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Former attorney general is selected to hear the NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s 6-game suspension

CLEVELAND — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell chose former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal of the six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson was suspended this week by independent disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, who concluded he violated the league’s personal conduct policy after being accused of sexual misconduct by two dozen women in Texas.

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The league, which had been pushing for an indefinite suspension for Watson, wanted further discipline and appealed Robinson’s ruling Wednesday.

Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the appeal gave the power back to Goodell to enact punishment, but he instead chose Harvey, a partner at a law firm in New York, to hear the appeal.

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In noting his qualifications, the league said Harvey “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 also has served as Goodell’s designee in other arbitrations and is a member of the league’s Diversity Advisory Committee, created to improve racial and gender diversity across the NFL.

Goodell chose a designee because he wanted an expert in the field who can focus solely on this matter, a person familiar with the decision told the Associated Press. Goodell is busy with Hall of Fame weekend and the upcoming league meeting Tuesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because it’s an internal matter.

There is no timeline for when Harvey will hear the appeal. According to the league’s personal conduct policy, it must be processed on an expedited basis.

Due in part to a public outcry that the suspension was too light, the league appealed Robinson’s decision and wants Watson disciplined further.

“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 in a statement.

“Under the collective bargaining agreement, Mr. Harvey’s written decision “will constitute the full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), club(s), and parties” to the CBA.”

In her 16-page ruling, Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association, called Watson’s behavior “egregious” and “predatory.” The women alleged he sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them during massage therapy sessions when the quarterback played for the Houston Texans.

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The former federal judge concluded that Watson violated the league’s policy by engaging in unwanted sexual contact with another person, endangering the safety and well-being of another person and undermining the league’s integrity.

However, in imposing the six-game suspension, Robinson pointed out flaws in the league’s guidelines for player misconduct, which limited her authority to penalize him. Robinson did stipulate in her punishment that Watson must use only team-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career.

AP reporter Rob Maaddi contributed.


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