Posts Tagged ‘League Investigation’

NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson imposed a six-game suspension Monday on Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson following numerous allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct, the league announced Monday.

The NFL and NFLPA have three days to appeal the decision, though the union said Sunday it would accept Robinson’s ruling. The league stated Monday it will review Robinson’s imposition and determine the next steps. Robinson, the jointly appointed officer who previously served as a Delaware district court judge, presided over Watson’s disciplinary hearing from June 28-30. She ruled that Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy, allowing the league to enforce a suspension.

Watson’s ruling included no additional fine for the quarterback. Robinson also stated in her conclusion that she believes it’s appropriate that Watson limit his massage therapy to team-directed sessions and team-approved massage therapists for the remainder of his career. He’s also to have no “adverse involvement with law enforcement” and must not violate the league’s personal conduct policy again in the future, Robinson adds.

The NFL spent over a year probing 24 lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints that accused Watson of lewd and coercive behavior while receiving massages from women.

Watson agreed to settle 20 of the 24 lawsuits in June. He settled three of the remaining four lawsuits shortly before Robinson announced her disciplinary decision, according to ESPN’s John Barr.

Grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal charges in March. The incidents cited in the lawsuits took place between March 2020 and March 2021. The first lawsuit was filed March 16, 2021.

The Browns acquired Watson from the Houston Texans in March knowing he could face significant NFL discipline. Cleveland traded six draft picks, including three first-round selections, to get him, and immediately signed him to a new five-year contract worth a record $230 million fully guaranteed.

“Throughout this process, Deshaun and his representatives have abided by the newly created and agreed upon process for the NFLPA and the NFL to defer to the objective Judge Sue L. Robinson to comprehensively review all information and make a fair decision,” said Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam in a statement.

“We respect Judge Robinson’s decision, and at the same time, empathize and understand that there have been many individuals triggered throughout this process. We know Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused much heartache to many, and he will continue the work needed to show who he is on and off the field, and we will continue to support him.”

Many of the women who filed lawsuits or criminal complaints said Watson inappropriately touched them with his penis during massage sessions and coercively attempted to get them to touch him in a sexual manner. Two women said Watson forced them to perform oral sex, and one of the two said Watson grabbed her buttocks and vagina.

Watson maintained his innocence as the allegations mounted. His lawyer, Rusty Hardin, said Watson engaged in sexual activity with some of the complainants but that it was consensual.

Watson, 26, requested a trade from the Texans in January 2021 before any of the allegations surfaced. He was eligible to play last season while the NFL monitored developments in the civil and criminal complaints, but was a healthy scratch for all 17 games.

The NFL announced Tuesday that an independent investigation determined the Miami Dolphins had impermissible communications with Tom Brady and former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.

As a result, the league is stripping the Dolphins of their 2023 first-round pick and their 2024 third-rounder for violating its integrity of the game policy.

Additionally, the NFL is suspending Miami owner Stephen Ross through Oct. 17 and fining him $1.5 million. The league is also removing him from all committees indefinitely and barring him from attending any NFL meeting until the league’s annual gathering in 2023.

The investigation found that the Dolphins tampered with Brady both while he was under contract with the New England Patriots in 2019-20 and after his 2021 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Miami also violated league rules through its communications with Payton in January.

“The investigators found tampering violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” said commissioner Roger Goodell. “I know of no prior instance of a team violating the prohibition on tampering with both a head coach and star player, to the potential detriment of multiple other clubs, over a period of several years. Similarly, I know of no prior instance in which ownership was so directly involved in the violations.”

The NFL also fined Dolphins vice chairman/limited partner Bruce Beal $500,000 and barred him from attending any league meeting for the remainder of the 2022 campaign.

However, the league didn’t find evidence supporting the tanking allegations made by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores.

Flores said he refused to accept a $100,000-per-game offer to tank during his first season with Miami. The investigation found the offer wasn’t intended, or taken, to be serious.

“Every club is expected to make a good-faith effort to win every game,” Goodell said. “The integrity of the game, and public confidence in professional football, demand no less.

