Browns’ Deshaun Watson suspended 11 games and fined $5 million | Culture & Leisure

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BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will serve an 11-game unpaid suspension, pay a $5 million fine, and undergo professional evaluation and treatment as part of a settlement with the NFL following accusations of sexual misconduct by two dozen women.

The league had sought to ban Watson for at least a year for violating its personal conduct policy. He was accused of sexually harassing and coercing women during massage therapy sessions while with the Houston Texans.

Watson signed a fully guaranteed contract for $230 million after being traded to the Browns in March. Because the team structured Watson’s deal to earn $1.035 million in his first season, he will lose $632,500 in salary during the suspension.

As part of the settlement, Watson can return for the Browns’ game in Houston on Dec. 4.

“All my life I just have to be able to move on and that’s the plan,” Watson said shortly after the settlement became public. “I need to be able to move forward in my career, move forward with my family, my personal life and everything.”

The settlement ends months of speculation and averted a decision by former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, who was appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league appealed a six-year suspension matches issued by Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson.

As part of the settlement between the league and the NFL Players Association, Watson will have to be evaluated by behavioral experts and undergo their treatment program.

Watson apologized last week before the Browns’ preseason opener for the first time since the allegations surfaced. He tried to offer more contrition on Thursday while saying he had never been inappropriate with women.

“I have always defended my innocence and I have always said that I have never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone and I continue to stand by that,” he said. “But at the same time, I have to keep moving forward in my life and my career.

“I will continue to stand on my innocence and continue to move forward, and I have always been a strong advocate not to disrespect or sexually assault anyone.”

In addition to its $5 million fine, the league and the Browns are donating $1 million each to a fund that will support nonprofits across the country to educate young people about “healthy relationships, promote education and prevention of sexual misconduct and assault, supporting survivors and related causes.”

Watson can train until the suspension begins Aug. 30, but coach Kevin Stefanski said he won’t play any preseason games. He won’t be allowed to return to team facilities until October 10, roughly halfway through the suspension. Watson can start training again on November 18 and be reinstated two weeks later.

Attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the 24 women who sued Watson, criticized the NFL’s handling of the case and the settlement.

“By settling this matter the way he did, Roger Goodell has proven one of two things: either his recent rhetoric was completely idiotic, or his bark is far worse than his bite,” Buzbee said in a statement. “I believe he is nothing more than a paper tiger.

“The message today to all victims is clear, if you believe you have been sexually assaulted by a powerful person, keep your mouth shut and walk away. The NFL has certainly demonstrated that its ownership and organization don’t care.”

Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, who were widely criticized for trading for Watson, stood by the QB. They said they expected him to learn and grow from this experience.

“Since Deshaun arrived at our building in April, he has done everything we asked of him and more,” Jimmy Haslam said during a press conference with his wife and Browns general manager Andrew Berry. “And he’s been the person, the leader that we’ve come to expect from him and I think he understands where he’s at in his life, that’s a big deal, and we as an organization are going to do whatever it takes. that we can to help him not only be the best football player he can be, but most importantly to be the best person he can be.”

Haslam was asked if he’s still comfortable with Watson being on Cleveland’s roster.

“Absolutely,” he said. “100%”

Dee Haslam was pressed to find out if she believed Watson was innocent.

“We respect his opinion. I think by advising Deshaun will learn a lot more about himself,” she said.

On August 1, Watson was suspended for six games by Robinson, a former federal judge appointed jointly by the league and union to act as an independent disciplinary officer. As part of her decision, she called his behavior “blatant” and “predatory.”

Watson would not comment directly on Robinson’s claims.

“I know who I am,” he said. “I know what type of person I am. I know the character of the person I was raised to be and always have been. That’s the most important thing for me is to keep showing who Deshaun Watson really is, and people who meet me and those around me, they will find out who I really am.”

Believing the suspension was too light, the league appealed and referred Watson’s case to Goodell, who had handled all player disciplines in the past. The league previously requested an indefinite suspension and a hefty fine.

At owners’ meetings this month, Goodell said the league’s pursuit of a one-year ban was warranted following its investigation and Robinson’s findings.

“She strengthened the evidence,” Goodell said. “There were multiple flagrant violations, and that was predatory behavior.”

In his conclusion, Robinson cited Watson’s lack of remorse as a factor in his decision.

Watson was asked why he apologized if he was innocent. “For everyone who has been affected by this situation,” he said. “There were a lot of people who got triggered.”

Watson was accused of being sexually inappropriate with women from March 2020 to March 2021. In the Texas civil lawsuits, the women accused him of exposing themselves, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will. A woman alleged that Watson forced her to perform oral sex.

Two separate grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson, who also settled 23 of the 24 suits.

For now, the suspension ends months of speculation over whether Watson would play in 2022 for the Browns, who have outbid several other teams and traded three first-round picks to the Texans.

The Browns think Watson could make him a Super Bowl contender. Without him, they might struggle to simply wrestle in the AFC North against defending conference champion Cincinnati along with Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

All along, the Browns’ plan was to hand over their offense to veteran Jacoby Brissett, who has made 37 career starts. But it’s now possible that Cleveland will explore other options at quarterback.

The suspension also means that Watson will be inactive for longer. One of professional football’s elite QBs, he sat out last season in Houston after asking for a trade and before the sex allegations surfaced.

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AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.

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