NFL appoints counsel to hear Deshaun Watson’s appeal

The NFL has appointed Peter Harvey, the former New Jersey attorney general, to hear the six-game suspension of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for multiple violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, a league spokesman said.

On Wednesday, the NFL appealed Watson’s suspension, which was issued by a third-party disciplinary officer after a three-day hearing in June that investigated allegations of sexual coercion and lewd conduct during a massage. all. Robinson, a retired federal judge appointed jointly by the league and the NFL Players Association, found Watson engaged in “predatory” and “horrendous” conduct, but suggested he had limited authority to impose more severe discipline. NFL Policies and Past Decisions.

The union has until Friday to file a response to the league’s appeal, but there is no deadline for Harvey to issue a ruling. The league said the appeal would be considered on an “expedited” basis.

Watson has denied the allegations against him. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict him on criminal charges, and he settled 23 of 24 lawsuits filed against him by women who said he assaulted or harassed them during massages.

He is the first player to go through a third-party arbitrator’s hearing, a new process established in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union. Under its terms, the arbitrator issued an initial decision that either party could appeal to Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee. The league still has a lot of influence over the final outcome, as it has veto power.

While Robinson suspended Watson for six games, the NFL requested at least a full year suspension. The league is seeking the same fine in its appeal, as well as fines and treatment for Watson, according to a person familiar with the brief, which the NFL filed Wednesday, but who was not authorized to speak about it publicly. The NFL also cited concerns about Watson’s lack of remorse, as did Robinson in its report on his decision.

Robinson’s discipline did not include a fine or counseling for Watson, but mandated as a condition of his reinstatement that he use only team-approved massage therapists during team-led sessions during his career.

Harvey, a partner at Patterson Belknap in New York and a former federal prosecutor, has worked to combat violence against women, including the Sexual Assault Response Team initiative she led as attorney general. She is also a board member of Futures Without Violence, a non-profit organization that seeks policy solutions to end violence against women and children.

Harvey helped rewrite the NFL’s personal conduct policy in 2014 and sits on the league’s diversity advisory committee, which was created in March. He was a member of a four-person panel that advised Goodell in 2017 during the NFL’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 board.

Tony Busby, the attorney for Watson’s accusers, held a press conference Thursday afternoon in which he called the NFL’s record on violence against women “striking and unfortunate” and he called for Goodell to receive a stiffer sentence. Ashley Solis, a licensed massage therapist who filed the first lawsuit against Watson in March 2021, read a statement criticizing the NFL’s handling of Watson’s allegations. Solis settled his claim against Watson the night before Robinson announced the decision.

“What do the NFL’s actions say to little girls who experience someone in a position of power?” Solis said. “That it’s no big deal? That they don’t care?” He said that’s the message he got from the league’s response.

Goodell and the league have been criticized for years because the commissioner handled all aspects of personal conduct policy violations, including gathering facts, issuing penalties and hearing appeals.

The union fought to curtail some of Goodell’s powers in the latest CBA by having a jointly-approved disciplinary officer hear presentations from the league and union and issue a fine. But if the disciplinary officer finds a violation of the personal conduct policy, Goodell or his designee still has the final say on the extent of discipline.

During the 15-month investigation into the allegations against Watson, the NFL interviewed 49 people, including Watson, 12 of his accusers and other witnesses. Not all of the women who filed lawsuits against Watson chose to be interviewed by the league.

The union can decide the outcome of the appeal in federal court, as it has done in the past with other player conduct decisions. But the courts don’t interfere with companies and unions that have collectively approved arbitration and appeals processes, as the league and the players’ association have done.

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