NFL Appoints Adviser to Deshawn Watson’s Appeal

NFL Names Peter S. Harvey, Former New Jersey Attorney General, to Appeal Six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshawn Watson According to a league spokesman, for multiple violations of NFL policy regarding personal conduct.

On Wednesday, NFL appeals against Watson’s suspension, which was issued by an outside disciplinary officer after a three-day hearing in June that dealt with allegations that he engaged in sexual coercion and indecent behavior during a massage. Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association, found that Watson engaged in “predatory” and “egregious” behavior but suggested that her authority was limited in enforcing more severe disciplinary action. NFL policies and past rulings.

The union has until Friday to file a response to the league’s appeal, but Harvey doesn’t have a deadline to make a decision. The league said the appeal would be dealt with on an expedited basis.

Watson denied the allegations against him. Two grand juries in Texas refused to bring criminal charges against him, and he settled 23 of 24 lawsuits filed against him by women who alleged he assaulted or harassed them during massage sessions.

This is the first player conduct hearing that has gone through an outside arbiter, a new process mandated in 2020 by the league’s and players’ union collective bargaining agreement. Under its terms, the arbitrator rendered an initial award, which either party could appeal to Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person of his choice. The league still has a huge impact on the final result because it has veto power.

Before Robinson suspended Watson for six games, the NFL requested a suspension of at least a full year. The league is seeking the same punishment in its appeal and has also recommended a fine and treatment for Watson, according to a person with knowledge of the letter the NFL released on Wednesday but not authorized to speak publicly about it. The NFL also expressed concern about Watson’s lack of remorse, as did Robinson in their report of their decision.

Robinson’s discipline did not include fines or counseling for Watson, but as a condition of his reinstatement required him to use only team-approved masseurs in team-led sessions throughout his career.

Harvey, a partner at Patterson Belknap in New York and a former U.S. Attorney, has worked to address violence against women, including through the Sexual Harassment Response Team initiative he led as Attorney General. He is also a board member of Futures Without Violence, a non-profit organization that seeks political solutions to end violence against women and children.

Harvey helped rewrite the NFL’s personal conduct policy in 2014 and sits on the league’s Diversity Advisory Committee, created in March. He was a member of the four-man panel that advised Goodell in 2017 during the NFL investigation and subsequent suspension. or Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliottwho was accused of domestic violence but not prosecuted.

Goodell suspended Elliot for six games after consulting with an advisory panel.

Tony Buzby, a lawyer for Watson’s accusers, held a press conference Thursday afternoon in which he called the NFL’s report on violence against women “sketchy and sad” and urged Goodell to face a harsher punishment. Ashley Solis, a licensed massage therapist who filed the first lawsuit against Watson in March 2021, read a statement criticizing the NFL’s handling of the allegations against Watson. Solis settled her lawsuit against Watson the night before Robinson released her decision.

“What does the NFL’s actions say to little girls who have been harmed at the hands of someone who is thought to be in power?” Solis said. “That it doesn’t matter much? What do they care?” She said that was the message she took from the league’s response.

Goodell and the league have come under fire for years because the commissioner handled all aspects of personal conduct policy violations, including fact-finding, sentencing, and hearing appeals.

The union fought to reduce some of Goodell’s powers in the latest CBA by having a jointly approved disciplinary inspector listen to league and union presentations and impose a penalty. But if the disciplinary officer finds that there has been a violation of the personal conduct policy, Goodell or his deputy still has final say on the degree of disciplinary action.

During the 15-month investigation into the allegations against Watson, the NFL interviewed 49 people, including Watson, 12 of his accusers and other witnesses. Not all of the women who filed lawsuits against Watson chose to interview the league.

The union may decide to appeal the outcome of the appeal in federal court, as it has done with decisions about the behavior of other players in the past. But the courts generally do not intervene in the affairs of companies and unions that jointly approved arbitration and appeal processes, as did the league and the players’ association.