Tuesday's NFL: Deshaun Watson again denies sexual misconduct claims

Associated Press

Berea, Ohio — The new lawsuits — and potential for more — against Deshaun Watson may have further damaged his image and swayed opinion about him.

However, they’ve only deepened his resolve.

The Cleveland Browns quarterback reiterated Tuesday that he never committed sexual misconduct alleged by two dozen women in Texas, adding he plans to keep fighting to clear his name.

Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson answers a question after Tuesday's practice.

“I never assaulted anyone,” Watson said following practice as the Browns held their mandatory minicamp. “I never harassed anyone or I never disrespected anyone. I never forced anyone to do anything.”

Watson, who is facing civil lawsuits from 24 massage therapists accusing him of sexual assault and harassment during private sessions when he played for the Houston Texans, stood by previous comments proclaiming his innocence.

While acknowledging his actions have impacted others, Watson maintained he’s not done anything wrong.

“I just want to clear my name,” he said.

Watson’s comments were his first public ones since March 25, when he was introduced by the Browns after they persuaded him to waive his no-trade clause and signed him to a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract despite his legal troubles.

Since then, his entanglements have grown, with two more women filing lawsuits in the wake of other accusers detailing disturbing encounters with Watson on a report by HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”

There was also a New York Times report that Watson booked appointments with at least 66 different women over 17 months while he played for the Texans. And on Monday, attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents all the women suing Watson, said he plans to file two more lawsuits against the quarterback.

Watson, who was not indicted on criminal complaints by grand juries in two different Texas counties, may be losing the public relations battle. But remains staunchly adamant he hasn’t broken any laws.

“I’ve been honest and I’ve been truthful about my stance,” he said. “I never forced on anyone and I never assaulted anyone. That’s what I’ve been saying since the beginning and I’ll continue to do that until all the facts come out.”

Buzbee released a statement following Watson’s press availability.

“We appreciate the Cleveland market and its fervent support with regard to its new quarterback, Deshaun Watson,” he said. “But given the volume of the credible cases filed, the lead detective’s sworn testimony, the undisputed facts, and the heartbreak, pain, and havoc Watson has caused, we think it would be appropriate to see Deshaun Watson express some regret or remorse in the way he treated these women, some of which have sued and many others who haven’t, yet.”

There’s also the matter of the 26-year-old’s football future.

The NFL is investigating Watson to determine whether the three-time Pro Bowler violated its personal-conduct policy. He faces a potential lengthy suspension, depending on findings by investigators who will present evidence to Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge appointed jointly by the league and NFL Players Association as a disciplinary officer.

Watson spent several hours with league officials in Houston last month and said he was “open and truthful” during the interviews sessions.

“I did everything they asked me to do,” he said. “I answered every question truthfully that the NFL asked me. That’s all I can do is be honest and tell them exactly what happened. I know they have a job and so I have to respect that, so that’s what we wanted to do is cooperate.

“They have to make a decision that’s best for the league.”

Watson didn’t answer a single question about football during his 12-minute session with reporters. He began the session with a statement thanking the Browns and their fans for support.

“I’m happy to be a Cleveland Brown,” he said. “This is going to be my home for the rest of my career — that is the plan.”

While standing by previous remarks, Watson acknowledged that comments he made in March may have negatively affected others.

“I do have regrets as far as the impact that (it’s had) on the community and people outside of just myself,” Watson said. “And 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, the world. That’s one thing I do regret is the impact that it’s triggered on so many people. It’s tough to have to deal with.”

Watson and his legal team have maintained he won’t settle the lawsuits. He was asked if the recent cases have changed that.

“I just want to clear my name and be able to let the facts and the legal procedures continue to play out,” he said.

Watson also said he’s been receiving counseling since joining the Browns.

“I’m going to continue to do that,” he said, “and be the best person and grow as an individual, grow as a human being and just be able to be the best citizen and the best person that I can be outside this field.”

Until the league acts, the Browns are going forward as if Watson will be their starter this season. They signed veteran Jacoby Brissett as his backup, and coach Kevin Stefanski is comfortable the 29-year-old can handle starting duties.

“I do have confidence in Jacoby,” Stefanski said. “He’s played a lot of football for a young player. He’s a smart player. He takes care of the football. Good size, can make all of the throws and those type of things.”

Del Rio apology

Commanders assistant Jack Del Rio addressed the team to apologize for his comments about protests in the summer of 2020 and the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, coach Ron Rivera said.

Rivera said Del Rio also met individually with some players to discuss his remarks last week, which drew a $100,000 fine from the team.

“He was very open, very forthright, very contrite and apologized and opened himself up to questions or opportunities for any players to come in and meet with him,” Rivera told reporters before the team’s first minicamp practice. “He’s already met with some of our players and talked to some of them about what was said. I’ve been told those meetings went very, very well. And so I’m very pleased with that.”

Del Rio apologized hours later for calling the deadly insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021 “a dust-up at the Capitol.” Rivera said the fine made it clear the organization would not tolerate equivalating the riot to the protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Rivera said he and the team wanted to move on from the comments now to focus on football.

“I’m about reconciliation,” Rivera said. “We have to understand that when we do things like this, it impacts the community as well. We got to make sure the community understands that we understand and we get it. That’s important. So this was really about taking accountability and holding ourselves accountable, and then going forward and trying to reconcile with things.”

Extra points

Bills co-owner Kim Pegula is in the intensive care unit of a Florida hospital receiving medical care for what her family described as “some unexpected health issues.”

The statement from the Pegula family said they are grateful for the progress she has made over the past few days, adding she has “an exceptional team of medical experts at her side.”

But the statement didn’t specify the type of medical issues and asked to respect the family’s need for privacy.

A receptionist at Boca Raton Regional Hospital said Pegula was a patient there. The Pegulas have several homes around the country, while making their base in Boca Raton.

… Falcons coach Arthur Smith said he allowed running back and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to continue his personal offseason workout program instead of joining his teammates on the practice fields.

… Three-time All-Pro selection Richard Sherman has been hired by Amazon Prime Video as an analyst for their first season as the exclusive network for “Thursday Night Football.”

… Former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett will be an analyst on NBC’s “Football Night in America” pregame show this upcoming season.