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NFL suspends Browns QB Deshaun Watson 6 games, sources say

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Browns Football

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson walks during an NFL football practice in Berea, Ohio, Friday, July 29, 2022. 

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended for six games Monday for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy following accusations of sexual misconduct made against him by two dozen women in Texas, two people familiar with the decision said.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been publicly released. Watson, who played for four seasons with Houston before being traded to Cleveland in March, recently settled 23 of 24 lawsuits filed by massage therapists alleging sexual harassment and assault during appointments in 2020 and 2021.

After learning the ruling was imminent, the NFL Players Association issued a joint statement with Watson on Sunday night, saying they will not appeal disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson's ruling and urged the league to follow suit.

"Every player, owner, business partner and stakeholder deserves to know that our process is legitimate and will not be tarnished based on the whims of the League office" the union said in a statement.

If either side appealed, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates will make the decision, per terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The union then could try to challenge that ruling in federal court.

As he awaited the ruling, Watson has been in training camp with the Browns. He has continued to take most of the reps with the first-team offense, which will be turned over to backup Jacoby Brissett while he's sidelined.

The league had pushed for an indefinite suspension of at least one year and a $5 million fine for the 26-year-old Watson during a three-day hearing before Robinson in June. The NFL Players' Association argued Watson shouldn't be punished at all because he was not convicted of any crime.

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Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints brought by 10 of the women.

This was the first case for Robinson, a former U.S. district judge who was jointly appointed by the NFL and the union to handle player misconduct — a role previously held by Goodell.

A three-time Pro Bowl pick with the Texans, Watson has seen his playing career stalled by the allegations that he acted inappropriately with the women during massage therapy sessions he scheduled via social media. He sat out the 2021 season.

In their lawsuits, the women accused Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will. One woman alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex.

Watson has denied all wrongdoing, insisting any sexual activity with three of the women was consensual. He publicly insisted his goal was to clear his name before agreeing to confidential financial settlements with 20 of the women on June 21.

Watson's high-profile case has renewed scrutiny of the league's handling of player misbehavior, along with its support for women, and left the Browns wondering if they'll ever find a franchise quarterback.

Pictures of the Week-Global-Photo Gallery

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson throws a pass during the NFL football team's training camp, in Berea, Ohio, Wednesday, July 27, 2022, as a wait for a decision on potential discipline for Watson following accusations of sexual misconduct will continue into another week. 

Since the trade, Watson has been on public display, with fans questioning whether the league had the authority to ban him from playing despite no criminal charges.

The league has been sensitive about its image and handing out the appropriate discipline for Watson after being criticized for its handling of previous sexual misconduct cases involving Baltimore running back Ray Rice, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Cleveland running back Kareem Hunt among others.

For their part, the Browns were widely condemned for signing Watson. The team has been desperate to find a long-term answer at quarterback — they've had a league-high 32 starters since 1999 — and many questioned why the team would take on a player with so much baggage.

During his introductory news conference after he was traded to Cleveland, Watson was adamant about his innocence.

"I have never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life," he said at the dais, where he was joined by Browns general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski. "I was raised differently. That is not my DNA. That is not my culture. That is not me as a person."

He repeated those comments three months later during the Browns' minicamp, insisting his only goal was to clear his name. However, a week later he settled 20 of the civil lawsuits. Any remaining lawsuits could still go to trial, but not until 2023 after both sides agreed to wait until after the upcoming season.

On July 15, 30 women settled lawsuits against the Texans after claiming the team ignored and enabled Watson as he harassed and assaulted them during the therapy sessions. Terms of the settlements were kept confidential.

Despite Watson's legal entanglement, the Browns — along with several other teams — pursued Watson after the first grand jury declined to indict him.

Initially, Watson turned down the Browns. But Cleveland owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam enticed him with a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract.

Watson had other offers but chose the Browns and waived his no-trade clause to join a team coming off a disappointing 8-9 season. Cleveland completed the deal on March 18 by agreeing to send Houston three first-round draft picks and six selections overall for Watson.

The Haslams said any concerns they had about his character or behavior were alleviated when they flew to Houston along with Berry and Stefanski and spent time talking to Watson.

An All-American at Clemson, Watson was drafted by the Texans with the No. 12 pick in 2017. He started six games as a rookie before passing for 4,165 yards and 26 touchdowns in his second year.

Watson has developed into one of the league's elite QBs, throwing for 4,823 yards and 33 TDs in 2020 despite playing on a Texans team that went just 4-12.

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This morning's top headlines: Monday, Aug. 1

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The NBA great Bill Russell has died at age 88. His family said on social media that Russell died on Sunday. The statement did not give the cause of death, but Russell was not well enough to present the NBA Finals MVP trophy in June due to a long illness. Russell anchored a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 titles in 13 years. His last two were as the first Black head coach in any major U.S. sport. Russell was a Hall of Famer, five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star. He won with defense and rebounding and waged battles with Wilt Chamberlain. Russell also marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and stood with boxer Muhammad Ali when he refused military induction.

