BEREA, Ohio — For the first time since his introductory press conference, new Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson took questions from the media on at Tuesday to address the mounting sexual misconduct lawsuits against him.
One day after a report out of Houston indicated two more civil complaints would be filed against Watson, the 26-year-old reiterated his stance that he has "never assaulted, disrespected, or harassed anyone," and also took the time to thank the organization and the fans for "the support and just the welcoming of being a Cleveland Brown and what it really means."
"Everything's been pretty good," Watson said of his experience in Northeast Ohio so far. "I know that there's still legal proceedings still going on...I have to respect the process that is still going on, and I may [or] may not be able to answer [all of your] questions."
From there, reporters at mandatory minicamp in Berea did indeed pepper Watson with questions about the two dozen women who have formally accused him of various forms of sexual harassment or assault during massage appointments. The three-time Pro Bowler at times declined to get into specifics, but claimed he had "answered every question truthfully" during sworn deposition, as well as the NFL's investigation into his behavior.
"I've been honest and I've been truthful about my stance," Watson said of his denial of any wrongdoing, later adding, "I never forced anyone to do anything."
Tony Buzbee, who represents all of the women accusing Watson of sexual misconduct, issued a statement on Tuesday evening:
"We were sent the video of the Watson press conference. We appreciate the Cleveland market and fervent support with regard to its new quarterback, Deshaun Watson. But: given the volume of the credible cases filed, the lead detective's sworn testimony, the undisputed facts, and the heartbreak, pain, and havoc Watson has caused, we think it would be appropriate to see Deshaun Watson express some regret or remorse in the way he treated these women, some of which have sued and many others who haven't, yet. Attending some sort of counseling would be at least some step forward. We have nothing else to say on the subject."
Watson's attorneys have admitted he engaged in what they believe to be "consensual" sexual activity with three of the known plaintiffs, but others allege the QB crossed several boundaries during scores of massage sessions during his time with the Houston Texans. Watson was also asked about a report from The New York Times claiming he received massages from at least 66 different women over a period of more than a year (not all of which resulted in misconduct allegations), and said he did not believe that number was accurate.
"I don't think so, from what me and my attorneys went through," Watson said of that figure. "At the same time, that's more of a legal question that I can't really get into details about."
When asked about his March press conference when he said he had "no regrets" about his past, Watson conceded he had remorse about "the impact [the situation] has had on the community." Despite the perceived blow the investigation has had on his reputation, he still expressed a desire to be a "role model" and "leader" both in Cleveland and elsewhere.
"I know these allegations [are] very serious," he admitted. "My biggest thing is just wanting to clear my name so I can get back [to] being in the environment I'm most comfortable in, and that's being in the community and helping people."
As for football, Watson stressed the need to "be myself" around his new teammates, who seemed to have taken a liking to him early on.
"I come in here with my head held high," he said. "If any one of those guys need to ask questions or they have any concerns, they know they can come to my locker and ask me. But ever since I've come in here, from day one, these guys have rallied around me and supported me."
Multiple grand juries in Texas declined to file criminal charges against Watson in relation to these cases, and not long afterward the Browns traded for him and inked him to a new contract worth an NFL record $230 million guaranteed. Despite this, the league is still conducting its own investigation, which could potentially end with a suspension from play.
Watson declined to answer questions about an alleged settlement offer his team made to the plaintiffs that later fell through. When asked if he would be willing to settle now, he again pointed to his desire to "clear my name."
"I know who I really am," he told the press. "My focus is really just focusing on Deshaun Watson and being the best person I can be."