Deshaun Watson on NFL settlement: 'I've always been able to stand on my innocence'

Chris Easterling
Akron Beacon Journal
View Comments

BEREA − Deshaun Watson continued to maintain his innocence on Thursday, the same day the Browns quarterback and the NFL came to an agreement to extend his suspension for personal conduct policy violations to 11 games.

"I've always stood on my innocence and always said I've never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone," Watson said in a news conference shortly after the settlement was announced. "I'll continue to stand on that. But at the same time, I have to continue to push forward with my life and my career. For us to be able to forward, I have to be able to take step and be able to put pride to the side. I'm going to continue to stand on my innocence and keep pushing forward and I've always stood on not disrespecting or sexually assaulting anyone."

Deshaun Watson suspension:Browns QB, NFL reach settlement to extend suspension to 11 games

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson fields questions about his 11-game suspension during a press conference at the NFL team's training facility in Berea on Thursday.

Cleveland BrownsDeshaun Watson should use suspension to accept culpability | Marla Ridenour

Watson's camp and the NFL came to a settlement after the league appealed the original six-game suspension he received from disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson for violations of the league's personal conduct policy. Robinson announced her decision on Aug. 1, with the league appealing it on Aug. 3.

Peter C. Harvey, the designee of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, was chosen to hear the appeal. NFL Players Association outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and Watson's agent, David Mulugheta, were the driving forces through the appeal process for Watson, a source familiar with the situation told the Beacon Journal.

"Deshaun has always stated he is innocent of sexual assault," Mulgheta tweeted. "Nothing has changed in what he said. He also said he is remorseful, the decisions he made have created this situation. The settlement allows him to move forward with his life and career."

Watson acknowledged that he personally was not actively involved in the settlement talks. He had no comment on either the length of the suspension or the process that led to the 11 games.

"I only can really control what I can control and that's what I've been doing throughout this process," Watson said. "The NFL did what they had to do and the NFLPA communicated about the legal side. Like I said before, I focused on being out here, being the best teammate and football player and quarterback I can for the Cleveland Browns."

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson pauses for a moment before taking questions following the announcement of his 11-game suspension during a press conference at the NFL team's training facility in Berea on Thursday.

Why Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is being suspended

The league discipline stems from more than two-dozen allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault by women against Watson during massage appointments. There were 24 lawsuits eventually filed against him, although he has settled 23 of those in the past two months.

The settlement came 49 days after the initial three-day hearing with Robinson concluded June 30. Her ruling, which spanned 16 pages, used words like "egregious" and "predatory" to describe Watson's actions.

Watson was asked to square Robinson's words with his own expressions of innocence.

"I know who I am," Watson said. "I know what type of person I am, I know the character of person I was raised to be and I've always been. That's the biggest thing for me is continue to show who Deshaun Watson really is and the people that meet me and are around me, they'll figure out who I really am, too."

Deshaun Watson:Why are we sharing details about dozens of women's allegations against Deshaun Watson?

Robinson also stated in her decision that Watson did not show any sign of remorse to the victims. That was what she called an "aggravating factor" in issuing her ruling.

Both Watson and the Browns, specifically owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, had stated that he had been remorseful in previous public appearances. The only interviews he had done in a group setting since being traded from the Houston Texans to the Browns came in an introductory press conference March 25 and an appearance at minicamp June 14.

Did the Deshaun Watson apology last week include his accusers?

Watson did do a three-question interview with the Browns' official team television pregame show prior to last Friday's preseason opener in Jacksonville. He disputed the insinuation that an apology had not been issued directly to the women involved.

"I apologized beforehand," Watson said. "I think the second time I spoke to you guys, I actually apologized. I think for some people it didn't maybe register as I was apologizing. I just wanted to clarify that I was apologizing to all women and people who were affected by this situation. It's definitely a tough situation."

On June 14, Watson said, "I do have regrets as far as the impact that it's had on the community and people outside of just myself. That includes my family, that includes this organization, that includes my teammates in this locker room that have to answer to these questions, that includes the fan base of the Cleveland Browns, that includes males, females, everyone across the world. That's one thing that I do regret is the impact that it's triggered on so many people and it's tough to have to deal with."

On Thursday, Watson was pushed on who the apology was for if he was also maintaining his innocence.

"For everyone who was affected by this situation," Watson said. "And there was a lot of people that was triggered."

Did that apology include the women involved?

“I've apologized to all women," Watson said, "so anybody that was affected, even yourself, everything. So I'm apologizing to everyone that was affected about this whole situation.”

Deshaun Watson's on-field return, Houston return on same day

Watson will now make his return to the field on Dec. 4 when the Browns travel to face his former team. The Texans, during the summer, also settled with 30 women who made or intended to make claims against the franchise for its alleged role in enabling him.

Originally, that return was scheduled for Oct. 23 in Baltimore. Now, that return figures to come in front of an even-more hostile crowd.

"Right now, that's down the road right now," Watson said. "I'm focusing on getting ready to practice against [the Philadelphia Eagles, who were in Berea for the first of two joint practices], and just focusing on being the best individual, getting myself back in shape and getting ready and preparing for that moment whenever that comes."

Browns stand by their decision to make Deshaun Watson trade

The Browns acquired Watson from the Texans on March 18. They also acquired a 2024 sixth-round pick, and sent first-round picks in 2022, 2023 and 2024, a 2022 third-round pick and a 2024 fourth-round pick to the Texans.

At the time, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, as well as General Manager Andrew Berry, stated they were comfortable with all of the background work which they did before the trade. At the time of the deal, there were only 22 active lawsuits against Watson, with the 23rd and 24th lawsuits coming in late May and early June.

“We felt like we made an informed decision," Berry said Thursday. "Understand why others may not have made the same decision that we did. But we do believe that Deshaun has strong positive qualities and we do think he's done everything in his power to integrate himself with our team, done everything that we've asked and we do believe that as he goes through the self-improvement and self-growth process that he has the opportunity to make a strong and positive contribution to our team and our organization.”

Deshaun Watson's 'self-growth' critical his return to field

That "self-growth" is going to be a major part of what allows Watson to resume his NFL career. One of the conditions of reinstatement by the league, per the settlement, is compliance with the treatment and evaluation from third-party behavioral experts.

Watson will be permitted to be an active participant with the team until 4 p.m. Aug. 30. After that point, he'll be banned from all team activities until halfway through the suspension, when he can rejoin them.

"I can grow as a person," Watson said. "To be able to communicate and talk with people. I have to continue to know each and every situation so I don't put myself back in the situation I was just in. So I have to continue to just grow as an individual. My whole outlook of just myself as a football player but also as an individual, as a human being."

Contact Chris at ceasterling@thebeaconjournal.com.

On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ

View Comments