“An owner or senior executive must understand the weight that his or her words carry and the risk that a comment will be taken seriously and acted upon, even if that is not the intent or expectation. Even if made in jest and not intended to be taken seriously, comments suggesting that draft position is more important than winning can be misunderstood and carry with them an unnecessary potential risk to the integrity of the game.”

Goodell continued: “The comments made by Mr. Ross did not affect coach Flores’ commitment to (winning), and the Dolphins competed to win every game. Coach Flores is to be commended for not allowing any comment about the relative importance of draft position to affect his commitment to (winning) throughout the season.”

The NFL will argue that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should receive a “significant” suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, multiple people familiar with the case said Friday.

The league “probably” will seek a suspension of one full season for Watson, a person on Watson’s side of the case said Friday. A person familiar with the league’s view of the case cautioned to be “careful” about specifying a precise length at this point for the suspension the NFL will seek. But that person also said: “Significant would be the proper term.”

Watson faces 24 active civil lawsuits by women accusing him of sexual misconduct. The allegations include making inappropriate comments, exposing himself and forcing his penis on women’s hands during massage therapy sessions. Watson and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, have denied the allegations. Two grand juries in Texas declined to charge Watson with a crime. The NFL is preparing to present the findings of its investigation to Sue L. Robinson, the former U.S. district judge who is the disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association under the conduct policy.

The league hopes the entire disciplinary process, including the resolution of any potential appeal to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person designated by him, is completed by the start of training camp, a person with knowledge of the matter said. The Browns are scheduled to open training camp July 27.

“Like I said, I never assaulted anyone or I never harassed anyone or I never disrespected anyone,” Watson said Tuesday at a news conference at a Browns offseason practice. “I never forced anyone to do anything.”

Under a process that was revised in the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA completed in 2020, the initial ruling on a prospective suspension or fine will be made by Robinson, now an attorney in Wilmington, Del., after she retired from the bench in 2017.

The case would be finished, with no appeals possible, if Robinson rules that there was no violation of the personal conduct policy. If she rules that there was a violation of the policy and imposes a penalty, either side could appeal to Goodell. The NFLPA pushed for revisions to the personal conduct policy in the CBA after clashes, some of which spilled into courtrooms after litigation filed by the union and players, in previous disciplinary cases. Previously, Goodell was responsible for making both the initial disciplinary ruling and resolving appeals.

It’s not clear whether Robinson will hold what amounts to a quasi-trial before she makes her decision. She declined to comment this week, referring questions to the league and union.

The NFL’s investigation has been conducted by Lisa Friel, the former chief of the sex crimes prosecution unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who is the league’s special counsel for investigations.

Friel interviewed at least 11 of the women accusing Watson who are represented by attorney Tony Buzbee, according to a person familiar with the investigation, along with other women. She reviewed relevant available documents. The NFL’s representatives interviewed Watson over several days in Houston.

“I can’t control that,” Watson said this week of the NFL’s disciplinary process. “I met with the NFL a couple weeks ago, and I did everything they asked me to do. I answered every question truthfully that the NFL asked me. I spent hours with the people that they brought down. And that’s all I can do is just be honest and tell them exactly what happened. I know they have a job, and so I have to respect that. And that’s what we wanted to do is cooperate. And they have to make a decision [that’s] best for the league.”

Hardin confirmed that he is involved in representing Watson in the NFL process along with the union but declined further comment on the league proceedings.

The league has made a presentation on the case to the NFLPA and Watson’s representatives, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. That led those on Watson’s side of the case to conclude that the NFL will seek a substantial penalty.

It’s not clear whether Major League Baseball’s two-season suspension of pitcher Trevor Bauer under its domestic violence policy will serve as a precedent for the NFL’s proposed suspension of Watson, another person familiar with the league’s view said in recent weeks. But the NFL is aware that the length of the Bauer suspension could affect the public’s expectations and reaction in the Watson case, that person said.

Outside NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler has become involved in the case. A person familiar with the NFL’s view said the league is wary that Kessler will argue for no disciplinary action at all.

