Deshaun Watson apologizes as suspension is reviewed

After a 19-month absence from football, Deshaun Watson started the NFL preseason on Friday night.

Before the game, the Cleveland Browns quarterback did something else that almost seemed like a long time ago: He apologized for the first time after more than two dozen women said he sexually assaulted or molested them during massages.

As Watson took the field to a sparse crowd at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, league counsel continued to weigh in on his eligibility for the upcoming regular season.

A day before both the game and Watson’s apology, the Associated Press reported that Watson was willing to accept an eight-game suspension and a $5 million fine after his representatives initially disputed the amount of time he missed.

“I want to say that I am truly sorry for all the women that I have affected in this situation,” Watson said in an interview with Brown’s broadcast team. “The decisions I’ve made in my life that put me in this position I definitely want to take back, but I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I’m a real person of character.”

As kickoff approached, tension was building over whether Watson’s start would go as planned. Even when a regular-season suspension is expected, he can participate in all practices and exhibition games before his suspension begins in the first week of the season. But if the appeal resulted in a season-long ban, which the league requested, and if the decision was made before the game, Watson would be immediately suspended from all team activities and would have to apply to be reinstated at the end of the game. season.

Peter Harvey, the former New Jersey attorney general who was selected by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week to hear the case and rule on an “expedited” basis, is handling the appeal. There is no timetable for when this will happen.

The Browns announced Wednesday that Watson would start the preseason opener on Friday. He looked rusty, completing just one of five on three offensive plays, but his play on the field was a mere footnote.

On August 1, Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge appointed jointly by the NFL and the players’ union to oversee the disciplinary hearing, found that Watson had committed multiple violations of the league’s personal conduct policy as a result of what he considered to be conduct. predator” and “man”. Two days later, the league filed an appeal under a new disciplinary process established under the 2020 collective bargaining agreement.

In arguing for a full-season ban, along with a fine and counseling, the league expressed concern about Watson’s lack of remorse, which Robinson also cited in his decision.

Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam expressed their support for Watson last week, saying he was “remorseful”. Watson’s comments before Friday’s game were the first time he has publicly expressed remorse for his actions.

Watson previously denied the allegations and told reporters at a press conference in June that he regretted the impact they had on his teammates and those around him. Watson settled 23 lawsuits filed against him by women who said he assaulted or harassed them during massages, and two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him.

Watson’s suspension will begin the week of the Browns’ first regular season game, Sept. 11 against the Carolina Panthers.

He has not played in a game, either in the regular season or in an exhibition game, since January 3, 2021, when he was still a member of the Houston Texans. He requested a trade that month, and in March 2021 the first lawsuit was filed against him. Although Watson was eligible to play, he opted out of the 2021 NFL season.

The Browns traded for Watson this spring after a Texas grand jury declined to indict him. The team sent multiple top draft picks to Houston and signed Watson to a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract.

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