Posts Tagged ‘Sexual Assault Scandal’

Deshaun Watson’s disciplinary hearing concluded Thursday with the NFL adamant about an indefinite suspension of at least one year and the quarterback’s legal team arguing there’s no basis for that punishment, two people with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press.

Both sides presented their arguments over three days before former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson in Delaware, according to both people who spoke on condition of anonymity because the hearing isn’t public.

Watson was accused of sexual misconduct by 24 women and settled 20 of the civil lawsuits.

Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players’ Association, will determine whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline.

Post-hearing briefs are due the week of July 11 so it’s uncertain when Robinson will make a ruling. The Cleveland Browns are hoping to know Watson’s availability before training camp starts July 27.

If either the union or league appeals Robinson’s decision, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee “will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute,” per terms of Article 46 in the collective bargaining agreement.

A person familiar with the case told the AP the league believes it presented evidence to warrant keeping Watson off the field this season. The person said the league’s investigation determined Watson committed multiple violations of the personal conduct policy and he would be required to undergo counseling before returning.

A person familiar with Watson’s defense told the AP they expect a suspension. Asked what would be acceptable, the person said: “our goal is to get him back on the field this year.”

Two separate Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints stemming from the allegations.

Watson has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to clear his name.

This is the first hearing for Robinson, who was the first female Chief Judge for the District of Delaware. Previously, Goodell had the authority to impose discipline for violations of the personal conduct policy.

The Houston Texans had been told that their former quarterback Deshaun Watson was sexually assaulting and harassing women during massage sessions, but instead of trying to stop him, the team provided him with resources to enable his actions and “turned a blind eye” to his behavior, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

The lawsuit against the team was filed in Houston by one of the 24 women who had previously sued Watson over allegations of sexual misconduct when he played for the Texans. Last week, the women’s attorney, Tony Buzbee, announced 20 of the 24 lawsuits have been settled.

Watson, who was later traded to the Cleveland Browns, has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to clear his name. Watson is facing discipline from the NFL over the allegations. He is set to have a hearing this week with NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, who will decide if the 26-year-old violated the league’s personal conduct policy. Robinson is expected to rule before the Browns open training camp late next month.

In their lawsuits, the women accused Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will during massage appointments. One woman alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex.

The lawsuit against the Texans accuses the team and some of its employees of having been told or being aware of Watson’s troubling behavior. Joni Honn, the owner of a massage company that was contracted with the Texans, told police investigators that her therapists were aware of Watson’s “known tendency to push boundaries during massage sessions,” according to the lawsuit.

Honn told the Texans, including the team’s head trainer, that Watson was reaching out to random women on Instagram for massages in early 2020, according to the lawsuit.

Magen Weisheit, another massage therapist who worked with the Texans, told Houston police investigators she and others were well aware of Watson’s conduct during massage sessions. When Weisheit learned of the allegations made against Watson by a woman who filed the first lawsuit against him, she wrote in a text to the woman’s former co-worker that she could reach out to the team’s player personnel person but “they don’t do much about the situation though,” according to the lawsuit.

“Despite being actually aware of what can only be described as troubling behavior, the Houston Texans turned a blind eye. Worse, the Houston Texans organization enabled Watson’s egregious behavior. The Texans also protected and shielded Watson — for Watson’s own protection and the protection of the organization itself,” according to the lawsuit.

The woman’s lawsuit alleges the Texans provided Watson with various resources, including rooms at a Houston hotel, massage tables and a non-disclosure agreement the women were told to sign, that allowed the quarterback “to further his misconduct with women by turning the massage sessions into something sexual.”

The Texans are also accused of having their head of security remove from the internet an Instagram video from November 2020 in which a woman had detailed alleged misconduct by Watson during massage sessions with her.

In a statement, the Houston Texans did not specifically address the various allegations made against the team.

“We are aware of the lawsuit filed against us today. Since March 2021, we have fully supported and complied with law enforcement and the various investigations. We will continue to take the necessary steps to address the allegations against our organization,” the Texans said.

Buzbee said the lawsuit against the Texans was the first of many he plans to file against the team.

