Deshaun Watson Traded to the Cleveland Browns: Player Misconduct and the NFL’s Response…or Lack Thereof

Photo Credits: KHOU11

My previous post featured various incidents of misconduct from National Football League (the “League”) owners and other major sports leagues. The recent trade of Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans to the Cleveland Browns brings to mind the topic of player misconduct. This article will focus on various incidents of recent National Football League player misconduct, its impact on the integrity of the League, and an examination of the League’s response to these allegations and verified acts of misconduct.

In the beginning of March, the NFL announced it had suspended Calvin Ridley of the Atlanta Falcons for placing bets on NFL games during the 2021 season.[1] Ridley placed these bets at a time when he was on the team’s non-football illness list. The League’s investigation found no indication that Ridley used any inside information in placing his bets and no games were compromised. There was also no evidence that anyone else in the Falcons organization knew about Ridley’s misconduct.[2]

The response from the League demonstrates its zero-tolerance policy when it comes to players participating in gambling on games and stresses the importance of maintaining the integrity of the game. In Ridley’s letter notifying him of his suspension, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote, “[t]here is nothing more fundamental to the NFL’s success– and to the reputation of everyone associated with our league—than upholding the integrity of the game.” Goodell went on to say “[y]our actions put the integrity of the game at risk, threatened to damage public confidence in professional football and potentially undermine the reputations of your fellow players throughout the NFL.” Ridley did cooperate with the league investigation and admitted to his actions in an interview. He will be eligible to petition for reinstatement on or after February 15, 2023.[3]

Deshaun Watson has been the topic of a lot of news coverage recently. Rumors concerning his trade filled the headlines for several weeks. This past week, the rumors came to an end when he was traded to the Cleveland Browns. Now this is all well and good, and congratulations to the Browns for landing a talented quarterback, but while the trade rumors have come to an end, the 22 active civil lawsuits against him for sexual misconduct linger.

It has been a little over a year since the first of 23 lawsuits were filed against Watson. One suit has since been dropped after a judge required the accuser to amend the complaint to disclose their names. All of the victims accuse Watson of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior during massage sessions. Watson did not play in a single game for the Texans in the 2021 season, despite remaining on the Texans roster and receiving a $620,000 check each week from the team. [4] All criminal proceedings against Watson have since concluded.[5]

Given that Watson did not play in a game during the 2021 season, the NFL was able to avoid the topic of a potential suspension or any of type of punishment for his alleged actions. Watson is still under investigation by the League to determine whether he has violated the League’s personal conduct policy. This violation could result in his suspension from play.[6] Watson’s new team apparently conducted an investigation of its own. The Browns owners stated “[g]eneral manager Andrew Berry said the team did extensive investigation, legal and reference work over the past several months to provide [them] with the appropriate information needed to make an informed decision.”[7]

As the civil suits continue to unfold, it will be interesting to see how the League reacts and whether Watson will participate in pre-season practice and eventually regular season games starting this summer. The Calvin Ridley situation was relatively straight forward for the League, given that Ridley owned up to his infractions. Watson continues to maintain his innocence stating “I understand these allegations are serious. I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman…”[8] He also stated in a press conference on Friday that his intent is not to settle the cases but instead to “clear [his] name as much as possible and that’s what [he’s] focused on.”[9] Once again the integrity of the League hangs in the balance, and as the new season approaches the League will be forced to make a decision on whether it will allow Watson to play with the Browns.

[1] See Kevin Patra, Falcons WR Calvin Ridley suspended indefinitely through at least 2022 season for betting on NFL games, NFL, (Mar. 7, 2022),

[2] See id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Joseph Salvador, Report: Terms of Trade for Deshaun Watson Have Changed, Sports Illustrated, (Mar. 21, 2022),

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Madeline Coleman, Deshaun Watson Denies Assaulting Any Woman, Sports Illustrated, (Mar. 25, 2022),

[9] Matthew Impelli, Deshaun Watson Doesn’t Intend to Settle With Any of His Accusers, Newsweek, (Mar. 25, 2022),

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