Kessler declined to comment Friday, referring questions to the NFLPA. The NFLPA could cite the lack of criminal charges, although the NFL’s policy allows discipline to be imposed without such charges.

The NFLPA’s defense of Watson will raise the issue that owners Daniel Snyder of the Washington Commanders, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys were not suspended by the league for incidents involving them and their teams. That was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the case after first being reported by Pro Football Talk.

The league “ideally” would like to have the entire process, including the resolution of any appeal, completed by the start of training camp, a person familiar with the NFL’s view said, adding the disclaimer that the approach taken by Kessler and the NFLPA could slow the proceedings.

This first case being resolved under the new disciplinary system is a high-profile matter. A person on Watson’s side wondered whether Goodell might be reluctant to overturn the neutral arbitrator’s disciplinary ruling in the first case.

The league and NFLPA could reach a settlement at some point to preclude any appeal or further legal action by Watson.

The Browns completed a trade with the Houston Texans for Watson, 26, this offseason and signed him to a new contract worth a guaranteed $230 million over five seasons. Watson did not play last season; he was placed on the Texans’ inactive list on a weekly basis.

Any suspension would be without pay, based on Watson’s $1.035 million salary for the 2022 season. The NFL could seek to have a fine imposed, in addition to any salary lost by Watson. The league also could stipulate that additional discipline could be imposed if new information surfaces.

The NFL is investigating former Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson’s recanted accusation that the club incentivized tanking while he was leading the team, a league spokesperson told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.

“We can confirm the NFL engaged former SEC chair Mary Jo White in February to look into allegations made by Hue Jackson against the Cleveland Browns,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The review is ongoing and is expected to conclude soon.”

The Browns told Ulrich they expect the probe will prove the claim to be false.

“Even though Hue recanted his allegations a short time after they were made, it was important to us and to the integrity of the game to have an independent review of the allegations,” Browns senior vice president of communications Peter John-Baptiste said. “We welcomed an investigation and we are confident the results will show, as we’ve previously stated, that these allegations are categorically false.”

Jackson tweeted in February that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam offered him “a good number” to lose games, though the team labeled the claim “completely fabricated.” Jackson’s accusation came shortly after former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores filed a discrimination lawsuit, which included an allegation that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 per loss in 2019.

The former Browns head coach later walked back his accusation, noting he “was never offered money like Brian (Flores) had mentioned.” He added that the two situations were “totally different” yet had “some similarities.”

Jackson posted a 3-36-1 record with the Browns from 2016-2018. He was fired midway through his third year with the team.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross could lose his team if tanking allegations from former head coach Brian Flores are proven true by an NFL investigation, sources told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Flores claimed in a lawsuit filed against the NFL, the Dolphins, and other clubs for alleged racial discrimination in hiring practices that Ross offered him $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season in an effort to secure a top draft pick.

The NFL recently began its investigation, and if Flores’ claims are proven, the consequences could be severe. Ross could lose his club via a vote by the NFL’s other 31 owners, Rapoport adds.

It would require at least 75% of owners to vote Ross out if it were to reach that point, Rapoport notes.

Ross denied Flores’ claims earlier this month, calling them “false, malicious, and defamatory.” He also welcomed an NFL investigation into the matter.

Flores was fired by the Dolphins in January after three seasons due to a reported power struggle. He posted a winning record in each of his last two years in Miami.

The Portland Trail Blazers dismissed team president and general manager Neil Olshey following an independent investigation into complaints of workplace misconduct, the team announced Friday.

Joe Cronin will serve as the Trail Blazers’ interim general manager while the team searches for a permanent replacement. New York Knicks GM Scott Perry and Chicago Bulls GM Marc Eversley are expected to be considered for the opening, sources told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes.

The findings of the investigation, which was announced Nov. 6 and carried out by the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, will not be disclosed to the public.

“Out of respect for those who candidly participated in that privileged investigation, we will not release or discuss it,” the team said in a statement. “We are confident that these changes will help build a more positive and respectful working environment.”