“Suffice it to say, the overwhelming evidence collected indicating that the Houston Texans enabled Watson’s behavior is incredibly damning. We believe the Texans knew or most certainly should have known of Watson’s conduct,” Buzbee said in a statement.

The NFL declined to comment on the lawsuit against the Texans.

“I never assaulted anyone,” Watson said June 14 in his first public comments since being introduced by the Browns in March. “I never harassed anyone or I never disrespected anyone. I never forced anyone to do anything.”

In March, two separate Texas grand juries declined to indict him on criminal complaints stemming from the allegations.

Houston police Detective Kamesha Baker, the lead investigator in the criminal investigation, told Buzbee in a deposition that she believed Watson had committed crimes in the 10 criminal complaints that had been filed against the quarterback. Baker also said that Watson’s conduct during the massage sessions was escalating in such a way she believed that he would commit even more serious crimes, according to the lawsuit.

After the grand juries declined to indict, several teams pursued Watson, who agreed to be traded to the Browns. Cleveland signed the three-time Pro Bowler to a five-year, $230 million contract in March.

The four lawsuits still pending against Watson could still go to trial, but that wouldn’t happen until 2023 at the earliest.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson‘s hearing before the NFL and players’ association’s jointly appointed disciplinary officer is scheduled to begin Tuesday, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The NFL is pushing for an indefinite suspension that would last no shorter than one year, according to Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal. Watson would need to apply to be reinstated after the 2022 season, at the earliest.

On Tuesday, Watson reached settlements with 20 of the 24 women who sued him and accused him of sexual misconduct or sexual assault during massage sessions.

The NFL is likely to base its proposed discipline on a fraction of those women’s testimony, a source told Schefter. The league reportedly wasn’t able to speak to some of the women who made allegations against the 26-year-old.

While disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson’s decision apparently could be made within a week, it might take until the beginning of training camp in late July.

Both the league and NFLPA have the option to appeal the officer’s ruling under revised rules for the NFL’s personal conduct policy in the new collective bargaining agreement. Either commissioner Roger Goodell or an independent ruler would then make a final verdict.

A woman accused Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder of sexually harassing and assaulting her on a team plane in 2009, and the woman was later paid $1.6 million by the team to settle her claims, according to a document obtained by the Washington Post.

The Post reported Tuesday that it had obtained a letter by an attorney working for the team that detailed the woman’s allegations while arguing that her claims were not credible. The $1.6 million settlement had been previously revealed in legal filings related to more recent investigations of the team, but details of the woman’s allegations were not disclosed. The woman agreed not to sue the team or publicly disclose her allegations as part of the settlement.

Snyder denied the woman’s allegations, according to the letter, and a team investigation accused her of making up the claims in an attempt to extort him.

The contents of the letter were disclosed a day before a scheduled hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which is investigating the Washington team’s workplace culture. Snyder has declined an invitation by the committee to testify, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was scheduled to testify remotely.

The NFL fined the team $10 million and Snyder stepped away from its day-to-day operations after an investigation by attorney Beth Wilkinson revealed a workplace culture that was abusive to women. But the league declined to release a written report of Wilkinson’s findings.

The committee has since uncovered an allegation of sexual harassment by Snyder. Former team employee Tiffani Johnston told the committee that Snyder groped her at a team dinner and tried to force her into his limousine, claims that Snyder denied.

That triggered a new investigation of the team ordered by the NFL and led by Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney and chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. White is also looking into claims of financial improprieties by a former vice president of sales for the team. The NFL has said White’s findings will be made public.

The letter obtained by the Post was written by Howard Shapiro, an attorney at WilmerHale law firm, which had helped the team investigate the woman’s allegations. Shapiro wrote that the woman’s claims were “knowingly false.” He declined to comment to the Post.

According to the letter, the woman accused Snyder of asking her for sex, groping her and trying to take off her clothes in a private, partitioned area at the back of a team plane during a return flight from a trip to Las Vegas.

The letter stated that none of the other passengers on the flight supported the woman’s account. Others said the door to the back area of the plane was open for most of the flight and that other passengers and flight attendants were frequently present in that section, according to the letter.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson reached settlements with 20 of the 24 women who sued him and accused him of sexual misconduct or sexual assault during massage sessions, the attorney representing the women announced Tuesday.

