that it is appealing the six-game suspension of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson over multiple violations of the league's personal conduct policy after he was sued by 24 women who accused him of sexual misconduct in massage sessions.
The NFL submitted the filing Wednesday afternoon, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed the league's decision to USA TODAY Sports in a statement.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, Goodell has the authority to preside over the appeal, or he can appoint a designee to do so. The NFL had until 9 a.m. ET Thursday morning to make its decision about appealing.
The league's personal conduct policy stipulates that the appeal will be heard on an expedited basis and that "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."
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On Monday, retired judge Sue L. Robinson wrote in her briefing that she determined Watson had "engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report."
During disciplinary hearings at the end of June at an undisclosed location, the NFL, Watson and the NFL Players Association made their cases to Robinson, who now serves as the NFL’s disciplinary officer. According to terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Robinson reviewed the findings of the investigation that the NFL conducted for the better part of the last year and heard arguments from both sides before making her decision on Watson's punishment.
The NFL’s argument for an indefinite suspension was designed to allow for flexibility if additional cases surface.
In her conclusion, Robinson explained her decision not to impose a longer suspension by saying the NFL was "attempting to impose a more dramatic shift in its culture without the benefit of fair notice" to players. The league had sought an indefinite ban of at least a year. Watson's case was "unprecedented," the NFL said, largely because of the number of accusers. Two Texas grand juries also opted not to indict the quarterback.
Before Monday's ruling, Watson settled with three additional women who had filed lawsuits, leaving only one outstanding case.
The appeal will focus on the established facts of the case and will not allow additional evidence or testimony to be admitted.
Once the appeal is heard, Goodell or his designee will determine the new discipline that Watson will face. Article 46 of the CBA stipulates that "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 NFLPA will now have two days to respond to the league's appeal filing.
Contributing: Mike Jones