Quarterback Deshaun Watson made his preseason debut for the Cleveland Browns in their game Friday night in Jacksonville, Fla., while the NFL’s appeal of his six-game suspension under the personal conduct policy remains pending. Earlier, Watson said in an interview with a Cleveland television station that he apologizes to “all the women” he has “impacted” with his behavior.
Watson started the game for the Browns and played three offensive series in the opening quarter against the Jaguars. He completed only 1 of 5 passes for seven yards in Cleveland’s 24-13 win.
It was Watson’s first participation in an NFL game — preseason or regular season — since Jan. 3, 2021, when he played for the Houston Texans in a season-ending loss at home to the Tennessee Titans. He was traded to the Browns in March after being placed on the Texans’ game-day inactive list on a weekly basis last season.
“I’m super excited,” Watson said in a pregame interview Friday with Cleveland’s WEWS posted on the Browns’ Twitter account. “I’m excited to get out there with my new teammates and go out there and compete. Each and every snap, I want to make sure I cherish that because I’m not sure when the next time I’ll be able to get out there with those guys [will be].”
Watson issued a public apology during that interview.
“I want to say that I’m truly sorry to all the women that I’ve impacted in this situation,” Watson said. “My decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position, you know, I would definitely like to have back. But I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character. And I want to keep pushing forward.”
Watson has denied allegations of sexual misconduct made by women in more than two dozen civil lawsuits filed against him. He has reached settlements in 23 of the 25 lawsuits, according to the attorney for the women. One lawsuit was withdrawn and one remains active. Watson has not been charged with a crime.
He played Friday while he, the Browns, the NFL and the NFL Players Association await a ruling by Peter C. Harvey, the former attorney general of New Jersey designated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resolve the league’s appeal of Watson’s six-game suspension.
Sue L. Robinson, a former U.S. district judge who is the disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA, imposed the suspension. She ruled that Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy by, among other things, committing “nonviolent sexual assault.” She called Watson’s conduct “egregious” and “predatory” but said she was constrained by precedent on the length of the suspension.
The NFL exercised its right to appeal Robinson’s ruling, and Goodell chose Harvey to hear the case. The league is seeking an indefinite suspension of at least one full season, a fine and required treatment. Goodell said Tuesday at the conclusion of an NFL owners’ meeting in Bloomington, Minn., that the league appealed because it felt it was “the right thing to do.”
Watson is eligible to practice in training camp and play in preseason games so long as his suspension is less than a full season. He would likely be barred from practicing and playing in the preseason if Harvey extends the suspension to cover the entire 2022 season. Such a decision by Harvey could prompt Watson and the NFLPA to file a lawsuit.
One person involved in the case said earlier Friday there had been no indication given as to when Harvey’s ruling will be delivered. That person did not express optimism that a settlement between the NFLPA and NFL on Watson’s punishment would be reached in the meantime.
“I know I have a lot of work to put in, especially on the field to be able to make sure I’m ready to play whenever that time comes, whenever I can step back on the field,” Watson said in his pregame interview. “But also ... I want to make sure that I’m growing as a person, as an individual, for my decision-making on and off the field. And I want to make sure that I’m just evolving in the community as much as possible.”