N.F.L. Adviser to Hear the Appeal of Deshaun Watson’s Suspension

The N.F.L. appointed Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, to hear its appeal of the six-game suspension of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for multiple violations of the N.F.L.’s personal conduct policy, according to a league spokesman.

On Wednesday, the N.F.L. appealed Watson’s suspension, which was issued by a third-party disciplinary officer after a three-day hearing in June that probed accusations that he had engaged in sexually coercive and lewd behavior during massages. 

Sue L. Robinson, the retired federal judge jointly appointed by the league and the N.F.L. Players Association, found that Watson had engaged in “predatory” and “egregious” conduct but suggested that she was limited in her authority to mete out stricter discipline by the N.F.L.’s policies and past rulings.

The union has until Friday to file a response to the league’s appeal, but there is no deadline for Harvey to issue a ruling. The league has said the appeal will be heard on an “expedited” basis.

Watson has denied the allegations against him. Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him on criminal charges, and he has settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits filed against him by women who said he assaulted or harassed them during massage appointments.

His is the first player-conduct hearing to have gone through a third-party arbitrator, a new process prescribed in 2020 by the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union. 

 Per its terms, the arbitrator issued an initial ruling, which either side could appeal to Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person of his choosing. The league still holds immense sway over the final outcome because it has what amounts to veto power.

Before Robinson suspended Watson for six games, the N.F.L. asked for at least a full-year suspension. The league is seeking the same penalty in its appeal, and it has also recommended a fine and treatment for Watson, according to a person with knowledge of the brief that the N.F.L. submitted Wednesday but who is not authorized to speak publicly about it.

The N.F.L. also cited concerns about Watson’s lack of remorse, as did Robinson in her report on her decision.

Robinson’s discipline did not include a fine or counseling for Watson but did mandate as a condition of his reinstatement that he use only team-approved massage therapists, in team-directed sessions, for the duration of his career.