“Although this is the most significant punishment ever handed down to an NFL player for non-violent sexual misconduct, Mr. Watson’s conduct is far worse than any before the NFL has reviewed it,” wrote former federal judge Sue L. Robinson. 16 page decision.
The six-game suspension is below the NFL’s request that Watson be suspended for at least 17-games and the postseason. In her ruling, Robinson criticized the NFL for asking for a season-long suspension that is much longer than other players accused of non-violent sexual conduct.
“While it is entirely appropriate to penalize players more for non-violent sexual activity, I do not believe it is appropriate to do so without announcing the extraordinary change this position would represent for the NFL and its players,” she wrote.
Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL or the NFL Players Association may appeal in writing to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell within three business days. Goodell or his designee “will render a written decision containing the full, final and entire substance of the dispute and binding on the player,” according to the agreement.
In a statement, the NFL said it appreciated Robinson’s “diligence and professionalism” in the process and was evaluating next steps.
On Sunday night, the NFL Players Association and Watson issued a joint statement saying they would not appeal the decision, and called on the NFL to do the same.
In March, a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, declined to indict Watson on harassment and sexual assault charges after finding there was insufficient evidence to charge him with a crime. The incidents were described as “stemming from massage therapy sessions,” according to a statement on the NFL’s website.
In a statement released in July by Buzby and owned by the Texans, the Texas organization said that “30 women who filed or intended to file claims against the Texas organization in the sexual misconduct allegations against Watson have settled their claims.”
CNN has reached out to the NFLPA and the Browns for comment.
Judge criticizes NFL for civil disobedience
Robinson’s decision came after a three-day hearing in late June and a review of the NFL’s 215-page investigative report on Watson’s case, which included testimony from four massage therapists.
The ruling was upheld by the NFL based on a preponderance of the evidence that Watson violated three aspects of the league’s personal conduct policy: sexual assault, conduct that poses a real risk to the safety and security of another person, and engaging in conduct that harms or threatens the integrity of the NFL.
Robinson also expressed doubts about Watson’s denial of wrongdoing.
“Weighed against the credible testimony of investigators who interviewed medical professionals and other third parties, it is difficult to give weight to complete denial,” she wrote.
The most common discipline for domestic or sexual assault and sexual misconduct is a six-game suspension, and in the past non-violent sexual assault cases, such as Watson’s, have resulted in a maximum three-game suspension, Robinson wrote.
“Just as the NFL responded to violent behavior after a public outcry, so the NFL appears to be responding to another public complaint about Mr. Watson’s behavior,” Robinson wrote. “Here, the NFL is attempting to impose a more dramatic change in its culture without fair notice to those subject to the policy and without consistency of consequences.”
Robinson also instructed Watson to limit his massage therapy to group-led sessions and therapists for the rest of his career.