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BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will serve an 11-game unpaid suspension, pay a $5 million fine and undergo professional evaluation and treatment as part of a settlement. with the NFL following allegations of sexual misconduct by two dozen women.
The league had tried to ban Watson for at least a year for violating its personal conduct policy. He was accused of sexually harassing and coercing women during massage therapy sessions while playing for the Houston Texans.
Watson signed a fully guaranteed $230 million contract after being traded to the Browns in March. The three-time Pro Bowler will lose $632,500 in salary this season while serving the suspension, which takes effect Aug. 30.
“My whole life I just have to be able to move on and that’s the plan,” Watson said shortly after the deal was made public. “I have to be able to move on with my career, move on with my family, my personal life and everything.”
The deal ends months of speculation and led to a ruling by former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, who was appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league appealed a six-game suspension issued by the disciplinary officer. Sue L. Robinson.
As part of the agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association, Watson will be required to be evaluated by behavioral experts and follow his treatment program, the NFL said.
Watson, who recently apologized for the first time since the allegations surfaced, spoke to reporters after the settlement was announced. He offered more contrition while maintaining that he has never been inappropriate with women.
“I have always defended my innocence and I have always said that I have never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone and I continue to defend myself against that,” he said. “But at the same time, I have to move on. with my life and my career, and for us to move forward, I have to be able to take steps and put pride aside.
“I will continue to defend my innocence and move forward, and I have always defended not disrespecting or sexually assaulting anyone.”
As part of the deal, Watson could return for the Browns’ Dec. 4 game in Houston. He will not be allowed to be at the team facility during the suspension and will be eligible for reinstatement on November 28.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Watson will not play in any of Cleveland’s preseason games.
Along with their $5 million fine, the league and the Browns are donating $1 million each to a fund that will support nonprofit organizations across the country to educate youth on “healthy relationships, further education and prevention of sexual misconduct and assault, supporting survivors and related causes.
Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, who have been widely criticized for trading Watson, supported the quarterback. They said they hope he will learn and grow from the experience.
“Since Deshaun came into our building in April, he has done everything we’ve asked of him and more,” Jimmy Haslam said at a news conference with his wife and Browns general manager Andrew Berry. “And he’s been the person, the leader that we hope he will be and I think he understands where he is in his life, it’s a pivotal point, and we as an organization will do everything we can to help him not only be the best soccer player that he can be. , but the most important thing is to be the best person you can be.”
Haslam was asked if he’s still comfortable with Watson being on Cleveland’s roster.
“Absolutely,” he said. “100%”
On August 1, Robinson, a former federal judge appointed jointly by the league and union to act as an independent disciplinary officer, suspended Watson for six games. She found the 26-year-old violated the league’s conduct policy and called his behavior “egregious” and “predatory.”
Believing the suspension was too light, the league appealed and sent Watson’s case back to Goodell, who had handled all player discipline in the past. The league previously pushed for an indefinite suspension and a hefty fine.
At owners meetings this month, Goodell said the league’s pursuit of a one-year suspension was justified after his investigation and Robinson’s findings.
“She bolstered the evidence,” Goodell said. “There were multiple violations that were egregious, and it was predatory behavior.”
In his conclusion, Robinson cited Watson’s lack of remorse as a factor in his decision. Watson first apologized “to every woman I’ve impacted” before making her Browns debut Friday at an exhibition in Jacksonville.
Watson was accused of being sexually inappropriate with women during massage therapy sessions from March 2020 to March 2021 in Texas. In civil lawsuits filed in Texas, the women accused Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against his will. A woman alleged that Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
Two separate grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson, who recently settled 23 of 24 lawsuits.
For now, the suspension ends months of speculation about whether Watson would play in 2022 for the Browns, who outbid several other teams, traded three first-round draft picks to the Texans in March and signed the QB to a contract. of five years.
Watson’s case generated strong opinions and raised questions about the league’s handling of player discipline and its patchy record of supporting women.
The Browns believe Watson could make them Super Bowl contenders. Without him, they might have a hard time simply competing in the AFC North against defending conference champion Cincinnati, along with Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
All along, the Browns’ plan was to turn their offense over to veteran Jacoby Brissett, who has made 37 career starts, during Watson’s suspension. But now it’s possible for Cleveland to explore other options at quarterback.
The suspension also means that Watson will be inactive for longer. One of pro football’s elite quarterbacks, he sat out last season in Houston after demanding a trade and before the sexual accusations surfaced.
In his 16-page ruling, Robinson found that the league proved its case that Watson violated three provisions of the conduct policy: sexual assault as defined by the league, posing a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person, and undermining or put the integrity of the league at risk.
Attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the 24 women who sued Watson, criticized the NFL’s handling of the case and the settlement.
“By resolving this matter the way he has, Roger Goodell has demonstrated one of two things: either his recent rhetoric was complete nonsense, or his bark is far worse than his bite,” Buzbee said in a statement. “I think he is nothing more than a paper tiger.
“Today’s message to all victims is clear, if you think you have been sexually assaulted by a powerful person, keep your mouth shut and walk away. The NFL has certainly shown that its owners and the organization don’t care.”
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