JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Deshaun Watson apologized ahead of his preseason debut with the Cleveland Browns, then was well received by opposing fans.
Watson apologized Friday “to all the women I have touched” after she was accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.
Potentially facing a one-year suspension, Watson has publicly expressed remorse and contrition for the first time since being accused of harassing or sexually assaulting women during therapy sessions in 2020 and 2021.
He spoke ahead of the team’s exhibition opener, a 24-13 win at Jacksonville (0-2) in which Watson was booed roundly for three sets of work. Fans in an end zone could be heard chanting vulgarities at Watson on his first ride.
The three-time Pro Bowler completed 1 of 5 passes for 7 yards in his first game action since Jan. 3, 2021 with Houston.
“I think he probably wants a few raises,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Obviously playing football for the first time in a while, I thought it was important for him to go out with his teammates in that pattern. I’m sure he got the butterflies and stage fright early on. But I think he understands what he’s going through.
Watson had no first downs and 7 yards while playing without receiver Amari Cooper, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and offensive linemen Joel Bitonio and Jack Conklin. Starting center Nick Harris, who replaces NFLPA president and salary cap victim JC Tretter, suffered a right knee injury in the second game.
Harris will undergo tests on Saturday to determine the extent of his injury, Stefanski said.
Cleveland trailed 13-0 at the end of Watson’s night. He spent much of the second half sitting on a cooler on the sidelines and chewing gum. If he made any progress, it came before kick-off.
“Look, I want to say I’m really sorry for all the women I’ve impacted in this situation,” Watson said in the pre-game interview. “The decisions I made in my life that put me in this position, I would really like to have them back, but I want to keep moving forward, growing, learning and showing that I am a real person of character. and I will keep moving forward.
The team declined to make Watson available after the game.
Watson, who denied wrongdoing in settling 23 of 24 civil lawsuits, still faces league discipline. The NFL is appealing the six-game suspension of independent arbitrator Sue L. Robinson. The retired federal judge found that Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy with “flagrant” and “predatory” behavior. As part of his decision, Robinson noted Watson’s lack of remorse.
The call is now with Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey Attorney General appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell. In the meantime, Watson can train and play. Stefanski said he wanted to get Watson preseason action despite the impending suspension.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for the last few months, weeks, just trying to figure out what’s the best way forward – not just for our quarterbacks – but for the whole team,” he said. .
Watson ran into TIAA Bank Field with a security guard by his side and then stopped to sign autographs after warm-ups. No protests against Watson were found outside the stadium, although several cars could be seen emblazoned with unsavory messages tearing at the embattled quarterback.