Deshaun Watson addressed reporters Tuesday for the first time in more than two months, and the Browns quarterback once again proclaimed his innocence in the face of 24 (and reportedly soon to be 26) civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault or misconduct. While the former Texans standout declined to elaborate on certain details of his case, referring some questions to his legal team, he expressed regret for the impact his situation has had on the community while reiterating a desire to "clear my name."
"I've been honest and I've been truthful," Watson said. "I never forced anyone, I never assaulted anyone. I've been saying it from the beginning, and I'm gonna continue to do that until all the facts come out."
Twenty-four women have publicly sued the QB for his actions as an alleged "serial sexual predator," with The New York Times recently reporting that Watson courted at least 66 women over the course of 17 months for private massage therapy sessions. The QB's attorney, Rusty Hardin, has claimed consensual activity occurred on select occasions, while Watson continued to deny any wrongdoing in his press conference Tuesday, shrugging off a question about 25th and 26th accusers reportedly preparing to come forward: "I can't control what the other side is doing with the legal process."
"My biggest thing is just wanting to clear my name," he said. "I never assaulted, disrespected or harassed anyone. But at the same time, I do understand that I do have regrets as far as the impact it's had on the community, and people outside of just myself, and that includes my family, that includes this organization, that includes my teammates in this locker room that have to answer to these questions, that includes the fan base of the Cleveland Browns, that includes males, females, everyone across the world. That's one thing I do regret, the impact that it's triggered on so many people, and it's tough to have to deal with."
Asked about a recent report that his legal team onceto settle the suits, Watson neither confirmed nor denied the suggestion, referring to a separate "process (that was) going on with another organization in November ... before I became a Cleveland Brown." (Watson was still employed by, but not playing for, the Texans in November.) The QB also declined to definitively address the Times report when asked if he'd actually used 66 women for massages during his Texans career: "I don't think so, but that's more of a legal question that I can't get into details about."
Through all the accusations, Watson added, both teammates, Browns staffers and his legal team have "rallied around me and supported me." He alluded to undergoing counseling to process the mental aspects of his case, while noting that he's been willing to answer any questions his fellow players may have about his situation.
Later Tuesday, Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing the 24 women with active lawsuits against Watson, issued a statement responding to Watson's press conference:
"We were sent the video of the Watson press conference," Buzbee said, via ESPN.com. "We appreciate the Cleveland market and its fervent support with regard to its new quarterback, Deshaun Watson. But: given the volume of the credible cases filed, the lead detective's sworn testimony, the undisputed facts, and the heartbreak, pain, and havoc Watson has caused, we think it would be appropriate to see Deshaun Watson express some regret or remorse in the way he treated these women, some of which have sued and many others haven't, yet. Attending some sort of counseling would be at least some step forward. We have nothing else to say on the subject."
As far as potential NFL discipline goes, Watson appeared resigned to the possibility of a suspension, which is widely expected despite two Texas grand juries declining to indict the QB on criminal charges. He told reporters Tuesday that he "answered every question truthfully" in meetings with NFL investigators, but admitted "they have to make a decision (that's) best for the league" and later said "you have to respect" whatever decision they make regarding his status entering 2022.
The Browns areto Watson despite the rash of allegations against him. As part of their polarizing blockbuster trade to acquire him from Houston in March, when they shipped three first-round picks plus other assets to the Texans, Cleveland signed Watson to a record five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract.