JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson publicly apologized for the first time to the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in an interview Friday.
“I want to say that I am truly sorry to all the women that I have affected in this situation,” Watson said during a internal 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.
Before Friday, Watson had said in his only two interviews with reporters since joining the Browns from the Houston Texans that he had “no regrets” about any of his actions during the massage sessions. In his second interview during Cleveland’s June minicamp, Watson reiterated that he had no regrets for his actions, although he admitted that he regretted the impact the allegations had on those around him.
He suggested otherwise Friday.
“The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position, I definitely want to take 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 genuine person of character and I will continue to push forward.”
Watson and the Browns are waiting to hear whether he will be suspended longer than the six-game suspension he was handed by independent referee Sue L. Robinson last week for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The NFL, which is seeking a stiffer penalty, has appealed Robinson’s decision, 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 under the collective bargaining agreement.
In her 16-page report, which concluded that Watson violated the personal conduct policy with “cruel” 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 behavior during massage sessions in civil lawsuits filed by 25 women. The alleged meetings 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 ruled in April 2021 that the plaintiffs had to amend their petitions to reveal 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 settled with 30 women who filed claims or were preparing to file them against the NFL organization for its alleged “enabling” of Watson’s conduct.
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.
“Every single snap, I want to make sure I appreciate it, because I’m not sure when the next time I’m going to 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 on three series before being replaced in Cleveland’s 24–13 victory. Jacoby Brissett, who is expected to start during Watson’s suspension, did not play.
Watson was asked how he would spend 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 when the time comes when I can step back on the field,” he said during prior interview. “But the biggest thing is also I want to continue counseling and I want to make sure that I grow 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’s for the Cleveland community, that’s the NFL community and beyond.”
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.