NFL hits Deshaun Watson with 11-game ban and $5m fine after sexual misconduct claims

<span>Photograph: David Richard/AP</span>
Photograph: David Richard/AP

Deshaun Watson has been fined $5m and suspended for 11 games after a settlement was reached between the NFL and the league’s players association over the quarterback’s future.

The Cleveland Browns quarterback was given a six-game suspension earlier this month by an independent adjudicator after allegations of sexual misconduct involving more than two dozen women. The NFL wanted a longer suspension and lodged an appeal, with the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, saying the quarterback had displayed “predatory behavior”.

On Thursday, Goodell said he was satisfied Watson could return to the NFL after serving his suspension.

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“Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL,” Goodell said. “This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension.”

Watson has denied any wrongdoing and grand juries declined to indict him on criminal charges over the sexual misconduct claims, which involved female massage therapists. He has so far settled with 23 of the women who have filed lawsuits against him. Last week, Watson issued an apology to the women involved. But despite saying he took “accountability” for his actions Thursday, Watson maintained he was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

“I’ll continue to stand on my innocence, just because you know settlements, and things like that happen doesn’t mean that a person is guilty for anything. I feel like a person has an opportunity to stand on his innocence and prove that, and we proved that from a legal side, and just going to continue to push forward as an individual and as a person,” he said.

The NFL says the $5m will go to “non-profit organizations across the country that educate young people on healthy relationships, promote education and prevention of sexual misconduct and assault, support survivors, and related causes”. The Browns and the NFL will also contribute a further $1m each towards the organizations.

The 11-game suspension means Watson will be available to return for the Browns’ game against his former team, the Houston Texans. The three-time Pro Bowler requested a trade away from the Texans and sat out the whole of the 2021 season as he settled his grievances with the team and dealt with his legal issues.

The 26-year-old is one of the most talented players in the league, and several teams were interested in trading for him despite the serious allegations against him. Watson eventually joined the Browns, where he signed a fully guaranteed five-year, $230m contract. In May, two of the women who accused the quarterback of sexual misconduct said they were offended by the sums involved in his contract.

“It’s just like a big screw you,” Ashley Solis told HBO’s Real Sports. “That’s what it feels like. That we don’t care. He can run and throw, and that’s what we care about.”

Watson struggled in his preseason game against the Jaguars completing just one of five passes for seven yards. He was also subjected to hostile chants from Jaguars fans throughout his appearance. The Browns expect back-up quarterback Jacoby Brissett to stand in for Watson during his suspension.