The hearing started but the wait continues.
NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson began presiding over the hearing in the case of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson on Tuesday morning. The proceedings ended in the early evening and were scheduled to continue Wednesday, according to multiple reports.
Robinson, a former federal judge, was jointly appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association and will decide whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy. If Robinson rules Watson did, he could be suspended and/or fined. If she finds he didn’t, the case would likely be over.
It’s not known when Robinson will issue a ruling.
Watson, 26, has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. The allegations include coercing the women to touch him in a sexual manner, exposing himself and masturbating.
The league seeks an indefinite suspension that would last at least a year. Watson would have to apply for reinstatement.
Watson’s side, which includes personal attorney Rustin Hardin and Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney used by the union, was expected to argue for no discipline. Watson has continued to deny any wrongdoing, his lawyers have said any sexual activity was consensual and two grand juries in Texas declined to indict on criminal charges.
Settlement agreements were reached in 20 of the 24 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct against Watson, plaintiffs lawyer Tony Buzbee announced last week. The other four lawsuits remain on track to go to trial beginning in March.
A league spokesman said the settlement agreements would have “no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.”
The Wall Street Journal reported the NFL’s case to Robinson will focus on five women who’ve sued Watson, with their accusations corroborated by text messages and other evidence. The league conducted a 15-month investigation of Watson’s behavior and met with him four times, according to Hardin.
“League officials believe those allegations in particular are objectively provable and establish a clear and disturbing pattern of behavior from Watson,” according to the Wall Street Journal story.
The collective bargaining agreement states the NFL has “the burden of establishing” a player violated the personal conduct policy. “The NFL also will publish mitigating factors for discipline which shall include acceptance of responsibility and cooperation, engagement with clinical resources and voluntary restitution,” the agreement states.
This is the first case for Robinson after the new collective bargaining agreement signed in 2020 established a neutral arbitrator to serve as the disciplinary officer. Commissioner Roger Goodell previously handled the cases.
If Robinson’s ruling includes discipline, the NFL and the union can appeal. Goodell or someone he assigns would handle the appeal and could decrease, increase or keep the punishment set by Robinson.
The Browns open training camp July 27, and the league would like resolution by then.
Veteran Jacoby Brissett is in line to replace Watson as the starter, but the Browns would likely add a quarterback if Watson is suspended for a significant number of games. Josh Dobbs is the other quarterback on the roster and has never started in the NFL.
The Browns sent a net of five draft picks to the Houston Texans for Watson on March 18 and signed him to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract, an NFL record for guaranteed money. The three-time Pro Bowler waived his no-trade clause to join the Browns.
On Monday, one of the plaintiffs against Watson filed a civil lawsuit against the Texans, and Buzbee said “many” more are likely.
“Suffice it to say, the overwhelming evidence collected indicating that the Houston Texans enabled Watson’s behavior is incredibly damning,” Buzbee said in a statement. “We believe the Texans knew or most certainly should have known of Watson’s conduct.”