Goodell names Harvey to hear NFL's Watson ban appeal

·3-min read

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell designated ex-New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey on Thursday to hear the league's appeal of Deshaun Watson's six-game suspension following sexual assault accusations.

The move comes a day after the NFL said it would appeal disciplinary officer Judge Sue Robinson's Monday punishment of Watson for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

The NFL had pushed for an indefinite suspension for the Cleveland Browns quarterback, who was accused of sexual assault and misconduct during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women.

No criminal charges were brought against Watson, who has denied wrongdoing.

The NFL Players Association, which said Sunday it would not appeal Robinson's decision, has until Friday to respond to the league's appeal.

Harvey served as the New Jersey state attorney general from 2003 to 2006 and is now a partner in the New York law firm of Paterson Belknap.

"He has also served as a federal prosecutor," the NFL said in a statement. "He has deep expertise in criminal law, including domestic violence and sexual assault, and has advised the NFL and other professional leagues on the development and implementation of workplace policies, including the NFL's personal conduct policy."

Harvey has also served as a designee by Goodell in other arbitrations.

Robinson wrote in her report that the league proved Watson violated the policy by engaging in "sexual assault; conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person; and conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL."

Robinson said that while the NFL argued for banning Watson for the entire 2022 campaign, she was "bound by standards of fairness and consistency of treatment among players similarly situated" from past incidents in assigning her punishment.

"The NFL's appeal addresses whether, based on the findings made by Judge Robinson, the discipline should be modified to include a professional evaluation and treatment as determined by medical experts, an appropriate fine, and a longer suspension," the league said.

While the league says Harvey's decision will be the final word on the matter, the union could still take the matter to court, since the notion of having someone in Robinson's place was agreed upon in bargaining in part to take control of disciplinary action out of Goodell's hands.

Robinson heard arguments in June from the league, the union and Watson's lawyers on five specific cases that took place between March 2020 and March 2021 while Watson was with the Houston Texans.

An indefinite suspension would require Watson to apply for reinstatement before he resumes his career. Watson and the NFLPA refused that offer prior to the hearing before Robinson.

The Browns knew Watson faced the possibility of a long ban to start the 2022 season when they signed him to a record five-year guaranteed deal worth $230 million.

Watson led the NFL in 2020 with 4,823 passing yards but missed the entire 2021 season under the "non-injury/personal matter" category of the league's collective bargaining agreement.

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