At long last, Deshaun Watson, the Cleveland Browns and the NFL appear to be close to learning the fate of the controversial quarterback. Retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson, the independent disciplinary officer co-appointed and compensated by the NFL and NFL Players Association, is expected on Monday to hand down her ruling on what kind of punishment Watson deserves for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy amid more than two dozen allegations of sexual misconduct.
The three-day disciplinary hearing that reviewed the findings of the NFL’s year-plus-long investigation into the allegations concluded on June 30. Since then, Robinson has reviewed the facts and the arguments of the NFL and NFLPA’s legal teams, and now she is ready to make her ruling, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The NFL had recommended an indefinite suspension of no less than a year, even though Watson never faced any criminal charges for the allegations leveled against him by massage therapists that he hired while quarterback of the Houston Texans. (Two Houston area grand juries opted against charging him for any crimes, but he did face civil lawsuits from 24 women. He wound up reaching financial settlements with 20 of those accusers).
The NFLPA, meanwhile, argued that Watson had paid his price while sitting out all of last season. The players union also argued that the NFL was guilty of operating under a double standard by seeking such a harsh and unprecedented punishment for Watson while showing leniency for owners who have faced allegations of sexual misconduct.
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Multiple people familiar with the situation expect that Robinson’s punishment will fall well below the year-long threshold the NFL seeks. But no one knows if Robinson will suggest a ban of fewer than six games or in the eight- to 10-game range. Both rank among the outcomes that league insiders have speculated.
Robinson will hand down her ruling, but that doesn’t mean that decision settles things. According to terms of the CBA, the dissatisfied party can appeal her decision and commissioner Roger Goodell will either preside over that process or appoint someone else to do so. If Robinson recommends a shorter punishment and Goodell winds up overruling her, it’s expected that the NFLPA will file a lawsuit to overturn such a decision.
The NFLPA released a joint statement with Watson on Twitter on Sunday evening regarding the pending decision. The statement indicates that Watson and the Players Association have no intent of appealing the ruling and asked the NFL to do the same.
“In advance of Judge Robinson’s decisions, we wanted to reiterate the facts of this proceeding,” the statement said. “First, we have fully cooperated with every NFL inquiry and provided the NFL with the most comprehensive set of information for any personal conduct policy investigation. A former Federal Judge – appointed jointly by the NFLPA and NFL – held a full and fair hearing, has read thousands of pages of investigative documents and reviewed arguments from both sides impartially. 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.”
The NFL and Watson’s camp could have reached a settlement instead of leaving the decision up to Robinson. However, despite discussions on the matter, the two sides thus far have failed to find a middle ground that satisfies all parties involved.
Chris Easterling, Akron Beacon Journal