BEREA — Deshaun Watson denied any wrongdoing. He said it’s not in his character to mistreat women. He repeated the message throughout a news conference Friday that lasted more than 35 minutes.
“I’ve never assaulted or disrespected or harassed any woman in my life,” he said as he was introduced at Browns headquarters.
For the first time since the allegations began to surface in March 2021, Watson addressed several questions from reporters in response to the criminal and civil complaints brought against him by 24 massage therapists alleging sexual misconduct.
He was asked why he should be believed rather than the two dozen women.
“I can’t speak on what people’s opinions are because everyone has their own opinions, but what I can continue to do is tell the truth, and that is I’ve never assaulted or disrespected or harassed any woman in my life.
“I was raised differently. That’s not my DNA. That’s not my culture. That’s not me as a person. That’s not how I was raised. For me, that’s to continue to push forward and show people who I really am.”
Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson in the last two weeks on 10 criminal charges. Watson, 26, still faces 22 civil lawsuits of sexual assault and harassment and was deposed in the cases Tuesday and Wednesday in Houston.
Watson was introduced a week after agreeing to waive his no-trade clause and join the Browns after they made a blockbuster deal with the Houston Texans. He insisted a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract didn’t change his mind, just that the Browns were the right team for him.
Owner Jimmy Haslam said it took time for Watson to get comfortable with the idea of playing in the Northeast Ohio weather and so far from the South, where he grew up and played in college and the NFL.
Watson was joined by general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski. Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam didn’t attend the news conference but later talked with reporters on a Zoom call because they’re out of the country.
Berry described a “five-month odyssey” investigating Watson and the allegations and said the Browns “got comfortable” with pursuing him. Berry said they were advised by their lawyers not to talk to the 22 women involved in the civil lawsuits but used third-party legal sources in addition to resources within Houston law enforcement in the investigation.
“We as organization know that this transaction has been very difficult for many people, particularly women in our community,” Berry said. “We realize that it has triggered a range of emotions. And that, as well as the nature of the allegations, weighed heavily on all of us.
“It was because of the weight of the anticipated reaction and the nature of the allegations that really pushed us to do as much work as possible internally and externally in terms of understanding the cases and who Deshaun was as a person.
“We do have faith and confidence in Deshaun as a person.”
Watson visited the team facility Thursday and passed his physical. He went to FirstEnergy Stadium and was joined by cornerback Greg Newsome II and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, as they posed for a picture on the field.
The Browns traded six draft picks to the Texans, including a first-rounder in each of the next three years, for Watson and a sixth-round pick in 2024. Watson is a three-time Pro Bowler and led the NFL in passing yards in 2020.
Watson declined to get into specifics when asked about the cases, including why he went to more than 40 massage therapists.
“Once it’s resolved in the near future, hopefully I can speak freely on it,” he said.
He said he understands the allegations are “very, very serious” and that the “stain” from them will likely stick with him for a while. But he reiterated “I’ve never done these things that these people are alleging” and said he doesn’t intend to settle the civil cases because he wants to clear his name as much as he can.
In the lawsuits, the women accused Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will. One woman alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
He said he had no regrets and was asked if he planned to go to counseling.
“It’s hard for me to say the counseling part because I don’t have a problem. I don’t have an issue and that’s what I’ve been saying from the beginning,” he said. “This situation is definitely tough and it’s very difficult. But me having a problem and going to counseling, I’m willing to talk to people about certain situations to make sure I’m not getting back in this.
“But like I said before, I’ve never assaulted anyone, I’ve never disrespected anyone, I’ve always been respectful. That’s what I’ve always stood on and who I am as a person.”
Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lawyer, called the Brazoria County case Thursday the “one remaining criminal allegation,” but Tony Buzbee, lawyer for the 22 women in the civil suit, told The Chronicle-Telegram he expects more criminal complaints to be filed.
Jimmy Haslam wouldn’t say if he expects more criminal complaints but said he trusts the legal process.
Watson still faces a potential suspension from the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy and Berry said the team’s had dialogue with the league.
Spokesman Brian McCarthy said the latest legal update doesn’t change the league’s investigation.
“We continue to closely monitor all developments in the matter which remains under review of the personal conduct policy,” he wrote in an email.