Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended from the team without pay for six games on Monday for reportedly violating the NFL‘s personal conduct policy following sexual misconduct allegations made against him by 24 women in Texas.
The Associated Press reported the news on Monday, citing two sources familiar with the decision.
Despite statements to the contrary, Watson, 26, who joined Cleveland in March, has settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits filed by the two dozen massage therapists who alleged sexual harassment and assault during treatment sessions in 2020 and 2021.
Earlier this year, two Texas grand juries decided not to pursue criminal charges against Watson. However, the NFL has been investigating whether he has violated his personal conduct policy since 2021.
Watson denies the charges and has repeatedly maintained his innocence.
Retired justice and NFL disciplinary officer Sue Robinson handed down her decision to ban Watson on Monday. In her briefing that was obtained by USA TODAY Sports, Robinson said she determined Watson had “engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL)” against four massage therapists identified in the report.
The ruling said that Watson’s “pattern of behavior was egregious” but that it was “nonviolent sexual conduct,” which is why the suspension was not a long one.
Robinson had heard arguments from the NFL, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and Watson’s attorney at a three day hearing in June. The NFL hoped that Watson would be suspended for at least a year, while NFLPA and Watson’s lawyer argued against the ban.
The ruling isn’t final, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could chose to overrule the decision. However, if the Robinson’s decision is upheld, Watson will be able to take part in preseason and will be able to return to the Cleveland Browns to train during the second half of the suspension.
The NFL said in a statement: “We thank Judge Sue L. Robinson, the independent disciplinary officer, for her review of the voluminous record and attention during a three-day hearing that resulted in her finding multiple violations of the NFL Personal Conduct Policy by Deshaun Watson. We appreciate Judge Robinson’s diligence and professionalism throughout the process.”
The league indicated it would appeal the decision. However, the NFLPA said on Sunday that it would “stand by” the decision and urged NFL to do the same.
Newsweek has contacted the NFL for an update.
Cleveland Browns co-owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said: “We respect Judge Robinson’s decision, and at the same time, empathize and understand that there have been many individuals triggered throughout this process.
“We know Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused so much heartache to many, and he will continue the work needed to show who he is on and off the field and will continue to support him.”