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Browns acknowledge Watson signing 'difficult for many people'

'It has triggered a range of emotions,' says GM Andrew Berry
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Deshaun Watson Browns
Browns-Watson Football
Posted at 8:35 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-26 07:58:31-04

CLEVELAND — On Friday afternoon, before an assemblage of Cleveland media, the Browns began the delicate process of introducing Deshaun Watson to a fan base fractured by the acquisition of a franchise quarterback facing allegations made by 22 women.

General manager Andrew Berry acknowledged that the organization knows this transaction "has been very difficult for many people, particularly women in our community. And we realize that it has triggered a range of emotions."

Watson thanked owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam for the opportunity to join the team and repeatedly denied assaulting or disrespecting women.

"I can’t speak on what people's opinions are because everyone has their own opinions. What I can continue to do is to tell the truth. I have never assaulted or disrespected or harassed any woman in my life. I was raised differently. It’s not in my DNA, my culture, that’s not me as a person and it’s not how I was raised," said Watson.

Berry spoke first, acknowledging that the nature of the allegations led to a five-month investigation to find out who Watson is as a person before the Browns felt comfortable pursuing a trade.

Berry said that the Browns did not speak to the 22 women who made the allegations for legal reasons but that the team employed private investigators to gather information. Berry did not specify what those investigations entailed, but Jimmy Haslam later said he believes the investigators were "able to read depositions and do a tremendous amount of work to where we became comfortable as an organization.”

Berry also said that they felt good about Watson as a person and what they learned through the investigation and if they didn't they wouldn't have made the trade.

Watch Berry's statement:

Browns GM Andrew Berry remarks on Deshaun Watson

"I thought it was important to say that we as an organization know that this transaction has been very difficult for many people, particularly women in our community. And we realize that it has triggered a range of emotions," Berry said. "And that as well as the the nature of the allegations, weighed heavily on all of us, myself, Kevin, you know Jimmy, Dee, Paul, Whitney, JW, as well as you know, the men and women up and down the organization who were involved in the decision-making and vetting process, and it was because of the the weight of the anticipated reaction and the the nature of the allegations that really pushed us to do as much work as possible, both internally and externally in terms of understanding cases and who Deshaun was as a person, and it was through this five-month odyssey and the information that we were able to amass, the reference work, obviously, working through due process and the legal process, that got us comfortable, pursuing a trade for Deshaun."

Stefanski echoed Berry's assertion that a lot of work went into the decision.

"I understand the concerns completely," Stefanski said. "We understand that there are questions to be answered. Have confidence in the work that we put in. I have confidence in the extensive work that our group put in to understand Deshaun. I'm really looking forward to coaching DeShaun. I know he's ready to get to work, and I'm looking forward to him being around his teammates. And really I'm looking forward to him making a very positive impact in this community."

Watch Stefanski's statement:

Kevin Stefanski remarks on Deshaun Watson

Watson said that he needs to "clear my name as much as possible," and said he never assaulted any women. When asked why he used so many massage therapists, Watson said that social media factored into it but could not go into detail with legal proceedings still ongoing. It was a statement some observers on social media found curious.

Watch Watson's opening statement:

DaShaun Watson introduces himself to Cleveland

Regarding fans who are turning away from the Browns, Berry said the team empathizes with their sentiments.

"I would tell you that we'll never fully be able to walk in the shoes of individuals who have been affected by sexual assault," Berry said. "And that is something that we thought about a lot as we went through this process, understanding what the reaction would be, and that's something that weighed heavily on me. And we empathize with that emotion. We empathize with that sentiment. And at the same time, we also do feel good about the work that we did as we vetted this transaction. We do have confidence and faith in Deshaun as a person.

"We do think that this is a decision that as it's evaluated over the long run will be something that is positive for the organization. And we totally respect and totally empathize with those sentiments right now, totally understand that there are people who are not comfortable with the transaction right now ... We feel good about Deshaun as a person. And we think that he's going to do a lot of positive in the community."

The owners
Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam spoke a few hours later. The two discussed the decision to bring Watson to Cleveland and said it wasn't without a lot of deliberation.

"I know we can both say, as can others in our organization, that we put more time, more thought, more effort, talked to more people and did more research on this decision by far than other decision we have made with the Cleveland Browns. It is not something we took lightly. It is something that we took very seriously, and we feel comfortable with the process we have been through," Jimmy said.

