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Former federal Judge Sue L. Robinson found that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy on three points after 24 women came forward with accusations of sexual assault, but she pointed to the league’s previous rulings as part of the basis of her six-game suspension decision, according to a 16-page written report.
Robinson said in her report released Monday that she reviewed the NFL’s investigation, which alleged that Watson violated the policy by engaging in “sexual assault, conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person, and conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL.”
She concluded in agreement with the NFL’s findings on all three points.
“I find this sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the NFL’s contention not only that contact occurred, but that Mr. Watson was aware that contact probably would occur, and that Mr. Watson had a sexual purpose — not just a therapeutic purpose — in making these arrangements with these particular therapists,” she said of one conclusion.
But Robinson explained her decision for a six-game suspension, in part, was based on “existing disciplinary standards and prior disciplinary outcomes.”
“By ignoring past decisions because none involve ‘similar’ conduct, however, the NFL is not just equating violent conduct with non-violent conduct, but has elevated the importance of the latter without substantial evidence to support its position,” she wrote in the report.
“While it may be entirely appropriate to more severely discipline players for non-violent sexual conduct, I do not believe it is appropriate to do so without notice of the extraordinary change this position portends for the NFL and its players.”
She also noted Watson was a “first-offender” and previously had “an excellent reputation in his community.”
In addition to the suspension, Robinson also mandated that Watson should “limit his message therapy to club-directed sessions and club-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career.”
The NFL will have three days to appeal the decision. The NFLPA said Sunday night that it would stand by Robinson’s decision and urged the league to do the same. The league issued a statement later Monday, saying it would take time to make a decision on an appeal.