The N.F.L. appointed Peter C. Harvey, a former Latest Jersey attorney general, to listen to its appeal of the six-game suspension of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for multiple violations of the N.F.L.’s personal conduct policy, in keeping with a league spokesman.
On Wednesday, the N.F.L. appealed Watson’s suspension, which was issued by a third-party disciplinary officer after a three-day hearing in June that probed accusations that he had engaged in sexually coercive and lewd behavior during massages. Sue L. Robinson, the retired federal judge jointly appointed by the league and the N.F.L. Players Association, found that Watson had engaged in “predatory” and “egregious” conduct but suggested that she was limited in her authority to mete out stricter discipline by the N.F.L.’s policies and past rulings.
The union has until Friday to file a response to the league’s appeal, but there isn’t a deadline for Harvey to issue a ruling. The league has said the appeal will probably be heard on an “expedited” basis.
Watson has denied the allegations against him. Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him on criminal charges, and he has settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits filed against him by women who said he assaulted or harassed them during massage appointments.
His is the primary player-conduct hearing to have undergone a third-party arbitrator, a recent process prescribed in 2020 by the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union. Per its terms, the arbitrator issued an initial ruling, which either side could appeal to Commissioner Roger Goodell or an individual of his selecting. The league still holds immense sway over the ultimate final result since it has what amounts to veto power.
Before Robinson suspended Watson for six games, the N.F.L. asked for not less than a full-year suspension. The league is in search of the identical penalty in its appeal, and it has also really helpful a superb and treatment for Watson, in keeping with an individual with knowledge of the temporary that the N.F.L. submitted Wednesday but who just isn’t authorized to talk publicly about it. The N.F.L. also cited concerns about Watson’s lack of remorse, as did Robinson in her report on her decision.
Robinson’s discipline didn’t include a superb or counseling for Watson but did mandate as a condition of his reinstatement that he use only team-approved massage therapists, in team-directed sessions, in the course of his profession.
Harvey, a partner at Patterson Belknap in Latest York and a former federal prosecutor, has worked on addressing violence against women, including through a sexual-assault response team initiative he led as attorney general. He is also a board member of Futures Without Violence, a nonprofit organization that seeks policy solutions to finish violence against women and youngsters.
Harvey helped the N.F.L. rewrite its personal conduct policy in 2014 and sits on the league’s diversity advisory committee created in March. He was a member of the four-person panel that advised Goodell in 2017 through the N.F.L.’s investigation and subsequent suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was accused of domestic violence but not criminally charged.
Goodell suspended Elliott for six games after consulting with the advisory panel.
Tony Buzbee, the lawyer for Watson’s accusers, held a news conference Thursday afternoon during which he called the N.F.L.’s record on violence against women “sketchy and sad,” and he urged Goodell to issue a stronger penalty. Ashley Solis, the licensed massage therapist who filed the primary lawsuit against Watson in March 2021, read a press release criticizing the N.F.L.’s handling of the accusations against Watson. Solis settled her claim against Watson the night before Robinson released her decision.
“What do the actions of the N.F.L. say to little girls who’ve suffered by the hands of somebody perceived to have power?” Solis said. “That it’s not an enormous deal? That they don’t care?” She said that’s the message she had taken from the league’s response.
Goodell and the league have been criticized for years since the commissioner handled all features of violations of the non-public conduct policy, including gathering facts, handing down punishments and hearing appeals.
The union fought to diminish a few of Goodell’s powers in the most recent C.B.A. by having a jointly approved disciplinary officer hearken to presentations from the league and union and mete out a penalty. But when the disciplinary officer finds there may be a violation of the non-public conduct policy, Goodell or his designee still have final say over the extent of the discipline.
During its 15-month investigation into the allegations against Watson, the N.F.L. interviewed 49 people, including Watson, 12 of his accusers and other witnesses. Not the entire women who filed lawsuits against Watson selected to interview with the league.
The union could determine to challenge the outcomes of the appeal in federal court, because it has done with other player conduct decisions prior to now. But courts tend to not interfere with corporations and unions which have jointly approved arbitration and appeals processes, because the league and the players’ association did.