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Despite settlement, suspension, fine, Deshaun Watson maintains innocence

BEREA — Quarterback Deshaun Watson accepted an 11-game suspension, $5 million fine and the directive he be evaluated by behavioral experts and follow their treatment program in a settlement with the NFL reached Thursday.

He didn’t take blame for his actions with more than two dozen women who accused him of sexual misconduct during massage therapy appointments.

Training Camp Log, Day 15: Joint practices begin on busy day in Berea

“I’ve always stood on my innocence and always said that I’ve never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone and I’m continuing to stand on that,” said Watson, who previously settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits. “But at the same time, I have to continue to push forward with my life and my career, and for us to be able to move forward, I have to be able to take steps and put pride to the side.

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“I’m going to continue to stand on my innocence and keep pushing forward, and I’ve always stood on not disrespecting or sexual(ly) assaulting anyone.”

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The NFL, Browns and Watson finally have resolution after a 15-month investigation of Watson, an initial ruling of a six-game suspension from independent arbitrator Sue L. Robinson and an appeal by the league. The league sought an indefinite suspension of at least a season, and Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey to rule on the appeal. The settlement preempts Harvey’s ruling and eliminates the possibility of a federal lawsuit from the NFL Players Association.

Watson, who wasn’t indicted by two Texas grand juries, was asked if the punishment is fair.

“I think for my peace I’m going to keep my opinion to myself,” he said.

Watson, 26, will be eligible to play Dec. 4 at Houston, which is the team that drafted him in 2017 with the No. 12 pick and traded him to the Browns in March. The Texans settled 30 civil lawsuits in July accusing them of being aware of and enabling Watson’s behavior.

Watson talked to reporters for the first time since June 14, when he said he regretted saying March 18 he had no regrets because the comment triggered people. He apologized last Friday in a short interview with a member of the team’s preseason broadcast crew.

After reiterating his innocence Thursday, he was asked for what he was apologizing.

“For everyone that was affected about this situation,” he said. “There was a lot of people that was triggered.”

Did the apology include his accusers?

“I’ve apologized to all women, so anybody that was affected, even yourself, everything,” Watson said.

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In the NFL’s announcement of the settlement, Goodell said Watson had “committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL.”

Watson is allowed to continue practicing and playing in the preseason, but coach Kevin Stefanski said he’d sit out the final two preseason games. The suspension starts Aug. 30 with the regular-season roster cutdown. He’s allowed to return to the team facility Oct. 10 and begin practicing Nov. 14.

The settlement came less than a week after Watson started the preseason opener against the Jaguars. He was 1-for-5 for 7 yards in his first game action since Jan. 3, 2021. If he plays Dec. 4 vs. the Texans, it will have been 700 days since his last regular-season appearance.

Robinson, a former federal judge jointly appointed by the NFL and NFLPA, found the NFL proved its case that he violated three provisions of the conduct policy — sexual assault as defined by the NFL, posing a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another and undermining or putting at risk the integrity of the league.

Her 16-page ruling released Aug. 1 said Watson’s pattern of “non-violent sexual conduct” was “more egregious” than any previously reviewed by the league and referred to sexual assault against four people as unprecedented. Robinson referred to Watson’s habits before and during massage therapy sessions as “predatory conduct,” writing that he had a “sexual purpose” in making the arrangements and “knew such sexualized contact was unwanted.”

“I know who I am. I know what type of person I am, I know the character of person I was raised to be and I’ve always been,” Watson said.

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Browns owner Jimmy Haslam wouldn’t comment on Robinson’s conclusions.

“We as an organization realize how sensitive this is, how emotional it is to all kinds of different people. How a lot of people have been affected by this situation, and we take that very seriously,” Haslam said. “Since Deshaun came into our building in April, he has done everything we have asked of him and more. And he has been the person, the leader that we expect him to be and I think he understands where he is in his life, it’s a pivotal point, and we as an organization are going to do everything we can to help him not only be the best football player he can be but more important to be the best person he can be.

“And we’re going to support him in every way possible during the suspension and during what will hopefully be a long career with the Cleveland Browns.”

Haslam was asked if he’s comfortable having Watson on the team, given new information and accusations since the Browns acquired him March 18 in a trade with the Texans.

“Absolutely. One hundred percent. One hundred percent,” said Haslam, who sounded defensive and defiant throughout the interview.

The Browns sent a net of five draft picks, including three first-rounders, to the Texans for Watson and signed him to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract — the most guaranteed money in NFL history.

General manager Andrew Berry said he’d do it again.

“Yes, we would,” he said. “We felt like we made an informed decision, understand why others may not have made the same decision that we did. But we do believe that Deshuan has strong, positive qualities and we do think that he’s done everything in his power to integrate himself with our team, done everything that we’ve asked.”

As part of the settlement, the Browns and NFL will donate $1 million apiece to go along with the $5 million fine for a $7 million fund to support non-profit organizations that educate young people on healthy relationships, promote prevention of sexual misconduct and assault and support survivors.

“As an organization and as individuals we have tremendous empathy for the women involved,” owner Dee Haslam said. “And we have an opportunity now to make a difference in this community.”

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Dee Haslam stressed the importance of counseling when asked about Watson standing on his innocence.

“We respect his opinion. I do think in counseling Deshaun will grow to learn a lot more about himself,” she said. “Counseling takes time. It is a layering effect, and it takes weeks, months and 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.”

The pursuit and acquisition of Watson disgusted many in the fan base while not bothering others.

“We have unbelievable fans,” Jimmy Haslam said. “The fan support has been outstanding. Our ticket sales are great. Our corporate support is outstanding.

“We are not naïve enough to think that there are not some people who disagree with that. It is our hope that over a period of time, we will win them back.”

He defended making Watson the face of the franchise.

“I think in this country, and hopefully in the world, people deserve second chances,” Jimmy Haslam said. “I really think that.

“Is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be a part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? That is what we are going to do. We are hoping this will work out and we have strong belief it will. That does not mean we do not have empathy for people affected and we will continue to do so, but we strongly believe, strongly believe that people deserve a second chance. We believe Deshaun Watson deserves a second chance.”

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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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