Offsides: The Trials of Deshaun Watson

4 MIN READ

Cleveland Brown’s backup quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, will be starting this NFL season as a fill-in for three-time Pro Bowler Deshaun Watson during his 11-game suspension following a settlement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), announced last Thursday. This settlement came after an investigation stemming from a sexual misconduct lawsuit filed in March 2021, which set in motion more than two dozen women coming forward with similar accusations.

Back to the Beginning

In March 2021, attorney Tony Buzbee announced he was planning to sue Deshaun Watson for alleged misconduct against a woman. This quickly turned into 22 civil lawsuit complaints from women who reported Watson would expose himself during massage sessions, grope the woman, force them to perform sexual acts, and claims they had to sign a non-disclosure agreement if they wanted to be paid.

Within a few months, the NFL began an investigation into the matter, but placed no restrictions on Watson, who at the time was on the roster for the Houston Texans. Watson, who reportedly was asking for a trade amidst his off-field issues, was inactive for all six games in the beginning of the 2021-2022 season.

By March 2022, Watson was cleared by a grand jury of criminal charges related to the sexual misconduct allegations, however his 22 civil suits remained active. Shortly after, the Cleveland Browns released a statement from the owners on their controversial decision to trade for Watson.

Within a few months, Watson’s civil suits jumped to 24, and the Texans were added to the list of defendants [1]The NFL’s Houston Texans to be Named as Co-Defendant in the Watson Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuits – What it Means. 13 PROF. Sports & L. .11 (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Hackney Current Content … Continue reading with claims that they were not only aware of his conduct, but helped facilitate it. Watson continued to deny all allegations, claiming innocence, while 20 of the 24 suits were settled. Similarly, the Houston Texans settled with 30 women.

A Not So Final Decision

By August 2022, a proposal was handed down by Sue Robinson [2]Decision in re: Matter of Deshaun Watson (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Business and Legal Aspects of Sports and Entertainment database, appointed disciplinary officer of the NFL Players Association, to suspend Watson for six games with no pay, claiming violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy [3]Personal Conduct Policy: League Policy for Players (2018). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Business and Legal Aspects of Sports and Entertainment database.

The NFL appealed the suspension just two days later, seeking a tougher penalty. As part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement [4]To diminish the causes of labor disputes burdening or obstructing interstate and foreign commerce, to create a National Labor Relations Board, and for other purposes., Public Law 74-198 / Chapter 372, 74 Congress. 49 Stat. 449 (1919-1936) (1935). … Continue reading (CBA), commissioner Roger Goodell chose former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey to preside over the appeal. Harvey was an advisor for previous NFL conduct matters, including Ezekiel Elliot’s 2017 case [5]Ursula Petersen, Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Roger Goodell and the Power to Punish, 38 LOY. L.A. ENT. L. REV. 117 (2017). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.. One day later, the NFLPA filed its reply brief.

The Final Decision

On Thursday, the NFL and NFL Player’s Association agreed to a settlement including a suspension of 11 games and a fine of $5 million. What’s more, Watson has to undergo a professional evaluation and follow a treatment plan in order to be reinstated.

The NFL and the Cleveland Browns will also be donating $1 million each, in addition to Watson’s fine, which will go towards non-profit organizations that educate youth on healthy relationships, and the prevention of sexual misconduct, and support survivors.

Watson still maintains his innocence, while Brown’s co-owner Jimmy Haslam believes he deserves a second chance. One remaining civil lawsuit still exists, the other 23 were settled out of court.

This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension. We are grateful to Judge Robinson and Peter Harvey for their efforts in addressing these matters, which laid the foundation for reaching this conclusion.
Roger Gooddell, NFL Commissioner

HeinOnline Playbook

I bet you didn’t think HeinOnline would contain football-related content, did you? Surprise! If you didn’t already know, not only does HeinOnline contain PathFinder subjects on sports (such as Sports Law, Sports Governance, and Professional Sports), it also hosts a myriad of sports-related databases.

Before we dive into our specialized databases, let’s run a quick search to see if we can find relatable scholarly articles on this hot topic. A simple search for “personal conduct policy” AND (NFL OR N.F.L.) AND sex* AND suspension in the Law Journal Library returns more than 90 results, including:

PRO TIP: For help constructing a query like the one above, check out our Searching 101 LibGuide.

