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Deshaun Watson is suspended for 11 games. How does the NFL make those decisions?

Deshaun Watson, #4 of the Cleveland Brown, looks to throw against the Jacksonville Jaguars during a football game at TIAA Bank Field on August 12, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Mike Carlson
/
Getty Images
Deshaun Watson, #4 of the Cleveland Brown, looks to throw against the Jacksonville Jaguars during a football game at TIAA Bank Field on August 12, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida.

The National Football League has suspended Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for 11 games and fined him $5 million in a settlement, amid accusations of sexual misconduct and assault against him from two dozen women.

A disciplinary officer initially decided to suspend him for six games, but it was later appealed by the NFL, with league Commissioner Roger Goodell saying he sought to have Watson suspended for at least a year.

The updated decision was made Thursday as the NFL and the NFL Players Association, the union representing the players, reached a mutual agreement on Watson's punishment.

So what is the NFL's policy on suspensions, and how did it arrive at that decision?

What does the personal conduct policy say?

The NFL's personal conduct policy states that employees must not engage in "conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in" the NFL, or behavior that is "illegal, violent, dangerous or irresponsible" according to a 2018 version of the policy.

It applies to team owners, coaches, players and other team employees, game officials, as well as employees of NFL Films, the NFL Network, or any other NFL business.

Employees do not have to be convicted of a crime or be questioned by law enforcement to be subjected to punishment by the league.

Some of the prohibited behavior includes:

  • Actual or threatened physical violence against another person
  • Assault or battery, including sexual assault
  • Stalking, harassment or other forms of intimidation
  • Illegal possession, use or distribution of drugs or alcohol
  • Animal cruelty
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Steroid use, possession or distribution
  • A disciplinary officer gathers evidence for a hearing

    A disciplinary officer is jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

    A hearing follows, in which the officer gathers evidence and determines what actions to take, if any. The NFL has 10 days before the hearing to inform the officer, the player and the players association of any recommended punishment, according to the 2020 collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and players union.

    The league is responsible for establishing a burden of proof that the player violated the personal conduct policy, as well as publishing any mitigating factors, such as the player accepting responsibility, receiving clinical help and paying fines.

    While the investigation is ongoing, the player accused of a violation may continue to play or be placed on the commissioner's exempt list, which functions as paid leave.

    Once the officer makes a decision, it is final unless the league or union decides to appeal. Goodell then has the last word, or can appoint a third party to make a final decision.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Ayana Archie