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Haslams say Deshaun Watson vetting process more in-depth than any in their years owning the team

BEREA — Jimmy Haslam declared the Browns put more work into this decision than any in his nearly 10 years of ownership.

Owner Dee Haslam revealed “getting comfortable” with the idea was a “journey” and took time.

General manager Andrew Berry spoke with a reverence for the severity of the situation, acknowledging it “weighed heavily” on him.

The team’s decision-makers spoke to reporters Friday for the first time since the blockbuster and controversial trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson. The move was met with harsh criticism by a large group of fans, as Watson has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by 24 massage therapists.


“Dee and I both have close friends who have been victims — men and women — of sexual abuse,” Jimmy Haslam said on a Zoom call, as he and Dee were out of the country and not able to attend the news conference at team headquarters. “We’ve seen up close the impact it has had on their lives both short and long term. It is something that we take very, very seriously.

“We put more time, more thought, more effort, talked to more people, did more research on this decision — by far — than any other decision we’ve made with the Cleveland Browns.”

Watson, 26, is a dual-threat, three-time Pro Bowler whom the Browns believe is a significant upgrade over Baker Mayfield and capable of leading them to the Super Bowl. Berry said the front office began researching Watson after the trade deadline last season when discussions begin for the next offseason.

Jimmy Haslam said the pursuit was conceived by the football operations — not ownership — and Dee said she was first engaged after the season. Berry called it a “five-month odyssey” that ended with the organization “comfortable” with acquiring Watson.

“This has been a really hard and difficult journey for us and our family,” Dee Haslam said. “We spent a lot of time and a lot of evenings spending time with our daughters and working through this as a family. I have to tell you it was really hard, and we had to work really hard to get comfortable with the decision.

“We got really comfortable with Deshaun as the person.”

The addition of Watson is about a lot more than football.

Sexual assault is such a sensitive and important issue, and the Browns insisted they gave it the proper respect.

“We’ll never fully be able to walk in the shoes of individuals who have been affected by sexual assault,” Berry said. “That is something that we thought about a lot as we went through this process, understanding what the reaction would be. That’s something that weighed heavily on me. We empathize with that emotion, we empathize with that sentiment.

“And at the same time, we also do feel good about the work that we did as we vetted this transaction. We do have confidence and faith in Deshaun as a person. That did weigh heavily in the decision, but between the information we were able to gather, working through due process, working through the legal process, we do think that this is a decision that as it’s evaluated over the long run will be something that is positive for our organization.”

The decision was a family one for the Haslams, as they put their daughters, Whitney and Cynthia, in a room with Berry, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and coach Kevin Stefanski to ask questions about whether chasing after Watson was the right thing.

“We had several Sundays in a row where we involved our daughters with our football people, with Andrew, Kevin and Paul, in which we vetted the issue and had open, honest conversations and asked them to speak up, which they did,” Jimmy Haslam said. “Dee and I had conversations with our daughters collectively and individually. We weighed their opinions very heavily as we did several of our friends and other family members who are not involved with the Browns.”

Watson denied any wrongdoing throughout the news conference, saying he’d never assaulted, harassed or disrespected a woman. He added he had no regrets.

The Browns weren’t as strong when asked if they believed Watson didn’t do anything wrong and if trading for him meant they didn’t believe all the accusers.

“We trust the legal process, and I think due process does exist in our country,” Jimmy Haslam said. “And the extensive amount of time we spent researching him led us to make the decision we made.”

Despite the backlash, Haslam said more people are renewing season tickets than canceling. He said “some people may never get over it” but they’re confident Watson will gain the trust of the fans over time.

Berry said there were conversations with women throughout the organization about the decision.

“There absolutely were, and we’ve talked a lot about building a diverse group within the organization and bringing all the perspectives to the table and that’s certainly something that we did with this decision, as well,” he said.

Stefanski said the difficult decision was a topic in his family.

“This is not easy and I certain have sincere empathy for anybody that’s a victim of sexual abuse in any way,” he said. “These are hard, hard conversations. Just like Browns fans and my family, it’s something that you talk about. Those are uncomfortable conversations that are hard, but I think there’s growth that comes out of those conversations.

“As it relates to Deshaun, I think Deshaun is ready to make a positive impact on this community. I can tell you just with my time spent with Deshaun in the past few days getting to know him and getting to know this person, I am looking forward to this community getting to know this person.”


The Browns have moved on from Baker Mayfield, who’s expected to be traded.

“Contrary to what is out there, we think highly of Baker and did not get down on him,” Jimmy Haslam said. “Baker gave it everything he had while he was there. Nobody can question his effort this past year, and nobody can question the four years he gave the city of Cleveland. We wish him nothing best the best of luck.”

The team announced the signing of backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett on a one-year deal.

“Jacoby is a vet and with that he brings a lot of valuable experience to not just our QB room, but to our whole team,” Stefanski said. “He is a smart, tough, competitor who knows the work it takes to win in this league.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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