Sports

Watson introduced by Browns, says he’s innocent

BEREA, Ohio — Deshaun Watson said that he has never disrespected women and that he was surprised by the allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct that have been made against him.

“I know these allegations [are] very, very serious,” Watson said. “But I’ve never assaulted any woman. I never disrespected any woman.”

The Cleveland Browns introduced Watson as their new starting quarterback on Friday in a news conference.

On March 18, the Browns acquired Watson in a trade with the Houston Texans before signing him to a new five-year contract worth $230 million guaranteed, the most guaranteed money on a single contract in NFL history by $80 million.

The Browns traded for Watson while he still faces lawsuits from 22 women, lawsuits that accuse him of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct. The attorney for the plaintiffs, Tony Buzbee, told ESPN that the Browns never reached out to him or spoke to any of his clients during their investigation, which the Browns have called “extensive.”

Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry said that legal counsel advised the team against contacting the women directly “out of concern it would be considered interfering with a criminal investigation.” Berry said the team did use independent investigators but would not say whether those investigators contacted the women.

“I’ll say the investigators that we hired were able to get a full perspective of all the cases,” Berry answered. “I’m not going to go into necessarily the details of everything the investigators did, but they got a full perspective for all the criminal and civil cases.”

On Thursday, a second grand jury in Texas declined to indict Watson after considering an accusation of sexual misconduct, the Brazoria County District Attorney said. Earlier this month, a grand jury in Harris County, where Houston is located, declined to indict Watson on criminal charges after a police investigation sparked by the lawsuits. The allegations in the lawsuits range from touching women with his genitals to forced oral sex. Eight of the women who sued Watson filed criminal complaints against him with Houston police and had been set to appear before the grand jury.

Watson said Friday that it’s “not my intent” to settle any of the 22 civil cases. Watson has two more depositions scheduled for next week, Buzbee told ESPN.

“I understand the whole circumstance is very difficult, especially for the women’s side of the fans in this community; I’m not naive to that,” Watson said.

“The things that are off the field right now that came up caught me by surprise because I never did anything that these people are alleging.”

Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, who met with Watson in person in Houston before trading for him, were not at the news conference but were scheduled to hold a Zoom call with media later in the day.

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