HOUSTON — When the NFL announced that it was appealing Deshaun Watson's six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy on Wednesday, the decision was applauded by many outside of Cleveland.
Tony Buzbee, the Houston-area lawyer who has represented the women accusing the Cleveland Browns quarterback of sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault, however, isn't buying it.
"We are here today with a message to the NFL. That message is simple and hopefully clear: every victim of sexual assault is watching [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell and the NFL right now. And this idea that Mr. Goodell is going to hand it off to someone else independent, we don't buy it," Buzbee said at a press conference on Thursday. "Mr. Goodell, what will you do? It's never too late to do the right thing. And that's what these women and those watching are expecting."
Over the course of his more than 22-minute press conference, Buzbee criticized the NFL's investigation into Watson, which he said was limited in scope and seemed more focused on sanitizing the truth than the truth itself. In particular, Buzbee said that his law firm offered to make more women available than the 10 accusers that the NFL spoke to, but that the league wasn't interested.
Buzbee also criticized the six-game suspension that was issued by former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson earlier this week. Robinson was jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to oversee Watson's case and issue an initial punishment.
"Six games isn't even a slap on the wrist," Buzbee said. "It's a kiss on the cheek."
Despite Robinson's ruling, the NFL has opted to exercise its ability to make an appeal on the punishment, which will reportedly be heard by a designee of Goodell's choosing. In her 16-page report issued earlier this week, Robinson ruled that Watson violated the league's Personal Conduct Policy on the following three counts:
- Conduct that Qualifies as a Sexual Assault
- Conduct that Poses a Genuine Danger to the Safety and Well-Being of Another Person
- Conduct that Undermines, or Puts at Risk, the Integrity of the NFL
In addition to Watson's six-game suspension, Robinson ruled that the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback could only receive massages from team therapists moving forward.
While the NFL's investigation into Watson only focused on four accusers, Watson has settled lawsuits with 23 of Buzbee's clients, with one civil suit remaining. At his press conference on Wednesday, Buzbee said that the remaining accuser's allegations are consistent with the other cases he has since settled and that she was one of the women who spoke to the NFL about her accusations.
In addition to Buzbee, the first woman to make allegations and file a lawsuit against Watson, Ashley Solis, spoke at Wednesday's press conference. Like Buzbee, Solis -- who reached a settlement with Watson earlier this week -- criticized the NFL's investigation and encouraged any other woman who has been through a similar experience to speak up.
"If anyone has ever tried to abuse their status and overpower you, remind them that they picked the wrong one to try that with," said Solis, who said she has received death threats and more than 100,000 negative messages. "That's exactly what I am -- the wrong one. And I'll keep showing my face and keep speaking up for as long as I can. You should be a 'wrong one' too and speak up."