Dee said that the conversations have been difficult but throughout the process they came to be comfortable in their decision but at the same time understand how fans, particularly women, make be uncomfortable with the move.

"This has been a really hard and difficult journey for us and for our family. We spent a lot of time and a lot of evenings spending time with our daughters and working through this as a family. I have to tell you, it was really hard. We had to really work hard to get comfortable with the decision," Dee said. "We knew going into this that this could be really hard on individuals and could trigger emotions from individuals who have been through sexual abuse. I just have to tell you, our compassion for those individuals is really deep. We know how hard this has been on them.”

The Haslams said they know that some fans may find it necessary to stop supporting the team and that they "do respect individuals that have strong feelings. We understand those feelings,”

“Again, we respect our fans and their feelings. This is a really tough subject, and there are a lot of people who have experienced a lot of pain through sexual abuse, so we respect [those feelings]," Dee said. "I think our goal all along was to build an organization that Cleveland can be proud of, and we are going to continue that.”

Fans often chide ownership for being too heavily involved in football decisions, but the call to pursue Watson was a collective effort, Jimmy said, sparked initially by those in football operations.

“It was definitely conceived by football operations. I can tell you it was widely vetted throughout our organization, including ownership, but it was conceived in football operations," Jimmy said.

The Haslams were involved throughout the process, really brought in at the end of the season, they said. Jimmy and Dee weren't the only memebers of the Haslam family involved in the discussions, however. The owners said the opinion of their daughters was something they relied heavily on.

“We had several Sundays in a row where we involved our daughters with our football personnel people – with Andrew, Kevin and (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul (DePodesta) – in which we vetted the issue and had open, honest conversations and asked them to speak up, which they did. Dee and I had conversations with our daughters collectively and individually. We weighed their opinions very heavily, as we did several of our friends and other family members who are not involved in the Browns. I know we are sounding redundant, but I can’t tell you how much time and thought we put into this decision.”

The last week
Watson arrived in Berea Thursday to get a physical for his new team. While that was happening, a grand jury in Brazoria County, Texas, declined to indict Watson. Watson avoided criminal charges last week when a Harris County grand jury in Texas declined to indict him, but he still faces 22 civil lawsuits from as many women accusing him of sexual misconduct. In addition to the legal battle ahead of him, Watson also faces possible discipline by the NFL, which could include suspension. That remains to be seen.

“If the league’s investigation determines that Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy, discipline may be imposed pursuant to the policy and the CBA,” an NFL spokesperson told News 5 last week.

The Browns and Watson agreed on a base salary of $1 million for 2022, which would address a possible suspension.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Watson, who sat out the 2020 season after demanding a trade, chose Cleveland to restart his career over several other teams after initially telling the Browns he wasn’t interested in playing for them. However, he changed his mind, perhaps swayed by a fully guaranteed $230 million contract.

RELATED: Grand jury declines to indict Browns' new QB Deshaun Watson on previous allegation

The future
With Watson now officially a part of the organization, he and the team have work to do. Not just on the field, but off of it.

The Browns will continue adding to the roster and making moves this offseaon, including finding a new team for quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Once Mayfield is traded and the $18.8 million he brings to the books comes off, the team will continue moving forward with plans to add other players and offer new contracts while also preparing for the 2022 NFL Draft.

The organization also plans to move forward giving back to the community and addressing the issue of sexual abuse and violence.

“We are going to continue to be involved in the community. I think sexual abuse is a topic that is a really important one in our country. As an organization, that's something that women are such an important part of our organization and we value them, we are empowering them and we are doing everything we can to provide opportunity for women in our organization so I think it is a natural conversation to have going forward,” Dee Haslam said.

Right now, counseling of any kind is not in the cards for Watson, who said it's tough to think he needs it because "I don't have a problem. I don't have an issue, and that is what I've been saying from the beginning," but Dee Haslam said that she'll leave that up to the medical personnel, adding "but I do think that I personally believe in counseling for everybody."

Even if he does not choose counseling, Watson, as he continues fighting to maintain his innocence, hopes to build the trust of those around him and, one day, get back to being involved in giving back to the community.

"I want people to be able to come to me and have an open dialogue and we speak about it and show the person that I really am. That's how I was raised: to respect everyone and continue to respect people like I want to be respected. That's just how I was raised. Continue to build that with the organization and build that trust," Watson said. "I have to earn that trust back into the community so I can step out. I don't want to just jump out and make it seem like I am just doing it just to try to clear my name. I have always been a community leader."