Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson on Thursday reiterated he "never assaulted anyone," following the announcement that he would be suspended the first 11 games of the 2022 NFL season and fined $5 million as part of a settlement between the league and NFLPA for violating the league's personal-conduct policy.
"I've always stood on my innocence and always said I've never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone, and I'm continuing to stand on that," said Watson, who also must commit to mandatory evaluation and treatment. "But at the same time, I have to continue to push forward with my life and my career. For us to be able to move forward, I have to be able to take steps and put pride to the side, and I'm going to continue to stand on my innocence and keep pushing forward, and I've always stood on not disrespecting or sexual assaulting anyone."
Watson has reached confidential settlements with 23 of the 24 women who filed civil lawsuits against him alleging he committed sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. Watson has previously denied any wrongdoing and maintained any sex with the women was consensual. Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints filed by 10 women.
In announcing the terms of the punishment, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Watson "has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL."
Watson was asked Thursday how he is able to stand on his statement of innocence and be able to accomplish what he needs to in counseling.
"I have to grow as a person," Watson said. "I have 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 that I was just in. So I have to continue to grow as an individual."
NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported that there is no timeline for Watson to undergo the mandatory evaluation from behavioral experts, but a league source told Pelissero it will be "relatively soon." Pelissero added that if Watson does not follow the treatment plan there can be additional disciplinary action and a delay in his reinstatement.
Watson on Aug. 12 expressed remorse and for the first time publicly apologized to the women he "impacted." He was asked Thursday why he waited so long to publicly issue an apology.
"I apologized beforehand," Watson said. "I think the second time I spoke to you guys I actually apologized, but I think for some people it didn't maybe register as I was apologizing. But you know, I just wanted to clarify I was apologizing to all women and people that was affected about this situation because it's definitely a tough situation."
Watson, after stating he maintained his innocence and never disrespected anyone, was then asked what he was apologizing for.
"For everyone that was affected about this situation," he said. "There was a lot of people that was triggered."
Watson added: "I've apologized to all women. So anybody that was affected, even yourself, everything. So I'm apologizing to everyone that was affected about this whole situation."
Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, as well as general manager Andrew Berry, met with reporters Thursday following news of the settlement and were asked how they are able to reconcile Watson continuing to "stand" on his innocence with the team's desire to see him grow as a person.
"Counseling takes time," Dee Haslam said. "You don't just go to a counseling session and wake up and understand the impact it has. I think it's a layering effect. It takes weeks, months, a long time to get to where you understand so much more about yourself. I think Deshaun has made progress from the time he came here to now he's making progress, but it's not gonna happen overnight. He's 26 years old and he's just getting into counseling. I think it's going to take some time."
When asked Thursday if he would make the trade for Watson again, Jimmy Haslam said "absolutely." The Browns dealt multiple draft picks, including three first-round selections, to the Houston Texans in March to acquire Watson.
"I think in this country, and hopefully in the world, people deserve second chances, OK? I really think that," Jimmy Haslam said. "I struggle a little bit ... is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? That's what we're going to do, OK? And you can say, well, that's because he's a star quarterback. Well, of course. If he was Joe Smith, he wouldn't be in the headlines every day.
"We think people deserve a second chance. We gave Kareem Hunt a second chance, OK, and that's worked out pretty well, OK? We're hoping this will work out, and we have strong belief it will. That doesn't mean we don't have empathy, and we will continue to do so, but we strongly believe, strongly believe people deserve a second chance. We believe Deshaun Watson deserves a second chance."
Watson will be eligible for reinstatement on Nov. 28. He would first be eligible to play in Week 13 against the Texans.