After a 19-month absence from football, Deshaun Watson started an NFL preseason game on Friday night.
Before the game started, the Cleveland Browns quarterback did something else that had taken almost as long to come: He apologized for the first time since more than two dozen women said he had them. sexually assaulted or harassed during massage appointments.
As Watson took the field, met by boos from the sparse crowd at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, a league adviser continued to weigh his eligibility for the upcoming regular season.
The day before the match and an apology from Watson, The Associated Press reported that Watson would be willing to accept an eight-game suspension and a $5 million fine, after his representatives initially argued over not running out of time.
“I want to say I’m so sorry for all the women I’ve impacted in this situation,” Watson said in an interview with the Browns broadcast team. “The decisions I made in my life that put me in this position, I would really like to get them back, but I want to keep moving forward, growing, learning and showing that I’m a real people person. temper.”
As the game approached kick-off, there was growing tension over whether Watson’s departure would go as planned. Even with a regular season suspension looming, he is able to participate in all practices and exhibition games until his suspension begins the first week of the season. But if the appeal had resulted in a season ban for which the league was claiming, and if that decision had been made before the game, Watson would have been immediately barred from all team activities and would have had to seek his reinstatement at the end of the season. season.
The appeal is heard by Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, who was selected by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week to review the case and issue a decision on an “expedited” basis. There is no timeline for when this will happen.
The Browns announced Wednesday that Watson would start the preseason opener on Friday. He looked rusty, completing just one of five passes in three offensive streaks before being retired, but his performance on the field was just a footnote.
Where Aug. 1, Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge jointly appointed by the NFL and players’ union to oversee the disciplinary hearing, determined that Watson committed multiple violations of the league’s personal conduct policy due to behavior that she considered “predatory” and “odious.” Two days later, the league appealed, under a new disciplinary process established as part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement.
In arguing for a season-long ban, along with a fine and counseling, the league expressed concern over Watson’s lack of remorse, a factor Robinson also cited in his decision.
Jimmy and Dee Haslam, owners of the Browns, voiced their support for Watson in a statement last week and said he felt “remorseful.” Watson’s comments before Friday’s game were the first time he publicly expressed contrition for his actions.
Watson had previously denied the charges, telling reporters at a press conference in June that he regretted their impact on his teammates and those around him. Watson has settled 23 of the lawsuits brought against him by women who said they assaulted or harassed them during massage appointments, and two grand juries in texas refused to charge him on criminal charges.
Watson’s suspension is set to begin the week of the Browns’ regular season opener, Sept. 1. 11 against the Carolina Panthers.
He hasn’t played in a game, either regular season or exhibition, since January 1. 3, 2021, while still a member of the Houston Texans. He requested a trade that month, and in March 2021 the first lawsuit was filed against him. Although Watson was eligible to play, he missed the 2021 NFL season.
The Browns traded for Watson this spring after a Texas grand jury declined to indict him. The team sent several first draft picks to Houston and signed Watson to a five-year, fully guaranteed, $230 million contract.