The NFL has three days to appeal the ruling by retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson, who presided over the disciplinary hearing and issued the decision.
“We appreciate Judge Robinson’s diligence and professionalism throughout this process,” according to a league statement.
“In light of her findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a determination on next steps.”
Watson signed a five-year, $230 million guaranteed contact with the Browns in March amid allegations of sexual misconduct during massage sessions involving more than 20 women.
NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk reported that the suspension did not include any additional fine.
Watson’s lawyer and representatives of the Browns and the National Football League Players Association could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Watson has already missed a considerable amount of time on the field, having not played for the Houston Texans all of last season as his legal challenges unfolded and the team sought to trade him.
Before the suspension came down, the National Football League Players Association and Watson said in a joint statement Sunday that they “will stand by her ruling” and called on “the NFL to do the same.”
Few, if any, American companies are more closely monitored for its handling for domestic violence incidents by employees than the NFL.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was initially suspended for just two games in 2014 after troubling surveillance video showed him knocking out his future wife and dragging her body off an elevator.
Rice was eventually suspended indefinitely but the seemingly light initial discipline forced NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to admit: “I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
Other notable cases of domestic violence suspensions in recent years have included: Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (six games in 2017), Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (10 games in 2015) and Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith (four games in 2018).
The lawyer representing the women accusing Watson of misconduct announced confidential settlements in 23 of 24 civil lawsuits.
“Today I announce that all cases against Deshaun Watson, with the exception of four, have settled. We are working through the paperwork related to those settlements. Once we have done so, those particular cases will be dismissed,” attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement to NBC News.
“The terms and amounts of the settlements are confidential. We won’t comment further on the settlements or those cases.”
In his statement, Buzbee gave credit to plaintiff Ashley Solis, who was the first to come forward and accuse Watson of sexual misconduct. Solis’ case remains one of four unsettled cases.
Buzbee said of the open cases: “Ashley Solis is one of the heroes of this story. Her case has not settled and thus her story and that of the other three brave women will continue. I look forward to trying these cases in due course, consistent with other docket obligations and the court’s schedule.”
Buzbee declined to speak substantively about any NFL action agains Watson.
“I have been asked repeatedly about my thoughts in regard to the NFL’s proceeding with Deshaun Watson. Although some of my clients do have strong feelings in that regard, I have nothing meaningful to say about that process,” he said.
“I’ve said in the beginning that the civil process and the NFL’s disciplinary process are very different. My role was to advance the cause of my clients, in civil court—nothing more.”
Watson’s accusers allege he improperly touched them after hiring them as massage therapists and personal trainers.
Two grand juries in Texas declined to bring charges against Watson in March. The district attorneys in both instances did not elaborate on why the grand juries declined to indict.
Watson has denied wrongdoing.
His attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a June statement: “Deshaun Watson did nothing wrong. And as two grand juries have made clear, Deshaun did nothing illegal.”
“Deshaun has always acknowledged consensual sexual activity with three of the plaintiff massage therapists after massages. And Deshaun has repeatedly sworn under oath that he did not force any of his accusers to have sexual contact.”
Watson, a 26-year-old native of Gainesville, Georgia, and Clemson University alumnus, has been in the NFL since 2017. Watson had his best season in 2020 with the Texans, leading the league with 4,823 yards passing along with 33 touchdowns.
A six-game ban would make Watson eligible to play in the Browns’ seventh game of this upcoming season on Oct. 23 when Cleveland is set to visit the Baltimore Ravens.
This is a developing story. Please refresh here for updates.
Associated Press contributed.
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