“Today I announce that all cases against Deshaun Watson, with the exception of four, have settled,” attorney Tony Buzbee said in a statement, according to ESPN’s Jake Trotter. “We are working through the paperwork related to those settlements. Once we have done so, those particular cases will be dismissed. The terms and amounts of the settlements are confidential. We won’t comment further on the settlements or those cases.”

One of the cases still outstanding is the lawsuit of Ashley Solis, the first plaintiff to sue Watson.

“Ashley Solis is one of the heroes of this story,” Buzbee stated. “Her case has not settled and thus her story and that of the other three brave women will continue. I look forward to trying these cases in due course, consistent with other docket obligations and the court’s schedule.”

Watson remains subject to an NFL investigation into his conduct. The first lawsuit against the quarterback was filed March 16, 2021, and the incidents cited in the lawsuits took place between March 2020 and March 2021.

“Today’s development has no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement Tuesday, according to Trotter.

Watson didn’t play last year after requesting a trade from the Houston Texans. The Browns acquired him from the Texans on March 18 and signed him to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230-million contract.

The 26-year-old was traded days after a grand jury in Texas declined to indict him on criminal charges. A second grand jury did the same.

The NFL will argue that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should receive a “significant” suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, multiple people familiar with the case said Friday.

The league “probably” will seek a suspension of one full season for Watson, a person on Watson’s side of the case said Friday. A person familiar with the league’s view of the case cautioned to be “careful” about specifying a precise length at this point for the suspension the NFL will seek. But that person also said: “Significant would be the proper term.”

Watson faces 24 active civil lawsuits by women accusing him of sexual misconduct. The allegations include making inappropriate comments, exposing himself and forcing his penis on women’s hands during massage therapy sessions. Watson and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, have denied the allegations. Two grand juries in Texas declined to charge Watson with a crime. The NFL is preparing to present the findings of its investigation to Sue L. Robinson, the former U.S. district judge who is the disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players Association under the conduct policy.

The league hopes the entire disciplinary process, including the resolution of any potential appeal to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person designated by him, is completed by the start of training camp, a person with knowledge of the matter said. The Browns are scheduled to open training camp July 27.

“Like I said, I never assaulted anyone or I never harassed anyone or I never disrespected anyone,” Watson said Tuesday at a news conference at a Browns offseason practice. “I never forced anyone to do anything.”

Under a process that was revised in the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA completed in 2020, the initial ruling on a prospective suspension or fine will be made by Robinson, now an attorney in Wilmington, Del., after she retired from the bench in 2017.

The case would be finished, with no appeals possible, if Robinson rules that there was no violation of the personal conduct policy. If she rules that there was a violation of the policy and imposes a penalty, either side could appeal to Goodell. The NFLPA pushed for revisions to the personal conduct policy in the CBA after clashes, some of which spilled into courtrooms after litigation filed by the union and players, in previous disciplinary cases. Previously, Goodell was responsible for making both the initial disciplinary ruling and resolving appeals.

It’s not clear whether Robinson will hold what amounts to a quasi-trial before she makes her decision. She declined to comment this week, referring questions to the league and union.

The NFL’s investigation has been conducted by Lisa Friel, the former chief of the sex crimes prosecution unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who is the league’s special counsel for investigations.

Friel interviewed at least 11 of the women accusing Watson who are represented by attorney Tony Buzbee, according to a person familiar with the investigation, along with other women. She reviewed relevant available documents. The NFL’s representatives interviewed Watson over several days in Houston.

“I can’t control that,” Watson said this week of the NFL’s disciplinary process. “I met with the NFL a couple weeks ago, and I did everything they asked me to do. I answered every question truthfully that the NFL asked me. I spent hours with the people that they brought down. And that’s all I can do is just be honest and tell them exactly what happened. I know they have a job, and so I have to respect that. And that’s what we wanted to do is cooperate. And they have to make a decision [that’s] best for the league.”

Hardin confirmed that he is involved in representing Watson in the NFL process along with the union but declined further comment on the league proceedings.

The league has made a presentation on the case to the NFLPA and Watson’s representatives, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. That led those on Watson’s side of the case to conclude that the NFL will seek a substantial penalty.

