JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Deshaun Watson apologized before his preseason debut with the Cleveland Browns and then got an earful from opposing fans.
Watson apologized Friday “to all women I made an impact” after being accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.
Potentially facing a year-long suspension, Watson publicly expressed remorse and remorse for the first time since he was accused of sexually harassing or assaulting the women during therapy sessions in 2020 and 2021.
He spoke before the team’s exhibition opener, a 24-13 win at Jacksonville (0-2) in which Watson was booed for three rounds of work. Fans in one end zone could be heard chanting profanities at Watson on his first drive.
The three-time Pro Bowler completed 1 of 5 passes for 7 yards in his first game action since Jan. 3, 2021, with Houston.
“I think he probably wants some throws back,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Obviously playing football for the first time in a while, I thought it was important for him to come out with his teammates in this scheme. I’m sure he had the butterflies and the nerves early on. But I think he understands what he works.”
Watson managed no first downs and 7 yards playing without receiver Amari Cooper, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and offensive linemen Joel Bitonio and Jack Conklin. Starting center Nick Harris, who is filling in for NFLPA president and salary cap victim JC Tretter, went down on the second play with a right knee injury.
Harris will have tests Saturday to determine the extent of his injury, Stefanski said.
Cleveland trailed 13-0 when Watson’s night ended. He spent much of the second half sitting on a cooler on the sideline and chewing gum. If he took any steps, they came before kicking.
“Look, I mean, I’m really sorry to all the women that I affected in this situation,” Watson said in the pregame interview. “The decisions that I’ve made in my life that put me in this position, I definitely wish I could have it back, but I want to keep moving forward and growing and learning and showing that I’m a true character and I want to keep pushing forward.”
The team declined to make Watson available after the game.
Watson, who has denied any wrongdoing in settling 23 of 24 civil lawsuits, continues to face league discipline. The NFL is appealing the six-game suspension of independent referee Sue L. Robinson. The retired federal judge concluded that Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy with “flagrant” and “predatory” behavior. As part of her verdict, Robinson noted Watson’s lack of remorse.
The appeal is now with Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell. In the meantime, Watson can practice and play. Stefanski said he wanted to get Watson preseason action despite the looming suspension.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about the last few months, weeks, just trying to figure out what was the best way forward — not just for our quarterbacks — but for the whole team,” he said.
Watson jogged into TIAA Bank Field with a security guard at his side and then stopped to sign autographs after warmups. No protests against Watson were found outside the stadium, although several cars could be seen sporting foul-mouthed messages ripping the embattled quarterback.