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The NFL suspended Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for six games on Monday for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
The decision was rendered by independent hearing officer Sue L. Robinson in response to the NFL’s investigation of multiple women who filed civil lawsuits against Watson before he settled with all but one of them, including Ashley Solis, the first accuser to go public. The women, whom Watson hired for massages, accused the QB of sexual misconduct or sexual assault.
Watson will be eligible to return to the Browns in Week 7 against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 23.
As part of the decision, Watson must now receive all his massages from Browns team therapists, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. Robinson's ruling said that while Watson's “pattern of behavior was egregious,” it was “nonviolent sexual conduct,” per Pelissero.
This decision now opens a window during which either the league or NFL Players' Association can appeal the decision. The union has already said it won't, while the NFL issued a statement Monday saying it's "reviewing" the decision and "will make a determination on next steps." If neither side appeals, Robinson’s decision will be the final word in the case.
If the NFL appeals, the final suspension decision will be moved to league commissioner Roger Goodell or his chosen designee. Following that, the lone avenue to fight any suspension by Watson’s camp and the union would be to attempt to overturn the ruling via lawsuit in federal court.
As part of its probe, the league’s investigators spoke to at least 10 of the women who originally filed litigation against Watson. A source told Yahoo Sports the NFL obtained information from the pretrial process in those civil lawsuits, none of which was sealed by presiding judges. The pretrial process included Watson sitting for multiple depositions and ultimately concluded June 30.
Robinson presided over a three-day disciplinary hearing in which the NFL and NFLPA presented their cases in determining if Watson violated the league's conduct policy. Days before those hearings began, it was reported that the NFL pushed for a one-year suspension. A source told Yahoo Sports that the NFL wanted the public to know that it had pushed for that year-long suspension before the discipline hearing.