BEREA, Ohio — The last time Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson spoke to the media was at his introductory press conference in March. Since then, new civil lawsuits have been filed against him from women alleging sexual misconduct, an HBO special documented his legal issues and the New York Times investigated his interactions with massage therapists while with the Texans.
Watson now faces more than two dozen lawsuits but has maintained his innocence. He's set on clearing his name, but with getting acclimated to a new team in a new city, things have been far from smooth.
"It's been tough, just trying to make sure that I stay balanced with my mental and social life," Watson said.
Watson on the New York Times report he received 66 massages over a 17-month period:
The quarterback said he's been leaning on his family, friends and legal team through it all as he walks in the doors at the facilities in Berea and prepares for practice and workouts. He said that they've helped him balance things in his life, from this new job in Cleveland to mounting allegations against him to the league's investigation into his off-field legal issues.
As the number of allegations against the quarterback piles up, with a 25th lawsuit expected to be filed and a 26th lawsuit possible as well, Watson has decided to focus on work.
"I go each and every day focusing on my tasks and being the best person I can be. I can't control what the other side is doing with the legal process," Watson said. "I just have to continue focusing on being the best Deshaun Watson I can be for this organization."
Watson detailed an effort to be cooperative with the NFL as it conducted interviews with him to determine whether a discipline for violating the personal conduct policy is in order.
"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 they brought down, and that's all I can do — be honest, tell them exactly what happened," Watson said. "I know they have a job and I have to respect that, and that's what we wanted to do was cooperate, and they have to make a decision best for the league."
Watch the full press conference:
The weight of the allegations, as well as the public perception that follows, is not lost on the quarterback. It shouldn't be. Even though he disputes them, he knows the seriousness of the accusations. The allegations range from sexual assault to sexual harassment. They involve a large number of women, and some of the details outline a systemic approach to meeting with various women.
"I know these allegations are very serious, and you have to respect that and everything that goes with it. It impacts so many people. Not just me and my family and this organization, but people outside in the community—this fan base, people from the Houston fan base, anyone that was a fan of mine," Watson said.
Watson was asked Tuesday if he had considered a counter lawsuit against the women and their attorney Tony Buzbee for "defamation," to which Watson said no. Right now, he's focused on clearing his name.
"I haven't got into any of that. My biggest thing is just wanting to clear my name so I can get back into being in the environment I'm most comfortable in, and that's being in the community and helping people, being that role model and leader, and also being on the football field with my teammates and try to win ballgames," he said.
Whether Watson will be able to do that this season or not is still up in the air. A lengthy suspension is very much on the table. The league wrapped up its investigation a few weeks back, but as new allegations and lawsuits roll in, a decision is awaited from the league's disciplinary officer, former United States District Judge Sue L. Robinson, and commissioner Rodger Goodell.
Nearly three months after his introductory press conference, Watson has many of the same answers. What was different was a reflection on what impact his words from that first day at the podium in Berea may have had.
In March Watson said, “I don't have any regrets. Like I said before, the things that are off the field right now that came up caught me by surprise because I never did anything that these people are alleging.
Looking back, Watson says he understands how that sounded to others.
"I think that question kind of triggered a lot of people, not just women in general, but a lot of people in the league from women to males and things like that," Watson said. "What I was saying is that yes, I never assaulted, disrespected or harassed anyone, but at the same time, I do understand 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 the locker room that have to answer to these questions, that includes the fan base of the Cleveland Browns and that includes males, females, and everyone across the world. That's one thing I do regret—the impact it's had triggered on so many people and it's tough to have to deal with."
Watson said that he's been using this time to reflect on himself. From getting back into the community to becoming a better friend, a better person and a better teammate. As his legal proceedings continue to unfold, Watson won't budge on his belief that he is innocent, but while he's hit with more lawsuits and the off-field distractions grow, he also won't let them overwhelm him, he says.
"I've been honest, and I've been truthful about my stance and that's: I never forced anyone or I never assaulted
anyone. So that's what I've been saying from the beginning and I'm going to continue to do that," Watson said. "It's been a long year-and-a-half, I can say that. It's been tough, and since I've come here and become a Cleveland Brown I've been able to use all the resources that this organization has and being able to start using counseling and talking to someone and making sure that my mentals straight so I can be prepared to walk on this field as sharp as I possibly can."
Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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