BEREA, Ohio — With lawsuits piling up and national media digging in, Deshaun Watson repeated Tuesday that he’s never engaged in the sexual misconduct alleged in the 24 civil lawsuits against him by massage therapists, which is soon to grow to 26.
“I’ve been honest and I’ve been truthful about my stance and that’s I never forced anyone, I never assaulted anyone, so that’s what I’ve been saying it from the beginning and I’m going to continue to do that until all the facts come out on the legal side,” Watson said Tuesday on the first day of mandatory minicamp in his first public comments since his introductory Browns press conference March 25. “I have to continue to just go with the process with my legal team and the court of law.”
Just like during his introductory press conference, Watson reiterated he has no regrets about anything he’s done during those massage appointments. The only thing he regrets, he said, is the impact the ordeal has had on everyone around him.
“I think that question (if he regretted anything) kind of triggered a lot of people,” he said. “Not just women in general but a lot of people in the league from women to evils and things like that. What I was saying is, yes, I’ve never assaulted, disrespected or harassed anyone. But at the same time I understand and I do have regrets as far as the impact that it’s had on the community and people outside of just myself.
“That includes my family, that includes this organization, that includes my teammates in this locker room that have to answer these questions, that includes the fan base of the Cleveland Browns, that includes males, females, everyone across the world. That’s one thing that I do regret is the impact that it’s triggered on so many people and it’s tough to have to deal with.”
Pressed further on if he has regrets, he said, “No, like I said, I’ve never assaulted anyone, or I never harassed anyone, or I never disrespected anyone, never forced anyone to do anything.”
Unlike during his March 25th press conference, Watson finally admitted he needs help in dealing with this issue. When asked that day if he felt like he needed counseling, he said no because he hadn’t done anything wrong. On Tuesday, he reversed field, acknowledging that he can’t handle this alone.
With attorney Tony Buzbee filing two more suits since May 31st and planning two more ‘in due course,’ with two of his accusers appearing on HBO’s Real Sports with Sports with Bryant Gumbel, and with The New York Times dropping an incriminating investigative piece on June 7, Watson is getting the help he needs.
“It’s been a long year and half, I can say that,” he said. “Personally, it’s been tough. And since I came here and since I became a Cleveland Brown, I’ve been able to use all the resources that this organization has. Been able to start using counseling and talking with someone just to make sure that my mental is straight and so I can be prepared to walk on this field and be as sharp as I possibly can.
“And I’m going to continue to do that, be the best person and grow as an individual, grow as a human being, and just be able to be the best citizen, best person that I can be outside this field, and also when I walk out of this building, be the best teammate and player that I can be.”
He added, “it’s been tough, just trying to make sure that I stay balanced with my mental and my social life, but I have a great family, I have a great legal team and I have a great support cast here in this organization, so when I walk into the building, all that stuff is outside. I’ve got to focus on football and my teammates, building that trust with those guys on the football field and off the field and really just coming to work because the gameplan is the season starts and getting everyone on the same page.”
While preparing to win games for the Browns this season, he has no idea if he’ll even set foot on the field this year. The NFL hasn’t given him any indication how long he’ll be suspended, and speculation has ranged from about six games to more than a year. The disciplinary officer, Sue L. Robinson, can suspend him for a specific number of games or indefinitely and also fine him. After that, he can appeal, and his attorney Rusty Hardin has indicated he will.
Roger Goodell can also change his mind and place Watson on the Commissioner’s Exempt list, which is a paid leave of absence while the league investigates further. During the NFL annual meeting in March, Goodell removed that option after Watson was not indicted on nine counts by a grand jury in Harris County, Texas. A second grand jury in Texas’ Brazoria County subsequently declined to indict him on one complaint.
“I can’t control that,” Watson said. “I met with the NFL a couple weeks ago and I did everything they asked me to do, I answered every question truthfully that the NFL asked me, I spent hours with the people that they brought down and that’s all I can do is just be honest and tell them exactly what happened. I know they have a job so I have to respect that, so that’s what we wanted to do is cooperate and they have to make a decision best for the league.”
Watson, 26, reiterated that he has no current plans to settle the suits, which won’t be heard until after March 1st.
