The Real Reason NFL Star Deshaun Watson Faces Six-Game Suspension

Even people who don't pay attention to professional football may, by now, have heard of Deshaun Watson, the star NFL quarterback who now faces a six-game suspension. The official decision comes after two dozen sexual harassment lawsuits, a 15-month investigation, and a $230 million dollar contract with the Cleveland Browns, according to the New York Times. Watson is now only allowed to employ club-approved massage therapists rather than finding massage therapists on his own. He will also not be facing any monetary fine. The decision was made by the NFL's disciplinary officer, retired judge Sue L. Robinson.

Watson's suspension also comes with months of speculation and commentary both in support of the athlete and against him. While Watson has denied any wrongdoing and reached a settlement with 23 out of the 24 women who have made accusations against him, many observers believe that the football player's behavior warrants a more serious punishment than what he seems likely to receive.

Deshaun Watson is accused of sexual misconduct by over two dozen women

The first accusations against Deshaun Watson came out in March 2021, and many of the allegations followed a similar pattern. According to a New York Times investigation, Watson would reach out to massage therapists and book private sessions. Then, accusers say Watson would engage in lewd or sexual behavior and in some cases pressure the women to perform sexual acts on him. Watson and his lawyers deny the accusations. 

The Times reported that not everyone who made accusations filed a suit against Watson, and not everyone who Watson booked for a massage has alleged sexual misconduct or assault. Overall, the Times found that Watson made appointments with 66 different women between the fall of 2019 and the spring of 2021.

Tony Buzbee, attorney for the accusers, later filed a lawsuit against the Houston Texans (Watson's previous team), for enabling Watson's alleged sexual misconduct, as per the Guardian, after 20 out of the 24 cases had been settled. Since then, Watson has settled an additional three cases. 

"I have never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life," Watson said at a news conference after being traded to the Cleveland Browns, according to The Independent

Deshaun Watson has not faced criminal charges

After all of the allegations were raised, the question then became whether or not Deshaun Watson would face any criminal charges. In March 2022, a grand jury in Houston, Texas declined to indict Watson on nine criminal charges, according to ESPN. "It's definitely a very emotional moment for me," Watson told reporters after the decision. "I know we're far from being done of handling what we need to handle on the legal side, but today is definitely a big day."

Still, not everyone was as convinced as the grand jury that Watson had not committed any crimes. According to USA Today, detective Kamesha Baker, who investigated all the criminal complaints against Watson, testified that she believed without a doubt that Watson had committed crimes. She testified that she did not know why the grand jury declined to indict Watson, and she was disappointed that she was not called to testify before the grand jury itself. "What I can say is there appeared to be a pattern of an attempt to make the massage session sexual," Baker said in the deposition.

The suspension caused controversy on Twitter

Though Deshaun Watson was not indicted on any criminal charges, it still was yet to be determined what, if any, disciplinary action the NFL would take against him in light of the allegations. Finally, on August 1, it was reported that the league decided on a six-game suspension — which caused its own online controversy. 

Some commenters found Watson's suspension especially unfair in comparison to the suspensions of other players for much less serious allegations. Many other commenters lamented what the decision said about the NFL's attitudes toward sexual assault allegations and the treatment of women. A lot of people took to social media to say that they were simply disgusted. "Calvin Ridley got a whole year for betting 1,500 on a Fanduel parlay in a game he didn't play in but Deshaun Watson getting 4-8 games for 30 [sexual assault] allegations," tweeted one person. "The league should be ashamed of themself," another tweeter lamented. "Absolutely disgusting. Deshaun Watson is only going to miss 6 games," someone else tweeted.

Journalists and professional commentators also weighed in on Twitter. "If you have to put in the ruling that Deshaun Watson is only allowed to utilize the Browns' massage therapists, then maybe he should be getting suspended more than 6 games," tweeted sports journalist Jamele Hill. "24 women accused Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct in civil lawsuits. He's suspended six games," reporter Brooke Pryor tweeted.