Deshaun Watson: Cleveland Browns quarterback refuses to answer non-football questions after serving NFL suspension
Deshaun Watson served an 11-game suspension from the NFL after being accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and misconduct during massage sessions; about 10 of the women who accused Watson are planning to attend Sunday's game in Houston; Watson has denied any wrongdoing
Last Updated: 02/12/22 1:40pm
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson refused to address non-football questions as he spoke to reporters for the first time since returning from an 11-game NFL suspension over sexual misconduct allegations.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Watson declined to discuss his suspension or the reasons behind it. He opened with a statement, saying he was advised by his legal and clinical teams to only address "football questions".
"I'm focusing on football," he said. "My main focus is locked in on the game plan and trying to execute and make sure that I'm keeping the standard up for the Cleveland Browns so we can try to win."
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Watson was accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and other inappropriate sexual misconduct during massage sessions. Over the summer, he agreed to settle 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him.
The NFL ruled Watson's behaviour with massage therapists as "egregious" and "predatory", while he was also fined $5m and had to undergo mandatory counselling and treatment in addition to the suspension.
When asked what he learned during his time away, or if the counselling helped him, Watson said: "I respect your question. I understand. But that's more in that phase of clinical and legal stuff and I've been advised to stay away from that and keep that personal."
Watson will play his first game for the Browns on Sunday in Houston, against his former team the Texans, where he starred for four seasons with the Texans and where the alleged misconduct took place.
Attorney Tony Buzbee, who represented the women who brought cases against Watson, has said about 10 of them are planning to attend Sunday's game.
"Some of my clients asked to go," Buzbee, who will also attend the game, told ESPN on Tuesday. "They thought it important to make clear that they are still here and that they matter."
According to Buzbee, most of the women who accused Watson have no interest in his return to NFL action on Sunday and just want to move on with their lives, but some wish to "kind of make the statement that, 'Hey, we're still here. We matter. Our voice was heard, and this is not something that's over'."
He added: "I think it's important to note each of these women is different.
"I would never encourage any of them to attend. Some never want to hear Watson's name again. Others have put it in the past. Some are still angry. Others are defiant. It makes me proud they want to stand up and be counted rather than quietly go away."
The women declined to comment ahead of Sunday's game, Buzbee said.
One woman represented by Buzbee, Lauren Baxley, declined to settle, and he expects the case will go to trial. Baxley will not be attending the game on Sunday.
A 25th lawsuit filed against Watson was ultimately dropped by the plaintiff when the judge ruled that her petition had to be amended with her name. On October 13, another woman filed a lawsuit against Watson, claiming he pressured her into oral sex during a massage session in 2020.
Two other women filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not sue him, but two grand juries in Texas declined to pursue criminal charges.
Watson has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying he didn't harass or force himself on any women.
The 27-year-old was acquired by the Browns from the Texans via trade back in March, signing a $230m fully guaranteed contract - the richest in NFL history.
Who do the Browns still have to play this season?
Week 13: @ Houston Texans (1-9-1); Week 14: @ Cincinnati Bengals (7-4); Week 15: vs Baltimore Ravens (7-4); Week 16: vs New Orleans Saints (4-8); Week 17: @ Washington Commanders (7-5); Week 18: @ Pittsburgh Steelers (4-7)
Sunday will mark exactly 700 days since Watson last played in a regular-season game - for the Texans on January 3, 2021. The Browns currently hold a 4-7 record this season and likely need to win all of their remaining six games to stand a chance of making the playoffs in the AFC.
"I'm excited," Watson said. "I'm excited to just play football in general in front of Cleveland Browns fans, but also in front of some of the Houston Texans fans.
"I respect the whole organisation of the Houston Texans. I respect the McNair family. I respect everyone that was there that drafted me in 2017.
"There's been great memories, fun memories. "I have so much love for the city of Houston."
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters earlier this week that the team is "excited" to see Watson play.
"He's done a nice job with his time away, physically staying sharp, mentally staying sharp," Stefanski said. "I think he'll be ready to roll."
With Watson added to the Browns' 53-man roster, in a corresponding move, the team have waived back-up quarterback Joshua Dobbs.