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NFL issues Browns QB Watson 11-game ban and $5 mn fine

Deshaun Watson, practicing for the Cleveland Browns, was issued an 11-game ban and fined $5 million under a settlement between the NFL and its players union. ©AFP

New York (AFP) - Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was issued with an 11-game ban and fined $5 million by the NFL on Thursday in a settlement between the league and the NFL players union.

Terms of the deal also require Watson to undergo a professional evaluation by behavioral experts and to follow their treatment program. 

Watson has been accused of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women during his time with the Houston Texans.

Watson missed the entire 2021 NFL season for "non-injury personal reasons" and was traded to the Browns in March for six NFL Draft picks, three of them first rounders.

The Browns signed Watson to a five-year deal worth $230 million, the largest contract with the most guaranteed money in NFL history.

Watson's fine plus money from the NFL and the Browns will be part of $7 million in donations to support the work of organizations that fight to prevent sexual misconduct and assault and support survivors of such actions.

"Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said.

"This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension."

Watson will miss the first 11 games of the NFL campaign that begins in September and be eligible to return to the Browns on November 28, just in time for his first possible game to be a December 4 contest at Houston against his former club.

On Thursday, Watson, 26, said he stands by his innocence and looks forward to telling his side of the full story.

"That's definitely the plan.That's definitely the goal," Watson said.

"I feel like through this whole process we've been trying to tell my side of the story but a whole lot of people didn't pay too much attention to it.

"One day we will.Only time will tell.I continue to keep being the person I am."

Watson has settled at least 20 of the lawsuits against him.The Texans separately reached settlements with 30 women who were prepared to make claims against the club for its alleged role in enabling his behavior.

Judge Sue Robinson found Watson violated the NFL's personal conduct policy earlier this month and issued a six-game ban, but the NFL appealed the outcome to a disciplinary officer, who did not, and now will not, make a ruling following the settlement between the NFL Players Association and the league.

'A second chance'

Browns team owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam expressed support for Watson, saying he has expressed remorse and will change over time through therapy.

"Since he came into the building, he has done everything we've asked of him and more," Jimmy Haslam said.

"We're going to support him in every way possible during the suspension and what we hope is a long career with the Cleveland Browns."

The Browns said they conducted an "extensive investigation" before signing Watson to his record deal and Haslam said he absolutely would make the same trade today.

"We think people deserve a second chance," Haslam said."That doesn't mean we don't have empathy for people affected."

Watson, who led the NFL in 2020 with 4,823 passing yards, played in a pre-season game last weekend, drawing boos in Jacksonville.

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