CLEVELAND, Ohio — After months of waiting, the suspension decision finally came for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.
On Monday morning NFL independent disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson handed down a six-game suspension to the quarterback for alleged sexual misconduct, a violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. It was the culmination of a three-day hearing and months-long investigation by the league.
It feels like an early win for the Browns, a team that took a gamble in March by trading for a quarterback that has faced more than two dozen sexual misconduct allegations by massage therapists over the last year-plus.
But despite the ruling handed down, the ordeal feels far from over.
Let’s start with the logistics.
An appeal of this decision is still possible. Both the NFL and the NFLPA have the right to appeal under the new Personal Conduct Policy that was adopted in 2020. The NFLPA issued a statement Sunday night — prior to Robinson’s ruling — that it would not appeal, and called for the NFL to do the same.
But during the hearing in June, the league argued vehemently for an indefinite suspension of at least a year. They plan to keep their options open on a possible appeal. Appeals are heard by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a designee, who can overturn, reduce, modify or increase the discipline based on the evidence already presented.
This process should move fairly quickly, if the NFL decides to go that route.
The NFL will have three business days to file any appeal, and the union side would have to file a response to the appeal within two business days thereafter. If an appeal is filed and the CBA process is followed, it could take one to two weeks before there is a final answer on Watson’s fate this season.
But given the number of allegations against Watson, even as these accusations wrap up legally and with the NFL, it still feels like something that is going to follow him for much, much longer.
There is undoubtedly a segment of Browns and NFL fans who are ready to move on to football talk now that a suspension decision has been issued. And sure, at some point, we do have to play the schedule game and dissect what it means for the Browns’ season. The NFL season is a behemoth that stops for no one.
But given the extent of the sexual misconduct allegations Watson faced, the details presented in them, and the sheer number of allegations, this is an episode that many fans may not be able to look past.
In my own writing and reporting on this, I’ve heard from fans with a wide array of feelings on this. Some are inclined to move on, given their were no criminal charges brought against Watson and the quarterback has vehemently maintained his innocence. He’s also wrapped up 23 of the 24 civil suits he faced by settling.
Even still, many fans say they struggle to support Watson, and by extension the Browns for trading for him in the first place. I don’t begrudge those feelings, as more than two dozen sexual misconduct allegations are a lot to digest. The ruling may have been handed down, but it doesn’t wipe those details away from their memories, or the memories of the alleged victims.
While there’s still a possibility that Watson takes the field this season, when he does, the allegations are bound to be talked about and contemplated all over again. While the wins may come, the memories of these allegations will come, too. It’s going to take a lot more time than a six-game suspension for fans to see Watson in a different light given the magnitude.
This initial suspension decision from Robinson was just the first step. Watson still has a long road ahead of him.
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