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Deshaun Watson’s possible one-year NFL suspension over payments for alleged sexual misconduct

The pro football fate of a star NFL quarterback is set to be determined this week amid sexual misconduct allegations.

A three-day internal disciplinary hearing has been held for Cleveland Brown quarterback Deshaun Watson, who could face a season-long suspension from the league after being accused of sexual assault by nearly two dozen of women.

Last month, Watson reached a settlement in 20 of 24 lawsuits filed by women who accused Watson of sexual assault and harassment while playing for the Houston Texans. It was clarified during the hearing that the league is seeking an indefinite suspension of at least one year for the quarterback.

Cleveland Browns’ Deshaun Watson looks on during the Cleveland Browns’ offseason practice in Berea, Ohio on June 8, 2022.

Diamond Images/Getty Images, FILE

Watson was never arrested or criminally charged for the allegations, and two grand juries declined to indict Watson after reviewing the evidence.

Disciplinary Judge Sue L. Robinson is expected to deliver her decision next week after a review of post-hearing briefs from both sides.

For years, the NFL has been criticized for the league’s handling of domestic violence and sexual assault allegations against women. More recently, the league attempted to make amends by enforcing a personal conduct policy for all NFL employees, current and former players, aimed specifically at addressing these issues.

Mary Kate Cabot covers the Browns for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and spoke to ABC News’ “Start Here” about what’s to come for the next NFL play regarding the situation.

“Well, it was 24 massage therapists, mostly from the Houston area, who, beginning around fall 2020, accused Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct during massage appointments,” Cabot said. . “[Although] 20 of the 24 have now been settled… that could kind of mean the beginning of the end for this whole saga.

Watson has maintained his innocence throughout the allegations, and the Cleveland Browns have backed the player.

“If we weren’t comfortable with Deshaun the person, no matter how talented, we wouldn’t have pursued the craft,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry said at a press conference on Tuesday. last month. “We believe in Deshaun, the person.”

Although he didn’t admit his wrongdoing, Cabot said Watson recently told him he was “seeking advice.”

“He takes advantage of the resources that the Browns have made available. I think that will be a mitigating factor in the eyes of the NFL,” Cabot said. “But the NFL must now decide the discipline for Deshaun Watson.”

Deshaun Watson’s possible one-year NFL suspension over payments for alleged sexual misconduct

Cleveland Browns’ Deshaun Watson throws a pass during the Cleveland Browns OTA in Berea, Ohio on May 25, 2022.

Nick Cammett/Getty Images, FILE

Although the regulations do not officially assign blame one way or another, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear last month that Watson was still under investigation by the NFL. .

“The Personal Conduct Policy does not need a criminal offense to be a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy,” Goodell said at a press conference.

In March, the Cleveland Browns reportedly guaranteed Watson $230 million over five years in a trade deal, the most guaranteed signing money of any NFL player in history, according to ESPN.

Cabot said the NFL Players Association is preparing for “a very long suspension” of Watson from the league.

“They plan to fight it vigorously,” Cabot said. “The next big step for everyone to take is to find out what the NFL has in mind and then how Deshaun’s team is going to fight it.”

At a press conference hosted by the Cleveland Browns last week, Watson addressed the allegations. He said he regretted the impact the situation had on the community.

“That includes my family. That includes this organization. That includes my teammates in that locker room who have to answer those questions,” Watson said. “That includes the Cleveland Browns fan base…It’s hard to deal with.”

Cabot said the league is now dealing with the right amount of disciplinary action.

“It’s going to be tough in the court of public opinion and they’re going to have to walk that fine line between making it look like they really appreciate, respect and believe women who bring up these things,” she said. . “And also being fair to the fact that there is no evidence that anything happened.”

ABC News

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