Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson gestures to fans during the...

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson gestures to fans during the NFL football team's training camp, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in Berea, Ohio. Credit: AP/Nick Cammett

The NFL appealed the six-game suspension of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been accused by 24 female massage therapists of sexual assault or misconduct when he played for the Houston Texans from 2019 to 2021.

The decision to appeal comes two days after former federal judge Sue L. Robinson handed down the suspension on Monday following a three-day hearing in June.

NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that the league is “appealing Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension,” and that the league has “notified the NFLPA that it will appeal.” The statement also said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell “will determine who will hear the appeal.”

Under terms of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, Goodell has the authority to preside over the appeal, or he can appoint someone else to hear the case. Robinson found that Watson had violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy by his behavior, and she had wide latitude to hand down punishment.

The league and NFLPA could not come to terms on a settlement after the league had pushed for a much longer suspension — up to a full season, as well as a substantial fine. Robinson then told both sides that it would be a six-game suspension without a fine.

The union had urged the league to accept the suspension before it had been handed down, and it may wage a court challenge if a significantly longer suspension is decided on appeal. If that is the case, the union would almost certainly ask for an injunction that would allow Watson to play until the case is resolved.

Watson was not charged criminally in connection with any of the allegations brought by the massage therapists. Two grand juries declined to charge the former Texans quarterback. A total of 25 therapists sued Watson in civil court, although one of those cases was subsequently dropped. Watson recently settled 20 of the 24 remaining cases, and Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the women who have sued Watson, announced Monday that three more cases had been settled, leaving one case still active.

Last month, the Texans announced settlements with 30 women who either made claims or were preparing to charge the team for its role in facilitating and/or advising Watson regarding the massages.

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