An American footballer has been given a six-game ban over accusations of sexual misconduct.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was accused by 24 women in Texas, where he played five seasons with the Houston Texans, and has been suspended in line with the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
The 26-year-old, who joined Cleveland in March, settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits filed by massage therapists who alleged sexual harassment and assault during treatment sessions in 2020 and 2021.
Two juries in Texas decided not to pursue criminal charges against the Clemson University graduate earlier this year, but the NFL has been investigating whether he violated its personal conduct policy since 2021.
Watson has claimed he is innocent throughout the process.
His ban for the upcoming 2022 season was handed down by NFL disciplinary officer judge Sue Robinson.
The NFL has indicated that it will appeal the decision, but the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) said in a statement on Sunday that it will “stand by” the ruling and urged the league to do the same.
Judge Robinson heard arguments from the NFL, union and Watson’s lawyer during a three-day hearing in June.
The NFL hoped he would be suspended for at least a year, while the NFLPA and Watson argued against a ban.
Neither of the sides could agree a settlement deal.
If the suspension is upheld, Watson will be able to take part in preseason and will be able to return to the Browns to practice during the second half of the ban.
Cleveland Browns co-owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam: “We respect Judge Robinson’s decision, and at the same time, empathise and understand that there have been many individuals triggered throughout this process.
“We know Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused so much heartache to many, and he will continue the work needed to show who he is on and off the field and will continue to support him.”
To compare, the ban is far less than the full season Atlanta Falcons’ Calvin Ridley was given during the off-season this year for breaking betting rules.
It is two games more than the ban of former New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, who was suspended for four games for accidentally shooting himself in the foot.
DeAndre Hopkins, who is signed on with the Arizona Cardinals, received a six-game ban for a performance enhancing drugs violation, while receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended a total of 78 games by the league since 2012 for various drug violations.
Watson was the top ranked quarterback during the 2017 NFL draft and was a first round pick for the Texans.
When he moved to Cleveland earlier this year, Watson signed a fully guaranteed, five-year $230m (£187.7m) deal.