It’s not clear whether Major League Baseball’s two-season suspension of pitcher Trevor Bauer under its domestic violence policy will serve as a precedent for the NFL’s proposed suspension of Watson, another person familiar with the league’s view said in recent weeks. But the NFL is aware that the length of the Bauer suspension could affect the public’s expectations and reaction in the Watson case, that person said.

Outside NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler has become involved in the case. A person familiar with the NFL’s view said the league is wary that Kessler will argue for no disciplinary action at all.

Kessler declined to comment Friday, referring questions to the NFLPA. The NFLPA could cite the lack of criminal charges, although the NFL’s policy allows discipline to be imposed without such charges.

The NFLPA’s defense of Watson will raise the issue that owners Daniel Snyder of the Washington Commanders, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys were not suspended by the league for incidents involving them and their teams. That was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the case after first being reported by Pro Football Talk.

The league “ideally” would like to have the entire process, including the resolution of any appeal, completed by the start of training camp, a person familiar with the NFL’s view said, adding the disclaimer that the approach taken by Kessler and the NFLPA could slow the proceedings.

This first case being resolved under the new disciplinary system is a high-profile matter. A person on Watson’s side wondered whether Goodell might be reluctant to overturn the neutral arbitrator’s disciplinary ruling in the first case.

The league and NFLPA could reach a settlement at some point to preclude any appeal or further legal action by Watson.

The Browns completed a trade with the Houston Texans for Watson, 26, this offseason and signed him to a new contract worth a guaranteed $230 million over five seasons. Watson did not play last season; he was placed on the Texans’ inactive list on a weekly basis.

Any suspension would be without pay, based on Watson’s $1.035 million salary for the 2022 season. The NFL could seek to have a fine imposed, in addition to any salary lost by Watson. The league also could stipulate that additional discipline could be imposed if new information surfaces.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson reiterated he never committed sexual misconduct and said he plans to keep fighting to clear his name.

Watson, who is facing civil lawsuits from 24 massage therapists in Texas accusing him of sexual assault and harassment during private sessions, on Tuesday stood by previous comments proclaiming his innocence.

“I never assaulted anyone,” Watson said following practice as the Browns held their mandatory minicamp. “I never harassed anyone or I never disrespected anyone. I never forced anyone to do anything.”

Watson spoke for the first time since March 25, a week after the Browns signed him to a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract despite his legal situation. Since then, his entanglements have grown with two more women filing lawsuits.

Also, attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents all the women suing Watson, said Monday he plans to file two more lawsuits against the quarterback. The New York Times reported last week that Watson booked appointments with at least 66 different women over 17 months while he played for the Houston Texans.

Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him on criminal complaints.

“I’ve been honest and I’ve been truthful about my stance,” he said. “I never forced on anyone and I never assaulted anyone. That’s what I’ve been saying since the beginning and I’ll continue to do that until all the facts come out.”

The 26-year-old Watson is also facing possible discipline from the NFL, which has investigated whether he violated its personal-conduct policy. Watson, who could be suspended, said he was “open and truthful” with the league.

“I did everything they asked me to do,” said Watson. “I answered every question truthfully that the NFL asked me. That’s all I can do is be honest and tell them exactly what happened and I know they have a job and I have to respect that and that’s what we wanted to do is cooperate.

“They have to make a decision that’s best for the league.”

While standing by previous remarks, Watson acknowledged comments he made in March may have negatively affected others.

“I do have regrets as far as the impact that (it’s had) on the community and people outside of just myself,” Watson said. “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 is the impact that it’s triggered on so many people. It’s tough to have to deal with.”

Watson and his legal team have been adamant he won’t settle the lawsuits. He was asked if the recent cases have changed his stance.

“I just want to clear my name and be able to let the facts and the legal procedures continue to play out,” he said.

Watson also acknowledged he’s been receiving counseling since joining the Browns.

A 24th woman filed a civil lawsuit Monday alleging sexual misconduct by Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is also awaiting possible discipline from the NFL.

The latest lawsuit was filed in Houston by attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing all 24 women.