Olshey began his career with the Los Angeles Clippers and was hired to lead the Trail Blazers’ front office in 2012. Under his leadership, the team drafted current franchise star Damian Lillard and hired now-former head coach Terry Stotts, who ranks second on the team’s all-time coaching wins list.

After going 33-49 (.402) in Olshey’s first year running the team, the Trail Blazers qualified for the postseason in each of the past eight seasons – presently the NBA’s longest active playoff streak.

Stotts was dismissed this summer. Olshey then tapped former All-Star point guard and broadcaster Chauncey Billups as the team’s head coach.

The Billups hire was criticized due to an allegation that he sexually assaulted a woman in 1997, when he played for the Boston Celtics. Billups and a teammate reached a financial settlement with the woman, but he did not face criminal charges and maintains the interaction was consensual.

After Billups had been strongly linked to the Trail Blazers’ vacancy, Lillard appeared to distance himself from the move:

At the first-time head coach’s introductory press conference, Olshey remained steadfast in his decision and appeared to dodge questions about the Trail Blazers’ vetting process for Billups.

In the wake of offseason reports that Lillard’s desire to remain with the team long term was fading, the star guard – who just began a four-year, $176.3-million contract – said conversations with Billups ultimately convinced him to recommit to Portland.

Under Billups this season, the Trail Blazers are 11-12 (.478). Lillard is currently sidelined with an abdominal injury.

Major League Soccer said Thursday it has launched an independent investigation into how the Vancouver Whitecaps handled allegations of sexual misconduct involving two former coaches of the club’s women’s team.

In a statement, MLS said it had hired attorneys Janice Rubin and Melody Jahanzadeh to investigate allegations surrounding former coaches Bob Birarda and Hubert Busby Jr.

Birarda is facing criminal proceedings in Canada on charges of sexual exploitation and sexual assault relating to a 20-year span between 1988 and 2008.

Former Whitecaps coach Birarda, who was also coach of the Canada Under-20 women’s team, left both his roles in 2008 by “mutual agreement” after allegations of sexual misconduct came to light.

Allegations against Busby surfaced in a report by The Guardian newspaper last month.

Former player Malloree Enoch told the paper that Busby had made sexual advances to her when he was head coach of the Whitecaps from 2010-2011.

Busby, 52, was suspended from his role as coach of the Jamaica women’s national team this week following the allegations.

On Friday, the Whitecaps chief executive, Axel Schuster, apologized for how the club handled allegations against Busby a decade ago.

“The club’s leadership was made aware of allegations against Busby at the end of the 2011 season and promptly secured the services of an independent ombudsperson to oversee an investigation into the matter,” Schuster said.

“We have since learned that the investigation did not reveal certain allegations that were disclosed this week.”

Thursday’s MLS statement said outside investigators would “consider the club’s internal processes and overall culture at the time of the allegations, including what steps it took in response to the allegations.”

The Whitecaps case comes as the National Women’s Soccer League — the top women’s league in North America — is reeling from a string of sexual misconduct scandals.

North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley was fired in September over allegations of sexual coercion and Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke resigned last month following an investigation into allegations of verbal and emotional abuse.

League commissioner Lisa Baird resigned amid criticism of the league’s failure to respond to complaints about Riley, who was accused of sexually coercing players during his stint at the Portland Thorns from 2014-2015.

Devin Booker says he hasn’t personally seen instances of racism or misogyny since being drafted by the Phoenix Suns but welcomes the league’s investigation into numerous accusations made by current and former Suns employees about owner Robert Sarver’s conduct in an ESPN report on Thursday.

“In my seven years that I’ve been here, I haven’t noticed that, but that doesn’t make me insensitive to the subject,” Booker said, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “I think the NBA opened an investigation, and they’re going to do their due diligence of bringing out facts instead of ‘he said, she said.’

“I’m sure the NBA has it in good hands and will do the proper research to find out the truth.”

Booker’s backcourt mate, Chris Paul, has been down a similar road before.

