With a suspension that could see him out of football for a minimum of a year and possibly longer on the line, Deshaun Watson is scheduled for a hearing in front of an arbitrator who will determine his short-term NFL fate today.
Watson, the Cleveland Browns quarterback, last week settled 20 out of 24 lawsuits from female massage therapists who accused him of exposing himself, asking for sexual favors and masturbating during massage sessions. All of the accusations occurred in the Houston area while Watson played for the Houston Texans franchise between 2017 and 2021. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson in March.
With criminal charges off the table and most of the civil cases wrapped up, Watson’s biggest hurdle to continuing his football career—he hasn’t played in a game since January 2021—is whatever discipline the NFL hands down, thus today’s proceedings before retired federal judge Sue Robinson. Robinson is the arbitrator agreed to by the league and the NFL Players Association union who is hearing the case and determining what discipline, if any, Watson will face. That could be stiff: if the league gets its way, Watson would face an “indefinite” ban, which would mean he sits out until at least the 2023 season before he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement.
But the league first has to make its case to Robinson.
At least 10 days before the hearing, the NFL was to have produced any transcripts or audio recordings of witness interviews, any expert reports and court documents obtained or prepared by the NFL as part of its investigation, and any evidentiary material referenced in its investigative report that was not included as an exhibit, according to the collective bargaining agreement.
In this case, such evidence could be extensive after 24 lawsuits and 10 complaints to Houston police.
Robinson doesn’t have a deadline by which she needs to rule, but the league likely wants a resolution before the season starts on Sept. 8.