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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson and NFL agree to 11-game ban over sexual misconduct allegations

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The NFL and Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson agreed to an 11-game suspensionofficials said Thursday because of his “sexualized contact” with massage therapists.

Watson has also signed for a $5 million fine in a deal that will keep him off the field until Cleveland’s Week 13 Game against his former team, the Houston Texans, on December 4.

“Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself necessary for his return to the NFL,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “This settlement requires adherence to a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a substantial fine and more substantial suspension.”

Watson said he is looking forward to getting back on the field once the suspension is over.

“I am grateful that the disciplinary process has ended and am deeply grateful for the tremendous support I received during my short time with the Browns organization,” Watson said in a statement. “I again apologize for the pain this situation has caused. I take responsibility for the decisions I have made.”

Minutes after making that statement, Watson spoke to reporters and affirmed his “innocence.”

“I’m going to move on with my career, with my life and I’m sticking to my innocence,” he said.

“Just because there are settlements and stuff like that doesn’t mean that person is guilty of anything. I feel like someone has the ability to insist on their innocence and prove that and we have that on the legal side proved.”

Earlier this month, a league disciplinary officer had ruled that Watson should be suspended for six games, as a punishment the league considered inappropriately light in his appeal.

Retired Federal Judge Sue L. Robinsonwho chaired the disciplinary hearing and issued the six-game ban, Watson said “knew such sexualized contact was undesirable.”

But she backed off the NFL’s desire to put Watson on the bench for all of 2022, arguing that there’s no such precedent for punishing a player so severely for acts she deemed “nonviolent sexual conduct.”

Watson signed a five-year, $230 million contract with the Browns in March amid allegations of sexual misconduct during massage sessions involving more than 20 women.

He has already missed a significant amount of time on the field, having not played for Houston all of last season as his legal challenges unfolded and the team tried to trade it.

Two Texas grand juries declined to charge Watson in March. The prosecutors in either case did not explain why the grand juries refused to charge.

Watson had previously denied that there was anything wrong with the incidents, but last week he finally expressed remorse to the women who had come forward.

In a meeting with reporters after the suspension was announced Thursday, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam both declined to say whether they believed Watson had shown sufficient remorse or admitted completely that they had engaged in bad behavior.

“We’ve seen him grow over the past four or five months. I think we’ve seen him recognize some of the things he wished he’d done differently, positions he wished he hadn’t put himself in,” said Jimmy Haslam. “We expect the work to continue.”

Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a June statement: “Deshaun Watson has done nothing wrong. And as two grand juries have made clear, Deshaun has done nothing illegal.”

The Browns now can be left with journeyman Jacoby Brissett as their starting point signal caller in the absence of Watson.

Even with this 11-game ban, Jimmy Haslam said he has “absolutely” no regrets about the March trade that brought the embattled QB to Cleveland.

“People deserve a second chance,” said the owner.

“Shouldn’t he ever play again? Shouldn’t he ever be part of society? Doesn’t he get a 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.’ Sure, but if it was Joe Smith, he wouldn’t be in the news every day.”

This is a story in development, please refresh here for updates.

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