“Like I said, I just want to clear my name and be able to let the facts and the legal procedures continue to play out,” he said. “So right now that’s all I’m doing is wanting to clear my name and be able to let all of the facts come out in a court of law, and be able to focus on that.”
Watson was asked if The New York Times report that he booked 66 massage appointments between the fall of 2020 and the spring of 2021 was true.
“I don’t think so from what me and my attorneys went through,” he said. “But at the same time that’s more of a legal question that I can’t really get into the details about. So you’d probably have to ask my attorneys and things like that to confirm.”
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, told cleveland.com that the allegations in the 24th suit filed June 5th are ‘totally false’ like all of the rest. But Buzbee won’t stop until he feels justice is served. He confirmed for cleveland.com Monday night that the two more suits are forthcoming.
“We’ve been referred to a very compelling case by a respected lawyer from Atlanta,” Buzbee said in an email response. “We expect to file that case in due course. And, we have been contacted by another victim who saw the HBO special and was compelled to come forward.
“We have vetted other calls but haven’t yet made decisions on any further filings and will continue to do our due diligence consistent with our ethical obligations. With regard to any impending filings, we will allow the facts of the cases to speak for themselves.”
Buzbee also plans to add the Texans to the ongoing suits for allegedly aiding and abetting Watson’s misconduct. During that statement on June 8th, Buzbee revealed he is considering ‘many’ other cases.
Meanwhile, Watson has endeared himself to his teammates by being open and honest with them, by working hard in practice, and by taking his offensive teammates on a trip to the Bahamas for work and fun. He’s planning another team workout in July, but teammates such as Myles Garrett and Nick Chubb have already vouched for him.
“I just be myself,” he said. “I come in here with my head held high. I come in here if any one of those guys needs to ask questions or they have any concerns they know they can come to my locker and ask me. But ever since I walked in here from day 1 these guys have rallied around me, supported me, and if anything popped up, questions have been asked and I answered them truthfully.
“And outside of that we come in here, we work, we try to be the best Cleveland Browns we can be, the best team that we can be, and we’ve had a lot of fun getting to know each other. Especially on the trip to the Bahamas, that was awesome. These guys have also came behind me and supported me.”
He said despite the accusations, he’s “figuring out how I can be the best human being I can be, the best teammate I can be, the best son I can be, the best friend I can be and just focus on that and just having a smile on my face and walk with my head held high because I know who I really am and just being the best citizen I can be in this community.”
He said he’s been embraced by Browns fans all over the city, including one night when he went to see Top Gun with his girlfriend and a group of families, about 30 people in all, bought them popcorn and invited them to the movie with them.
“I thought that was pretty awesome, to be able to get out and let people really know who I really am, so that’s been my focus is really just focusing on Deshaun Watson being the best person I can be,” he said.
He thanked the Haslams, Andrew Berry, Kevin Stefanski, his teammates and fans for welcoming him amid the controversy. For their part, the Browns are standing firmly behind Watson and have no plans to try to void the $230 million contract in the wake of new suits and allegations, and no intentions to nullify in the trade, in which they sent three first-round picks and three other selections to the Texans, sources have told cleveland.com.
“Looking forward to being in the community and I’m happy to be a Cleveland Brown,” he said. “This is going to be my home for the rest of my career — that’s the plan — and everything’s been going good.”
Get the latest Browns merchandise: Here’s where you can order Cleveland Browns gear online, including jerseys, T-shirts, hoodies, hats and much more.
More Browns coverage
Whatever Watson or lawyers say, what matters is NFL and courts: Pluto
Video as Watson, Garrett lead Browns on Day 1 of minicamp
Takeaways from Watson’s press conference: Berea Report
Watson meets with reporters: Transcript
Stefanski in minicamp and Watson: Transcript
Watson: ‘I never forced anyone; I never assaulted anyone’
How Chargers’ offseason moves affect Week 5 matchup vs. browns
Watson trade a mistake if he’s misses 2022? podcast
Two more civil suits against Watson
For Johnson, ‘slow grind’ is a lifestyle
Deaton’s challenge to beat the odds: Film review
Which position group is the strongest? podcast
Browns OK with Jacoby Brissett at QB? Hey Mary Kay!