“Lost in the media frenzy surrounding Deshaun Watson is that these are twenty-four strong, courageous women who, despite ridicule, legal shenanigans, and intense media scrutiny, continue to stand firm for what is right,” Buzbee said in a statement.

Watson has been accused by massage therapists of harassing, assaulting or touching them during appointments when he was with the Houston Texans.

The latest lawsuit makes similar allegations as the woman, a massage therapist, accuses Watson of assaulting and harassing her during an August 2020 session in her apartment. The woman alleges that during the massage session, Watson exposed himself and masturbated and “offered no apology or explanation for his conduct.”

The woman has quit being a massage therapist because of what happened to her and now suffers from depression and anxiety, according to the lawsuit.

Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lead attorney, said he could not immediately comment on the latest lawsuit.

“Our legal team has not had time to investigate this new filing and had not heard her name until today. Deshaun continues to deny he did anything inappropriate with any of the plaintiffs,” Hardin said in a statement Monday.

Hardin has previously said Watson had consensual sexual activity with three of the women and did not force any of his accusers to have sexual contact.

The first 22 lawsuits were filed in March and April of 2021, with the latest two being filed since two of the women detailed encounters with Watson while being interviewed on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”

As the 24th lawsuit was being formally announced, Watson took part in the Browns’ charity golf outing in Rocky River, Ohio. Watson did not speak to the media.

Before Watson arrived at Westwood Country Club, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski was asked if the latest lawsuit causes the organization to revisit with the quarterback about his legal situation.

“With that, we’re trying to just be respectful of the process and let that take care of it,” Stefanski said.

Two separate Texas grand juries in March declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints stemming from the allegations.

But Watson could still be suspended if the NFL determines he violated the league’s personal conduct policy. The three-time Pro Bowler has been interviewed by league investigators, who will present their findings to disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson. Commissioner Roger Goodell said last month the investigation was nearing a conclusion.

League spokesman Brian McCarthy said there was no update on the investigation or any timeline.

“We will decline comment as the matter remains under review,” he said in an email to The Associated Press.

Watson has maintained his innocence, saying any sexual activity was consensual.

At his introductory news conference with the Browns in March, Watson denied any wrongdoing. “I’ve never assaulted or disrespected or harassed any woman in my life,” Watson said. “I’ve never done these things people are alleging.”

Stefanski said Monday the team is prepared to handle whatever the league decides.

“I think all along we’re just going to take those things day-by-day and when we have information, then we’ll act on said information,” he said.

Watson was traded from the Texans to Cleveland in March and then signed a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract with his new team despite his ongoing legal problems.

Cleveland signed veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett to back up Watson. Baker Mayfield remains on the team, but the Browns are looking to trade the No. 1 overall pick in 2018.

Watson has been participating in the Browns’ offseason team activities, which will continue this week. The team has a mandatory minicamp scheduled from June 14-16.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday the league is still investigating the allegations against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

“We’re looking at this seriously,” Goodell said, according to Stephen Holder of The Athletic. “Our investigators will hopefully have access to more information and that will help. … (An) independent party will make a final decision on findings.

“There’s no time frame on (a decision for a potential suspension),” he added, per Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports.

A second grand jury recently declined to indict Watson following a police investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct during massage sessions. The 26-year-old still faces 22 lawsuits from women who say he committed sexual assault and sexual misconduct.

The Browns acquired Watson from the Houston Texans on March 18 in exchange for a package that includes three first-round draft picks. Cleveland then signed him to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230-million contract.

“We’ve been very clear with every club, whether the criminal matter gets resolved or not, that the personal conduct policy is very important to us,” Goodell said, according to Albert Breer of The MMQB. “They understand that’s something we’re going to pursue.”

Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said they concluded a deep investigation into Watson’s situation before making the deal.

Watson didn’t appear in any games last year even though the NFL ruled him eligible to play. The three-time Pro Bowler, who in 2020 threw a career-high 33 touchdowns and led the NFL with 4,823 yards, requested a trade from the Texans in January 2021 amid a fractured relationship with upper management.

Deshaun Watson sat stoically behind the microphone, and for nearly 40 minutes barely talked about football.

This wasn’t the time. It’s unclear when that will be.

