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Deshaun Watson: Why did Cleveland Browns QB get suspended 11 games?

The NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement on an 11-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson on Thursday.
Credit: AP
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson throws a pass during the NFL football team's training camp, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

CLEVELAND — On Thursday, the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) reached an agreement for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson to serve an 11-game suspension and pay a $5 million fine.

With that in mind, let's take a look back at how Watson arrived at this point heading into his first season with the Browns.

The allegations

The accusations against Watson date back to early 2021, after the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback initially requested a trade from the Houston Texans. After Ashley Solis first accused Watson of inappropriate behavior during a massage session, several other massage therapists in the Houston area followed suit.

RELATED: 'I got really scared': Read excerpts from women accusing Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct from HBO's 'Real Sports'

While two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, 25 women, who were each represented by Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, filed civil lawsuits against the 26-year-old quarterback, alleging sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault. One of the lawsuits was dropped, with Watson settling 23 others.

One civil lawsuit currently remains ongoing. Watson has publicly maintained his innocence throughout the process.

The investigation

The NFL conducted its own investigation into Watson, which it presented to former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson, who had been independently appointed as the league's disciplinary officer by the NFL and NFLPA. Following a three-day hearing in late June, Robinson ruled that the Clemson product violated the league's Personal Conduct Policy on the following three counts:

  • Conduct that Qualifies as a Sexual Assault
  • Conduct that Poses a Genuine Danger to the Safety and Well-Being of Another Person
  • Conduct that Undermines, or Puts at Risk, the Integrity of the NFL

Robinson proceeded to issue a six-game suspension for Watson, citing the wording of the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the precedent set by previous punishments issued by the league. In her ruling, Robinson referred to Watson's behavior as "egregious" and "predatory."

The appeal

While the NFLPA publicly stated that it would not be exercising its ability to appeal Robinson's ruling, the NFL opted not to follow suit. On Aug. 3, the league announced that it was appealing the six-game suspension, reportedly seeking an indefinite suspension lasting no less than a year.

Per the CBA, the appeal was to be heard by either NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a designee. Goodell ultimately selected former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, who has previously advised the league on discipline matters, to serve as his designee and rule on the appeal.

Harvey, however, would never wind up issuing a ruling as the NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement on an 11-game suspension with a $5 million fine. Additionally, Watson will be required to continue to undergo mental health counseling, with the Browns and NFL having also agreed to each pay $1 million, which in addition to Watson's fine, will be put toward sexual assault prevention programs. 

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