Deshaun Watson’s Browns introduction was uncomfortable

The 40-minute introductory press conference — full of direct questions and provocative answers about Deshaun Watson and the 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault against him — was over.

With the words finished, the Cleveland Browns and their new quarterback used their actions to get their thoughts straight — that it was business as usual in the NFL.

At the end of the presser, Watson stood behind a table holding a Browns No. 4 jersey in the air. He was accompanied by general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski. All three beamed as the cameras clicked and the local news rolled in.

It was a scene of a typical NFL trade, a celebratory moment of a new player joining a team, a promotional opportunity about the Browns’ bright future.

There was no hint of circumstances and uncertainty that suggested otherwise. At that time, Watson was just a three-time Pro Bowler and Cleveland was the lucky franchise that used three first-round picks and a guaranteed $230 million contract to land him.

Smile. Just smile for those cameras.

Everything else, however, ranged from uncertain to unseemly. Two Texas grand juries have declined to indict Watson for any criminal conduct for his interactions with these 22 women, but civil litigation remains…and Watson has said he has no intention of settling (we’ll see).

Meanwhile, NFL discipline is expected to follow, meaning the Browns have no idea when Watson will actually see the field. And then there’s just the general scope of the allegations, repugnant even if they’re not prosecuted.

Watson, however, was clear that he was innocent, and as such all those massage therapists alleging all those horrible things were lying. He argued repeatedly and forcefully that he had been wrongly accused.

“I’ve never assaulted women,” Watson said. “I have never disrespected any woman.”

Deshaun Watson, flanked by Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry (left) and head coach Kevin Stefanski, just smiled for the cameras and answered questions about their uncomfortable situation on Friday. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

It was a series of lines he kept coming back to, pointing out that he was raised by a single mother and mostly women, so such acts were not “in my DNA”. He dismissed the flood of allegations, mostly from independent massage therapists who, to use general terms, said he had forced himself on them in what they believed to be legitimate sessions.

“Things that are off the pitch now took me by surprise because I haven’t done anything that these people are claiming,” Watson said. “…I have never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life.”

At one point, he was asked to seek advice, if only to help avoid whatever might have caused all those complainers.

“The counseling part is tough,” Watson said. ” I do not have any problems. I don’t have a problem and that’s what I’ve been saying since the beginning.

For Watson, it’s nothing, just a “stain” he believes he can overcome.

As for the Browns, when asked directly if they agreed with their new quarterback’s assessment of his innocence, Berry would only fall back on what he claims was a ‘thorough’ investigation. and “thorough” about the business and Watson himself.

“We’re very confident in Deshaun the person,” Berry said. “We have great confidence in him and believe that as he enters the community he will have a positive impact.”

Meanwhile, in a subsequent meeting with reporters, Browns owners – Dee and Jimmy Haslem – said Watson’s avoidance of indictment in two separate grand jury proceedings was a significant development.

“I think we felt comfortable in the legal process,” Dee Haslem said. “We have to trust the judicial process. And again, as we learned more and more details about Deshaun as a person, we felt good about Deshaun as a person.

It was a performative dance disguised as a press conference. Watson wanted to be clear that he had done nothing wrong. The Browns wanted to be sympathetic to criticism from fans and outside groups that they took the cases seriously and recognized that it could be very upsetting.

Yet in the end, there were the photos, a visual message that this was all about football, and the chance for a desperate franchise to get the kind of megastar who can finally lead them back to the championship.

“We think he’s one of the best players at that position in the sport,” Berry said. “He’s at his peak and we think that’s the most important position.”

Said Watson, “You get a strong leader who likes to work, who is going to compete very, very hard. A guy who’s going to push everyone to their full potential so we can win a lot of Super Bowls. »

Watson’s on-court play should be all that was promised. Prior to missing the 2021 season due to these allegations, many in the NFL believed he was just as good, or at least very comparable, to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.

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Allegations are allegations, however. While the vast majority, based on publicly available information, would be nearly impossible to prosecute, that doesn’t mean Watson’s behavior — assuming the 22 women aren’t lying — was excusable.

Watson says he’s innocent and it’s all made up. It may be a legal posturing, but it’s a tough look for a press conference. He offered no regrets, apologies, worries or even the need for introspection.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that Cleveland thought the claims would go nowhere criminally and could therefore be settled civilly, especially after arming Watson with that nearly quarter-billion-dollar deal.

Watson promised to continue to fight for his reputation – “My intention is to continue to clear my name as much as possible,” he said – but he will certainly try to resolve this issue quickly. Then you have to deal with the NFL. For Cleveland, it all made sense.

“We feel good about Deshaun as a person,” Berry said. “We felt good about what we learned about the cases… We believe this is a decision that, when evaluated over the long term, will be positive for our organization.”

That’s what Cleveland can hope for – even if they’re not as willing to declare Watson’s innocence as Watson, that they can at least avoid enough trouble to stay on the playing field.

It’s a big bet because there’s nothing to talk about. Maybe Watson can. Or maybe he can’t. That Watson sticks to the concept that he’s never acted inappropriately and therefore doesn’t need to change anything is probably not good for the Browns.

Anyway, the words were the words Friday. The photoshoot at the end told the story, typical beaming faces as a new jersey is held aloft.

It’s Cleveland. And here’s the Cleveland quarterback.

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