Deshaun Watson has accepted an 11-game suspension from the NFL. He's settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits from women who accused him of sexual assault or sexual misconduct during massages. He's apologized to "all the women I have impacted."
Yet when addressing reporters following the announcement of the settlement between the NFL and NFLPA on his suspension, Watson again took a defiant stance on whether he committed sexual assault.
"I've stood on my innocence and always said that I've never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone, and I'm continuing to stand on that," Watson told reporters. "But at the same time, I have to continue to push forward with my life and my career. For us to be able to move forward, I have to be able to take steps and put pride to the side. I'm going to continue to stand on my innocence and keep pushing forward."
Thursday's announcement ends a saga that began in March 2021 when Watson was sued by a woman for civil assault. Droves of additional lawsuits followed as 25 women filed civil cases (one dropped her lawsuit because of privacy concerns). The Houston Texans sat Watson for the entire 2021 season amid the allegations and after he requested a trade from the franchise.
The Texans traded Watson to the Browns this offseason.
While two different grand juries declined to prosecute Watson in criminal court, the three-time Pro Bowler settled all but one of his civil cases out of court. One lawsuit remains ongoing.
The NFL conducted its own investigation and then handed the case over to former federal judge and league disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, who recommended a six-game suspension. In her decision, Robinson wrote, "the NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report."
However, Robinson used NFL precedent established by past punishments handed out by the league to offer her ruling. The NFL used its CBA-negotiated right to appeal and reportedly sought a suspension of at least one year before negotiating a settlement with the NFLPA.
In addition to the suspension, Watson must pay a $5 million fine that will go to a fund that supports nonprofit organizations that "promote education and prevention of sexual misconduct and assault," among other related causes. The NFL and the Browns are each contributing $1 million to the fund as well.
"Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension. We are grateful to Judge Robinson and Peter Harvey for their efforts in addressing these matters, which laid the foundation for reaching this conclusion."
Watson will be eligible to return for the Browns' Week 13 game against Houston. Under terms of the agreement, he will have to undergo mandatory counseling and follow a treatment program.