After a 19-month absence from soccer, Deshaun Watson began an N.F.L. preseason recreation on Friday night time.
Before the sport started, the Cleveland Browns quarterback did one thing else that had been almost as lengthy coming: He apologized for the primary time since greater than two dozen ladies stated he sexually assaulted or harassed them in therapeutic massage appointments.
As Watson took the sphere, met by boos from the sparse crowd at Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field, a league adviser was persevering with to weigh his eligibility for the upcoming common season.
The day earlier than each the sport and Watson’s apology, The Associated Press reported that Watson can be prepared to just accept an eight-game suspension and a $5 million high-quality, after his representatives initially argued for no missed time.
“I want to say that I am truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation,” Watson stated in an interview with the Browns broadcast workforce. “The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position, I would definitely like to have back, but I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character.”
As the sport’s kickoff approached, there was rising pressure about whether or not Watson’s begin would go forward as deliberate. Even with a regular-season suspension looming, he is ready to take part in all practices and exhibition video games till his suspension begins within the season’s first week. But if the attraction yielded the season-long ban that the league was pushing for, and if that call have been reached earlier than the sport, Watson would have been instantly excluded from all workforce actions and would have needed to apply for reinstatement on the finish of the season.
The attraction is being heard by Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey lawyer normal, who was chosen by N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell final week to evaluate the case and problem a choice on an “expedited” foundation. There isn’t any timetable for when that can occur.
The Browns had introduced Wednesday that Watson would begin Friday’s preseason opener. He seemed rusty, finishing solely one among 5 passes in three offensive collection earlier than being pulled, however his on-field efficiency was only a footnote.
On Aug. 1, Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal decide collectively appointed by the N.F.L. and the gamers union to supervise the disciplinary listening to, decided that Watson had dedicated a number of violations of the league’s private conduct coverage as a results of conduct she deemed “predatory” and “egregious.” Two days later, the league appealed, in accordance with a brand new disciplinary course of established as a part of the 2020 collective bargaining settlement.
In arguing for a full-season ban, together with a high-quality and counseling, the league expressed issues over Watson’s lack of regret, an element Robinson additionally cited in her resolution.
Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the house owners of the Browns, expressed assist for Watson in a press release final week and stated that he had been “remorseful.” Watson’s feedback earlier than Friday’s recreation have been the primary time he had publicly expressed contrition for his actions.
Watson had beforehand denied the accusations, telling reporters at a information convention in June that he regretted their affect on his teammates and the folks round him. Watson settled 23 of the lawsuits filed in opposition to him by ladies who stated he assaulted or harassed them throughout therapeutic massage appointments, and two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him on legal fees.
Watson’s suspension is about to start the week of the Browns’ first regular-season recreation, Sept. 11 in opposition to the Carolina Panthers.
He has not performed in a recreation, both common season or exhibition, since Jan. 3, 2021, when he was nonetheless a member of the Houston Texans. He requested a commerce that month, and in March 2021 the primary lawsuit was filed in opposition to him. Though Watson was eligible to play, he sat out the 2021 N.F.L. season.
The Browns traded for Watson this spring after a grand jury in Texas declined to indict him. The workforce despatched a number of high draft picks to Houston and signed Watson to a five-year, absolutely assured $230 million contract.