JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, for the first time, publicly apologized to the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in an interview Friday.
“I want to say that I’m truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation,” Watson said during an in-house interview on the Browns’ pregame show that aired on Cleveland News 5.
The interview took place before Friday night’s preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which Watson started.
Prior to Friday, Watson had said in his only two interviews with reporters since joining the Browns from the Houston Texans that he had “no regrets” regarding any of his actions during the massage sessions. In his second interview during Cleveland’s minicamp in June, Watson reiterated that he had no regrets about his actions, though admitted he regretted the impact the allegations had on the people around him.
He indicated differently Friday.
“The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back,” he said on the Browns’ pregame show, “but I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character and I am going to keep pushing forward.”
Watson and the Browns are waiting to hear whether he will be suspended longer than the six-game ban he was handed by independent arbiter Sue L. Robinson last week for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The NFL, seeking a tougher punishment, has appealed Robinson’s ruling, which will be heard by Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general appointed by commissioner Roger Goodell. Harvey has no specific deadline to rule on the appeal, although he must work on an “expedited” basis, per the collective bargaining agreement.
In her 16-page report, which concluded Watson violated the personal conduct policy with “egregious” and “predatory” behavior, Robinson noted that an aggravating factor in her decision to suspend Watson for six games was his “lack of expressed remorse. “
Watson has been accused of sexual assault and other inappropriate conduct during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women. The alleged encounters in the lawsuits took place from March 2020 to March 2021, while Watson was a member of the Texans. The Browns traded for Watson in March 2022, sending three first-round draft picks to Houston before giving Watson a new $230 million fully-guaranteed contract.
One of the 25 lawsuits was dropped after a judge’s ruling in April 2021 that the plaintiffs needed to amend their petitions to disclose their names. Two other women filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not sue him. Watson has settled or agreed to settle all but one of the remaining lawsuits, which remains pending. In July, the Texans reached settlements with 30 women who made claims or were prepared to make them against the NFL organization for its alleged “enabling” of Watson’s behavior.
Friday marked Watson’s first game since Jan. 3, 2021, with the Texans. He said in the pregame interview that he was “super excited” to finally play.
“Each and every snap, I want to make sure I cherish that because I’m not sure when the next time I’ll be able to get out there with those guys,” he said.
Watson had an uneventful debut, completing just 1 of 5 passes for 7 yards in three series before being replaced in Cleveland’s 24-13 win. Watson was not made available for the Browns’ postgame news conferences and declined to comment or expand on his pregame interview when approached during the postgame locker room session open to reporters.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Saturday that quarterback Jacoby Brissett will get the “majority” of the first-team reps with the offense over Watson in practice moving forward.
Watson was asked in the pregame interview about how he would use his time away from the team as it relates to personal growth.
“I know I have a lot of work to put in, especially on the field to be able to make sure I’m ready to play whenever that time comes whenever I can step back on the field,” he said. “But also, the biggest thing is I want to continue counseling and I want to make sure that I’m growing as a person, as an individual for my decision-making on and off the field. I want to make sure that I’ m just evolving in the community as much as possible, and that is for the Cleveland community, that is the NFL community and beyond.”
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.