In one breath, Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson expresses contrition and a desire to accept accountability for the behavior that resulted in an 11-game suspension and a $5 million fine. In the next breath, Watson declares his innocence.
The end result? Watson appears to be neither apologetic nor accountable for his behavior.
The juxtaposition is no more stark than it was today. In writing, Watson said all the right things: “I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made.”
Then, when he met with reporters, he retreated to his position that he has done nothing wrong: “I’ve always stood on my innocence and always said I’ve never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone. I’m going to continue to stand on my innocence.”
That position may be news to the NFL. Consider the comment from Commissioner Roger Goodell in the press release announcing the suspension: “Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL. This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension.”
If Watson did nothing wrong, what will the treatment plan be? What will the evaluation observe? Will he disagree with whatever they tell him, because after all he’s completely innocent?
Remember, Judge Sue L. Robinson found that Watson committed four instances of “non-violent sexual assault.” She found his conduct to be “egregious” and “predatory.” How can Watson enter into any agreement that rejects those findings as inaccurate?
That’s exactly what Watson’s camp is currently doing. His agent, David Mulugheta, has taken public issue with Judge Robinson’s finding, in the aftermath of the announcement of the suspension.
“To be clear, Judge Robinson repeated the NFL’s narrative,” Mulugheta said in a since-deleted tweet. “She received a brief from the NFL weeks before we had the opportunity to talk to her. In our 1st call with the Judge she referred to ‘Deshaun’s pattern of behavior’. Her mind was made up before we ever presented a counter.”
Mulugheta replaced the deleted tweet with this: “Deshaun has always stated he is innocent of sexual assault. Nothing has changed in what he said. He also said he is remorseful, the decisions he made have created this situation. The settlement allows him to move forward with his life and career.”
So, basically, Watson said whatever he had to say and signed whatever he had to sign to get back on the field in 2022. He’s admitting to nothing. It’s no different than a criminal defendant pleading guilty and then proclaiming, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
In the legal system, such behavior can invalidate the plea. We’ve asked the NFL whether Watson’s refusal to acknowledge responsibility will have the same result.
Our guess is that the league simply wants to move on, the same as Watson. Even if the right thing to do would be to regard the agreement as null and void and issue a suspension and defend it in court, the NFL seems to be primarily motivated to just end it.