NFL Players Association files response to NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension; also set to sue in federal court

BEREA, Ohio — The NFL Players Association announced Friday that it has responded to the NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension by NFL Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson for violating the policy of personal conduct of the league.

“We have filed our brief in response to the NFL’s appeal regarding the Deshaun Watson case,” the NFLPA said in a statement posted to Twitter.

The union, which had two working days to respond, made no further comment.

The case is now in the hands of Appeals Officer Peter C. Harvey, the former New Jersey Attorney General who was appointed Thursday by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. There is no time limit set for a decision, but it must be processed in an expedited manner. The two parties – the NFL and the NFLPA – can also try to negotiate a settlement before the decision.

But the NFLPA is still set to sue in federal court, possibly pending the outcome of the appeal.

“If the new umpire increases Watson’s sentence – again this triggers a legal battle between the union and the league challenging the fairness of the penalties and the power of (Roger) Goodell to penalize players for their alleged roles” , said attorney Daniel Moskowitz., a sports law attorney in Dallas who has represented several NFL players in NFL investigations involving the league’s personal conduct policy, drug abuse violation and other code of conduct policies.

The NFLPA and Watson’s legal team may also file a case ahead of Harvey’s ruling, which helped develop and implement the league’s personal conduct policy.

In 2017, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott didn’t wait for appeals officer Harold Henderson to rule on his domestic violence case before filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

“The District Court, having found that it could intervene due to a fundamental lack of fairness throughout the process, ruled for Elliott and granted his application for a temporary restraining order (TRO) restraining the player’s suspension to take effect,” Moskowitz said.

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Elliott’s six-game suspension was eventually reinstated, but he played the first seven games of the 2017 season before serving it.

Tom Brady also sued in federal court to have his four-game Deflategate suspension overturned, and the decision went in his favor. He played the entire 2015 season before the NFL won its appeal and the suspension was reinstated. He missed the first four games of 2016.

The NFLPA, which fought to have no suspension given to Watson, will likely argue that Sue L. Robinson was unable to find a definition of sexual assault in the collective agreement or workplace policy. personal conduct. Other than that, one of the NFL investigators, on behalf of the league, defined it during the three-day hearing in June as “unwanted sexual contact with another person.”

Based on this definition, Robinson concluded that the NFL bore its burden of proving beyond a preponderance of the evidence that Watson engaged in sexual assault against the four massage therapists identified in the report.

But Watson’s team has always maintained that he did not use force or coercion, and therefore did not commit sexual assault. They complied with the six-game suspension, but will likely fight a much longer ban barring any violent sexual misconduct.

The NFL, which has advocated from the start for a minimum one-season suspension with the option to seek reinstatement, is again asking for the full year, along with an ‘appropriate fine’ and treatment for what it has. seen as a disturbing pattern of sexual misconduct.

Indeed, Robinson described his behavior in his 16-page report as “predatory” and “blatant.”

The NFLPA, led by attorney Jeffrey Kessler, could also look to the precedent set in 2015 in the domestic violence case against former Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy.

In this instance, Henderson reduced Hardy’s suspension from 10 games to four on the grounds that it far exceeded all precedents in the league.

“I find Hardy’s conduct clearly violates the letter and spirit of any version of the (Personal Conduct Policy) since its inception, and the NFL Constitution and Bylaws long before that. The egregious conduct exhibited here is indefensible in the NFL,” Henderson said in a statement announcing his decision. “However, ten games is just too much, in my view, of an increase from previous instances without notice, as was the case last year when the ‘base’ for discipline in the case of domestic violence or sexual assault was announced as a six-game suspension.”

Robinson wrote something similar in his explanation for the six-game suspension despite Watson violating three areas of the policy.

“While it may be entirely appropriate to discipline players more harshly for nonviolent sexual conduct, I do not think it is appropriate to do so without notice of the extraordinary change that this position portends for the NFL and its communities. players,” she wrote.

The two sides may also reopen settlement talks, but negotiations until shortly before Robinson’s decision on Monday proved fruitless. According to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, the NFLPA was ready to concede 6-8 games, but the NFL was unwilling to budge on less than 12 games and an $8 million fine.

The NFL is adamant that Watson should lose more than the $57,500 per game he will owe based on his base salary of $1.035 million for the 2022 season. given a $45 million signing bonus to free up space for the season. It’s part of his fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract extension after the Browns traded him in March, sending a net five draft picks to the Texans, including three first-rounders.

Goodell singled out Harvey for many reasons, not the least of which was that Goodell was unable to process the call quickly. He is currently attending the Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities in Canton, then travels to Minnesota next week for an important league meeting on Tuesday in which the sale of the Denver Broncos will take center stage.

Harvey, a former federal prosecutor and now a partner at the law firm Paterson Belknap in New York, is uniquely qualified for many reasons, including the fact that he is one of the nation’s leading authorities on sexual assault.

He sits on the board of directors of Futures Without Violence, focusing on policy issues on domestic violence, sexual assault and childhood trauma. As Attorney General of New Jersey, his initiatives included refining and strengthening a groundbreaking Sexual Assault Response Team/Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SART/SANE) program. ) to help victims of sexual assault come forward without fear of being re-victimized by the justice system. it is to help them.

He has also been appointed by the commissioner in other arbitrations and was one of four consultants in Elliott’s domestic violence case.

Harvey “may rescind, reduce, modify or increase discipline previously pronounced” and his word will be final – unless Watson prosecutes, which seems likely.

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