CLEVELAND — The disciplinary hearing for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has concluded, according to multiple media outlets including Pro Football Talk and ESPN.
The three-day ordeal before a retired federal judge in Delaware wrapped up Thursday, although a final decision from Judge Sue L. Robinson may not come for weeks. PFT's Mike Florio reports the NFL is asking for an "unprecedented" indefinite suspension of Watson for at least one season, while the NFL Players Association will ask for no penalty, and it appears the latter contention could be related to the evidence (or lack thereof) the league allegedly presented.
Watson has faced as many as 24 civil lawsuits from women accusing him of various forms of sexual harassment or assault, with 20 of those recently being settled out of court and four still going through the legal system. Florio cites a source claiming NFL investigators interviewed 12 of those women (later zeroing in on five cases) and found "no evidence that Watson engaged in violence, made threats, applied coercion, or used force."
Florio's reporting would appear to be in line with Watson's repeated assertions he "never forced anyone to do anything" during those sessions, with his legal team only admitting the 26-year-old had "consensual" sexual relations with three of his accusers.
The source tells Florio the NFLPA has raised the question of why Watson should be punished when team owners facing similar allegations have seemingly gotten off scot-free. The source specifically brought up Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was caught on tape soliciting prostitutes years ago but was not suspended and later had criminal charges against him thrown out. The league supposedly admitted during the Watson hearing that its director of security looked into the allegations against Kraft before ultimately recommending against discipline.
ESPN's Dan Graziano says Robinson has requested both sides present her with post-hearing briefs by July 11, meaning her final decision likely won't be handed down until after that time. Robinson was appointed by both the league and the union to arbitrate the case and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could technically overrule her decision on punishment, but only if she finds Watson did indeed violate the league's personal conduct policy, in which case there would automatically be no suspension.
The end of Watson's three-day hearing seemingly suggests the approach of a climax to a story that began in March of 2021, when attorney Tony Buzbee filed the first in a series of 24 civil lawsuits accusing the then-Texans quarterback of sexual misconduct. In March of this year, multiple grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, clearing the way for the Browns to acquire the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback from Houston in exchange for multiple top draft picks.
Earlier this month, Watson addressed his ongoing legal situation with reporters during the Browns minicamp practice in Berea. The 26-year-old reiterated his stance that he has "never assaulted, disrespected, or harassed anyone," and also took the time to thank the organization and the fans for "the support and just the welcoming of being a Cleveland Brown and what it really means."
"Everything's been pretty good," Watson said of his experience in Northeast Ohio so far. "I know that there's still legal proceedings still going on...I have to respect the process that is still going on, and I may [or] may not be able to answer [all of your] questions."
Watson claimed he had "answered every question truthfully" during sworn deposition, as well as the NFL's investigation into his behavior. "I've been honest and I've been truthful about my stance," Watson said of his denial of any wrongdoing, later adding, "I never forced anyone to do anything."
During his conversation with reporters, Watson was also asked about a report from The New York Times claiming he received massages from at least 66 different women over a period of more than a year (not all of which resulted in misconduct allegations). The Browns quarterback said he did not believe that number was accurate.
One of the women still suing Watson has also filed a complaint against the Texans, claiming they enabled Watson's behavior while he was still a member of their organization. In response, the team said it would "continue to take the necessary steps to address the allegations against our organization."