NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has chosen former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal of the six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The NFL is seeking a tougher penalty under the league’s personal conduct policy in the wake of disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson’s ruling Monday. Under the collective bargaining agreement, Goodell had the option to consider the appeal himself or to appoint a designee.
A source told ESPN’s Jake Trotter that the NFL is appealing for an indefinite suspension that would be a minimum of one year (as it had previously sought), a monetary fine (which Watson was not levied by Robinson) and treatment that the star quarterback must undergo.
Harvey works now as a partner at the Patterson Belknap firm in New York. He has also served as a federal prosecutor and is a member of the NFL’s diversity advisory committee, which evaluates diversity in the league.
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 policies, including the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.”
Harvey has also served as Goodell’s designee in other arbitrations.
Watson has been accused of sexual assault and other inappropriate conduct during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women. The alleged encounters in the lawsuits took place from March 2020 to March 2021, while Watson was a member of the Houston Texans.
In issuing the six-game suspension, Robinson wrote that “the NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report .”
While relying on precedent, Robinson sought to differentiate between violent and nonviolent sexual conduct. Robinson concluded that Watson’s conduct “does not fall into the category of violent conduct that would require the minimum six-game suspension” the league had established as “by far the most commonly-imposed discipline for domestic or gendered violence and sexual acts.”
The Browns traded for Watson in March, sending three first-round draft picks to the Texans. Cleveland then gave Watson a new five-year contract that was the richest deal in NFL history for any player.
ESPN’s Jake Trotter and The Associated Press contributed to this report.