Facing pointed questions about sexual misconduct allegations brought against him by 22 women, Watson, one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, defended his character and denied any wrongdoing Friday while being introduced by the Cleveland Browns.

Wearing a dark pinstriped suit and orange tie, Watson showed little emotion at the dais while saying he has never mistreated women and vowing to earn the trust of his new team and a fan base conflicted over his arrival.

“I’ve never assaulted or disrespected or harassed any woman in my life,” Watson said. “I’ve never done these things people are alleging.”

It was the first time Watson has answered direct questions about the allegations, which first surfaced in March 2021. Watson didn’t play last season for Houston as the criminal and civil complaints by massage therapists mounted and before being heard by two grand juries in Texas.

Flanked on the dais by Browns general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski, Watson was asked why he should be believed and not the nearly two dozen women who have come forward.

He has been accused of exposing himself, touching the women with his penis and forcing himself on them. Watson has maintained any sex was consensual.

“What I can continue to do is tell the truth, and that is I have never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life,” he said. “I was raised differently. That is not my DNA. That is not my culture. That is not me as a person.”

On Thursday, a grand jury in Brazoria County, Texas, declined to indict Watson on one of the original criminal complaints. Two weeks ago, a jury in Harris County also chose not to pursue charges on nine cases.

Watson, acquired last week in a controversial trade that has brought the Browns widespread criticism and scrutiny, understands there are people who will never believe him.

“I know that there’s going to be a stain that probably is going to stick with me for awhile, but all I can do is keep moving forward and to continue to show the person that I am, the true character, the true person, the true human being I am,” the 26-year-old said.

Watson still faces 22 civil lawsuits. The three-time Pro Bowler said he has no intention of settling, and that his only goal “is to clear my name as much as possible.”

The Browns, who have spent two decades looking for a franchise QB, are taking heat for their decision to bring on a tainted player. The team expected a serious backlash, and only felt comfortable in pursuing Watson after a thorough investigation Berry described as a “five-month odyssey.”

Berry said the team’s lawyers told the Browns not to talk to the 22 women because it could compromise any investigation.

“We as organization know that this transaction has been very difficult for many people, particularly women in our community,” Berry said. “We realize that it has triggered a range of emotions. And that, as well as the nature of the allegations, weighed heavily on all of us.

“It was because of the weight of the anticipated reaction and the nature of the allegations that really pushed us to do as much work as possible internally and externally in terms of understanding the cases and who Deshaun was as a person.

“We do have faith and confidence in Deshaun as a person.”

Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam were sensitive that Watson joining the Browns might have a negative impact on anyone who has suffered sexual abuse. Both said they have close friends in that category.

“We put more time, more thought, more effort, talked to more people, did more research on this decision — by far — than any other decision we’ve made with the Cleveland Browns,” Jimmy Haslam said on a Zoom call with his wife from outside the country. “It’s not something we took lightly.”

Dee Haslam said she had multiple conversations with the couple’s daughters during the vetting process, and that ultimately she became agreeable with acquiring Watson after learning more about him.

“This has been a really hard and difficult journey for us and our family,” she said. “We had to work really hard to get comfortable with the decision. It took some time.”

Jimmy Haslam said a family member and counselor gave him advice before moving forward with the trade.

“Both of them said exactly the same thing,” Haslam said. “They said, ‘Your daughters and Dee ought to have veto over this trade, and if they’re not for it, if anyone of them is not for it, you shouldn’t do it.’

“And at first, I thought, ‘That’s interesting.’ Then I thought, ‘That makes a lot of sense.’ And everybody was on board with doing this, some later than earlier.”

Watson dismissed needing counseling because he feels he’s been falsely accused.

“I don’t have a problem,” he said. “I don’t have an issue.”

The Browns enticed Watson to waive his no-trade clause and agree to come to Cleveland with a record-setting $230 million, fully guaranteed contract, which includes a $1 million base salary in the first season in the event he’s suspended by the NFL.

Watson initially rebuffed the Browns before changing his mind. He said the contract wasn’t a factor.

“It was not necessarily a turn down,” he sad. “The media was kind of rushing me to make a decision, and I was not comfortable making that right decision.”

The league has an ongoing investigation into Watson’s behavior and whether he violated its personal conduct policy.