A day after the NFL announced it will appeal former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson’s disciplinary recommendation for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, the league has appointed former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to oversee the hearing, as CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones reports. Robinson’s investigation of Watson, who was accused by 24 women of sexual assault and misconduct this offseason, concluded with a recommended six-game suspension. Now it’s up to Harvey to determine whether Watson should face even stricter penalties, with the NFL reportedly seeking at least a full-season ban.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had the power to hear the appeal himself, but by designating Harvey, he has officially redirected the next stage of the process outside his office. Harvey, however, has worked with the NFL before, and currently serves as a consulting member of the league’s Diversity Advisory Committee, built to improve racial and gender diversity in NFL hiring practices. He was previously appointed by Goodell to hear Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s appeal of a six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence in 2017; Harvey upheld said suspension, which was later delayed but served in full.
Now a partner at the Paterson Belknap firm in New York, Harvey has also served as a federal prosecutor, handling both civil and criminal cases involving sexual assault. His ruling in the Watson deliberation “will constitute the full, final and complete disposition of the dispute” according to the NFL and NFL Players Association’s collective bargaining agreement, the league said Thursday. Specifically, he’ll be tasked with determining whether Robinson’s recommendation “should be modified to include a professional evaluation and treatment as determined by medical experts, an appropriate fine, and a longer suspension.”
Ever since investigating Watson, the NFL has sought a severe punishment for the former Texans QB, who has not faced criminal charges and has since settled all but one of 24 civil lawsuits filed against him this offseason. Robinson admitted in her ruling this week that the league argued for an indefinite ban of the QB due to the “unprecedented” severity of his alleged serial abuse involving dozens of private massage therapists. She herself deemed Watson’s behavior “egregious,” but recommended only a six-game suspension largely, she implied, because of the NFL’s ambiguous standards for policing personal conduct.
Even if Harvey lengthens Watson’s suspension, the QB could later sue the NFL through the NFL Players Association and temporarily halt the ban, as Elliott did in 2017 and Tom Brady did in 2015, for his alleged role in the Patriots‘ “Deflategate” ordeal. But NFLPA lawsuits have mostly, ultimately proven to delay, not erase, suspensions issued by the NFL, which means Harvey’s ruling is in fact, sooner or later, likely to constitute the final decision regarding Watson’s availability for the 2022 season and possibly beyond.