AP
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Reaction from the basketball world and beyond on the death of NBA great and 11-time champion Bill Russell, who died Sunday at the age of 88.

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Trailblazer was a word used by many to mourn the passing of actor Nichelle Nichols, who died Saturday at age 89. Nichols broke barriers for Black women in Hollywood when she played communications officer Lt. Uhura on the original “Star Trek” television series, and paved the way not just for future television actors of color but astronauts as well. Tributes from fellow actors poured in on social media Sunday. Her “Star Trek” co-star George Takei said he would have more to say soon but that his heart is heavy. Celia Rose Gooding, who plays Uhura on the current “Star Trek” wrote that, “She made room for so many of us.”

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Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is declining to endorse Joe Biden if the president seeks a second term in 2024 and is refusing to say whether he wants Democrats to retain control of Congress after the November elections. Manchin, who's one of the Democrats’ most conservative and contrarian members, made his comments during interviews on the Sunday news shows. He also expressed hope that fellow Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema will back the party's package of climate, health care and tax initiatives that Manchin helped negotiated. She joined Manchin last year in forcing cuts and changes in larger versions of the plan. Support from every Democrat in the 50-50 Senate is needed to overcome anticipated unanimous Republican opposition.

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The White House is making more than $1 billion available to states to address flooding and extreme heat exacerbated by climate change. Vice President Kamala Harris announced the grant program Monday in Miami with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other officials. Harris called climate change an “immediate” and “urgent” crisis as she detailed Biden administration efforts to respond to disasters such as deadly flooding in Kentucky and wildfires ravaging her home state of California. The competitive grants will help communities across the nation prepare for and respond to climate-related disasters.

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President Joe Biden has tested positive for COVID-19 for the second straight day, in what appears to be a rare case of “rebound” following treatment with an anti-viral drug. White House physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor says in a letter Sunday that the president “continues to feel well” and will keep on working from the executive residence. After Biden tested positive on Saturday, he canceled upcoming plans to travel and hold in-person events. He's isolating for at least five days in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The 79-year-old Biden first tested positive on July 21. He was treated with the anti-viral drug Paxlovid and he had ended his isolation on Wednesday.

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Crews battling the largest wildfire so far this year in California braced for thunderstorms and hot, windy conditions that created the potential for more fire growth as they sought to protect remote communities. The McKinney Fire was burning out of control in Northern California’s Klamath National Forest, with thunderstorms a major concern on Sunday. The blaze had grown to more than 80 square miles just two days after erupting in a largely unpopulated area near the Oregon line. In northwest Montana, a blaze sparked in grasslands near the community of Elmo grew to more than 17 square miles after advancing into forest. Crews also are fighting a fire in Idaho.

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A 17-year-old boy from Stillwater, Minnesota died and four other people were seriously hurt after they were stabbed while tubing down a Wisconsin river Saturday afternoon. St. Croix County Sheriff Scott Knudson said the attack happened around 3:45 p.m. Saturday near the town of Somerset, Wisconsin, which is about 35 miles east of Minneapolis. A 52-year-old man from Prior Lake, Minnesota was arrested afterward when he was getting off the river downstream. Two of the victims were flown to a hospital for treatment and two others were taken by ambulance. The sheriff's office said Sunday their conditions ranged from serious to critical. The names of the victims and the suspect were not immediately released.

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Pat Carroll, a comedic television mainstay for decades, and the voice Ursula in “The Little Mermaid,” has died. She was 95. Her daughter Kerry Karsian, a casting agent, said Carroll died at her home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on Saturday. Carroll was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1927. Her family relocated to Los Angeles when she was 5 years old. She won an Emmy for her work on the sketch comedy series “Caesar’s Hour” in 1956, was a regular on “Make Room for Daddy” with Danny Thomas, a guest star on “The DuPont Show with June Allyson” and a variety show regular.

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A decision on discipline for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson following accusations of sexual misconduct is coming Monday. Two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that retired judge Sue L. Robinson has informed the NFL and the NFL Players’ Association she’s ready to issue a ruling on Watson’s disciplinary hearing that concluded a month ago. Watson was accused of sexual harassment and assault by 24 massage therapists in Texas and has settled 20 of the civil lawsuits filed against him. Four lawsuits remain pending and the attorney representing the women has said he hopes to take them to trial sometime next spring. However, Watson agreed to settle three of the four, Houston attorney Tony Buzbee told ESPN early Monday.

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England beat Germany 2-1 in the final of the European Championship after extra time to win its first major women’s soccer title. Chloe Kelly scored the winning goal on a rebound in the second half of extra time after Germany failed to clear a corner. The game finished 1-1 after 90 minutes at Wembley with Lina Magull for Germany canceling out Ella Toone’s goal. The good-natured atmosphere inside the stadium drew contrasts with violent scenes when the England men’s team lost its European Championship final to Italy at the same stadium a year ago. England’s title comes 56 years after its only major men’s title which was also an extra-time win at Wembley over Germany at the 1966 World Cup.

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