Not convinced that HeinOnline has sports-related content? Let’s dig even further.

Business and Legal Aspects of Sports and Entertainment

HeinOnline’s Business and Legal Aspects of Sports and Entertainment (BLASE) database illuminates critical issues related to these two cultural topics. Find case law, U.S. federal and state material, topic-coded scholarly articles, court decisions, legislative histories, committee prints, and more in this award-winning database.

Every title in this database has been assigned its own sports or entertainment-related topic, organizing the content and allowing for easy access. The editors have provided scope notes for each of their topics, while also providing annotations to complement important cases and decisions. More over, users can find conference proceedings, books, and periodicals from the National Sports Law Institute (NSLI), a leading research institute for the study of legal, ethical, and business issues in both amateur and professional sports.

image of a scope note in HeinOnline for Sexual Harrassment and Violence

Examples of the many business and legal areas covered in the database are antitrust and labor law, athlete and entertainer representation, content regulation, contracts, criminal law, gender and race discrimination, governance, injuries and violence, intellectual property, health and safety issues, and publicity rights. By providing a wide range of materials on these and many other topics, the editors have sought to produce a truly comprehensive treatment of the many issues connected to both sports and entertainment.


Hackney Publications

Hackney Publications is the nation’s leading publisher of sports law periodicals. Holt Hackney, founder of Hackney Publications, has spent more than 30 years as a journalist covering sports, business, and law. HeinOnline has partnered with Hackney Publications to offer three different packages of in-depth content exploring the legal side of sports. These packages contain journals that provide analyses to help professionals in the sports industry make the best business decisions. While all Hackney titles are available in the Law Journal Library with an embargo, users can purchase current content through our Hackney subscription options.

Fourth Down Conversion

You’ve made it this far. If you enjoy reading about football, or pop culture in general, or any other hot topic trending in the news, be sure to subscribe to our blog. Our Special Teams (cough, HeinOnline bloggers) pride themselves in making sure you’re getting the most out of your HeinOnline content.

HeinOnline Sources

HeinOnline Sources
1 The NFL’s Houston Texans to be Named as Co-Defendant in the Watson Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuits – What it Means. 13 PROF. Sports & L. .11 (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Hackney Current Content Package
2 Decision in re: Matter of Deshaun Watson (2022). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Business and Legal Aspects of Sports and Entertainment database
3 Personal Conduct Policy: League Policy for Players (2018). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Business and Legal Aspects of Sports and Entertainment database
4 To diminish the causes of labor disputes burdening or obstructing interstate and foreign commerce, to create a National Labor Relations Board, and for other purposes., Public Law 74-198 / Chapter 372, 74 Congress. 49 Stat. 449 (1919-1936) (1935). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Statutes at Large database
5 Ursula Petersen, Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Roger Goodell and the Power to Punish, 38 LOY. L.A. ENT. L. REV. 117 (2017). This document can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
You Might Also Like
picture of a player getting tackled in football
Pop Culture
Concussion Protocols and the NFL

The NFL recently updated their concussion protocol after Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins starting quarterback suffered two back to back head injuries within four days of each other. This sparked an investigation to the NFL concussion protocol.

picture of a player getting tackled in football
Pop Culture
Concussion Protocols and the NFL

The NFL recently updated their concussion protocol after Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins starting quarterback suffered two back to back head injuries within four days of each other. This sparked an investigation to the NFL concussion protocol.

can of Coca-Cola
Pop Culture
3 Volumes of Coca-Cola Trademark Cases Now Available in HeinOnline

We love to hear your suggestions—you know best about what you want to see within HeinOnline. So we were thrilled to see this tweet about a title compiling Coca-Cola’s various trademark infringement cases. We now have all 3 volumes in HeinOnline!

Like what you see?

There’s plenty more where that came from! Subscribe to the HeinOnline Blog to receive posts like these right to your inbox.

By entering your email, you agree to receive great content from the HeinOnline Blog. HeinOnline also uses the information you provide to contact you about other content, products, and services we think you’ll love.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to the blog!