While playing for the Los Angeles Clippers toward the end of the 2013-14 season, an audio recording leaked of then-owner Donald Sterling expressing racist sentiments about Black people – including crosstown basketball icon Magic Johnson. The NBA ultimately forced Sterling to sell his stake in the team.

Paul is also staying patient while the NBA gathers more information into the expansive report, which featured interviews with over 70 current and former Phoenix staff members.

“I feel like situations are different,” Paul said, per ESPN. “We dealt with that in that time when all that happened. I think right now, like Book said, we’re not insensitive to everything that was said or whatnot, but we don’t know all the details. So the NBA will do its investigation, and in that time, all of us on our team will continue to play and do what we do.”

The NBA formally opened an investigation into the Phoenix Suns and franchise owner Robert Sarver, the league announced Thursday.

The probe is in response to an investigative story released earlier Thursday by ESPN’s Baxter Holmes. In that report, current and former Suns staff allege multiple incidents of racism and misogyny, as well as a toxic work environment, under Sarver’s watch.

“The allegations contained in today’s ESPN article are extremely serious, and we have directed the Wachtell Lipton law firm to commence a comprehensive investigation,” the league said in a statement. “The NBA and WNBA remain committed to providing a respectful and inclusive workplace for all employees.

“Once the investigation is completed, its finding will provide the basis for any league action.”

In just one alleged incident, former Suns head coach Earl Watson said Sarver used the N-word following a loss. Multiple other staffers also said they recalled instances of Sarver uttering the word, including an unnamed Black operations staffer who said he heard Sarver use it more than once.

Sarver denied the allegations. However, the 60-year-old admitted to using the word once when quoting a player, but he says he never used it again.

The NBA previously partnered with the Wachtell Lipton firm in 2014 to investigate the Los Angeles Clippers and then-owner Donald Sterling, notes The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov, after private recordings of Sterling surfaced in which he made racist remarks. That investigation culminated with NBA commissioner Adam Silver banning Sterling from the NBA for life, forcing him to sell the Clippers.

Sarver has been the Suns’ owner since 2004.

A Congressional committee is seeking documents and information from the NFL regarding the investigation into the Washington Football Team and how the league handled it.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform said Thursday it sent a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell requesting by Nov. 4 all documents and communication about the probe into the workplace culture at the Washington Football Team.

“We have serious concerns about what appears to be widespread abusive workplace conduct at the WFT and about the NFL’s handling of this matter,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, wrote in the letter to the commissioner.

“Communications between league management and WFT leadership also raise questions about the league’s asserted impartiality in these investigations.”

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league has received the letter and shares the committee’s “concern that all workplaces should be free from any form of harassment and discrimination. We look forward to speaking to her office soon.”

The Washington Football Team hired lawyer Beth Wilkinson in the summer of 2020 to look into allegations of sexual harassment and other improper conduct within the organization. The league later took over that investigation and fined the team $10 million in July and said the culture at the club was “toxic” and ownership and senior officials paid little attention to sexual harassment and other workplace issues.

Owner Dan Snyder has stepped away from day-to-day operations, but there was no written report on Wilkinson’s inquiry.

“The NFL’s lack of transparency about the problems it recently uncovered raise questions about the seriousness with which it has addressed bigotry, racism, sexism, and homophobia — setting troubling precedent for other workplaces,” the letter said.

Earlier this month, emails gathered in relation to that investigation revealed racist, homophobic and misogynistic language from former Raiders coach Jon Gruden to Washington team President Bruce Allen when Gruden was an announcer at ESPN.

Gruden resigned as coach of the Raiders on Oct. 11 and lawyers representing 40 former employees of the Washington Football Team urged the league to immediately release the full findings of the investigation.

The NFL has refused but the committee is now asking for that information, as well as any reports about the investigation, details on top league counsel Jeff Pash’s role in the investigation, who from the league oversaw Wilkinson’s investigation and why there wasn’t a written report.

The New York Times reported that Pash and Allen exchanged numerous emails on topics ranging from jokes on the league’s diversity initiatives, cutting player salaries and reducing a fine from the NFL.

The league has called those emails “appropriate” as part of conversations between the league and teams.