Watson also signed off on a $5 million fine in an agreement that’ll keep him off the field for nearly two-thirds of this upcoming season, before he’s eligible for Cleveland’s Week 13 game against his former team, the Houston Texans, on Dec. 4.
“Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension.”
The star signal caller said he’s looking forward to getting back on to the field once the suspension is over.
“I’m grateful that the disciplinary process has ended and extremely appreciative of the tremendous support I have received throughout my short time with the Browns organization,” Watson said in a statement. “I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made.”
Minutes after issuing that statement, Watson spoke to reporters and re-asserted his “innocence.”
“I’m moving on with my career, with my life and I continue to stand on my innocence,” he said.
“Just because settlements and things like that happen doesn’t mean that person is guilty for anything. I feel like a person has the opportunity to stand on his innocence and prove that and we proved that on the legal side.”
Earlier this month, a league disciplinary officer had ruled that Watson should be banned for six games, in punishment the league deemed as inappropriately light in its appeal.
Retired federal Judge Sue L. Robinson, who presided over the disciplinary hearing and issued the six-game ban, said Watson “knew such sexualized contact was unwanted.”
But she stopped short of the NFL’s desire to bench Watson for all of 2022, arguing there’s no such precedent to punish a player that severely for acts she deemed as “non-violent sexual conduct.”
Watson signed a five-year, $230 million guaranteed contract with the Browns in March amid allegations of sexual misconduct during massage sessions involving more than 20 women.
He has already missed a considerable amount of time on the field, having not played for Houston all of last season as his legal challenges unfolded and the team sought to trade him.
The 11-game ban and $5 million penalty “is nowhere near enough” to address Watson’s alleged misconduct with the massage therapists, according to the National Organization for Women (NOW).
“That $5 million represents 2.1739% of Watson’s new $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns, which was negotiated after more than two dozen women had accused the star athlete of sexual misconduct,” the advocacy group said in statement Thursday.
“NOW is pleased to see behavioral evaluation and treatment recognized as best practices by the NFL, but they have a lot to learn about math.”
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) was also critical of Watson and his tightrope walk between remorse and defiance.
“Deshaun Watson had a chance to show he could change, and he immediately blew it,” RAINN president Scott Berkowitz said in a statement.
“His comments to the media make clear that he doesn’t really accept any responsibility for his actions, and that he still doesn’t understand how much harm he caused, or the impact on the dozens of survivors he hurt.”
Two grand juries in Texas declined to bring charges against Watson in March. The district attorneys in both instances did not elaborate on why the grand juries declined to indict.
Watson had previously denied any wrongdoing involving the incidents, but last week finally expressed remorse to the women who had come forward.
In a meeting with reporters after the suspension was announced on Thursday, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam both declined to say whether they believed Watson has shown enough contrition or fully admitted to poor behavior.
“We’ve seen him grow the past four or five months. I think we’ve seen him recognize some things he wished he’d done differently, positions he wished he’d not put himself into,” Jimmy Haslam said. “We anticipate that work continuing to go forward.”
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a June statement: “Deshaun Watson did nothing wrong. And as two grand juries have made clear, Deshaun did nothing illegal.”
The Browns were 8-9 last year and narrowly missed the playoffs. With Watson under center, Cleveland had hoped to upgrade its passing attack, which ranked in the bottom quarter of the NFL in 2021.
By picking up Watson, the Browns were forced to trade away incumbent quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Even with this 11-game ban, Jimmy Haslam said he “absolutely” has no regrets about making the March trade that brought the embattled QB to Cleveland.
“People deserve second chances,” Jimmy Haslam said.
“Is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? And that’s what we’re going to do. Well you can say, ‘That’s because he’s the star quarterback.’ Well of course, but if was Joe Smith he wouldn’t be on the headlines every day.”
NOW questioned the NFL’s commitment to taking on “toxic masculinity.”
“Women need more than empty words and half-measures. The culture of toxic masculinity within the NFL must change — NOW,” according to the group’s statement.
“Deshaun Watson’s career and wealth won’t be damaged by this decision — unlike the dozens of women he has irreparably harmed. No, this isn’t good enough.”
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