Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson after settlement: 'I have always stood on my innocence'

·4 min read

Minutes after the news broke about the NFL and NFL Players Association coming to a settlement in the disciplinary case involving Deshaun Watson, the Cleveland Browns quarterback maintained his innocence after 24 women alleged sexual misconduct in civil lawsuits.

"I have always stood on my innocence and am going to continue to stand on that, but at the same time I have to continue to push forward on my life and my career," Watson said Thursday in a news conference. "And for us to be able to move forward, I have to be able to take steps and put pride to the side. I'm going to continue to stand on my innocence and keep pushing forward. I've always stood on not disrespecting or not sexually assaulting anyone."

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The terms of the settlement are that Watson will be suspended 11 games and fined $5 million for violating the league's personal conduct policy amid allegations of sexual misconduct, the league said in an announcement. Watson also agreed to mandatory counseling as part of the deal.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson walks off the field during training camp.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson walks off the field during training camp.

When pressed on what he was apologizing for if he maintained his innocence, Watson said it was "for everyone that was affected by this situation, there was a lot of people that was triggered."

Watson stressed, however, that he was not making an admission of guilt despite his accepting a settlement agreement.

"Just because settlements and things like that happen, it doesn't mean that a person is guilty for anything," he said. "I feel like if a person has an opportunity to stand on his innocence, and prove that — and we proved that on the legal side — we're just going to continue to push forward as an individual and as a person."

The agreement overrides jointly appointed disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson's Aug. 1 ruling that Watson should serve a six-game suspension. However, the settlement falls well short of the yearlong ban the NFL had asked Robinson to level against Watson.

Part of Robinson's ruling mandated that Watson could not hire his own massage therapists and would have to receive his future massages from team-appointed therapists. When Watson was asked about that arrangement, he said the Browns "have a plan as an organization and we just have to keep attacking that plan and pushing it forward to making sure we are all on the same page."

Minutes after Watson left the podium, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam took the podium alongside general manager Andrew Berry to answer questions from reporters.

When specifically asked about Robinson's findings that Watson "engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL)," Jimmy Haslam said he didn't "see any positives in commenting on that."

The Browns traded for Watson in March and immediately gave him a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract. When asked if he would do the trade again, Berry said the team would, despite the looming suspension.

"I don't think anybody knew how many games Deshaun might miss," Jimmy Haslam said. "We didn't know definitively until today. I think it's important to remember: Deshaun is 26 years old, OK, and is a high-level NFL quarterback and we're planning on his being our quarterback for a long time."

Watson was sued by 24 women alleging sexual misconduct in massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021 during the quarterback's time in Houston.

All but one of the 24 lawsuits against Watson have been settled out of court with confidential agreements. The Texans reached confidential settlements with 30 women with claims related to Watson after being accused of enabling his behavior and not stopping it.

Watson's agent, David Mulugheta, posted a message to his verified Twitter account in which he suggested that the NFL had influenced the investigation led by Robinson. Mulugheta later deleted that tweet.

"To be clear, Judge Robinson repeated the NFL’s narrative," Mulugheta said in the deleted post. "She received a brief from the NFL weeks before we had the opportunity to talk to her. In our 1st call with the Judge she referred to 'Deshaun’s pattern of behavior'. Her mind was made up before we ever presented a counter."

In a follow-up tweet, Mulugheta walked back those comments and reiterated the talking points Watson brought up during his news conference Thursday.

"Deshaun has always stated he is innocent of sexual assault," Mulugheta wrote. "Nothing has changed in what he said. He also said he is remorseful, the decisions he made have created this situation. The settlement allows him to move forward with his life and career."

Contributing: Mike Jones

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deshaun Watson maintains innocence after sexual misconduct settlement