Did Deshaun Watson fool the NFL into thinking he was taking responsibility?

USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday, when a settlement of Deshaun Watson’s disciplinary case suddenly became a possibility, the Browns quarterback apologized for the first time to the women “affected” by his behavior. Immediately after resolving the situation on Thursday, Watson released a statement taking responsibility for his decisions.

Then he actually said, “Psych!”

As a criminal defendant who signs a plea deal before declaring he didn’t, Watson insisted he is innocent during an ill-advised press conference. His agent, David Mulugheta, tweeted after deleting a tweet attacking Judge Sue L. Robinson’s ruling that Watson did not appeal, that Watson has always said he’s innocent.

That’s not what Judge Robinson thought. In the decision that the NFLPA urged the NFL to accept, it found that Watson violated the personal conduct policy in three different ways, committing four cases of non-violent sexual assault. She found his behavior to be “outrageous” and “predatory.” And now, after agreeing a deal that extended her sentence by five games and added a $5 million fine, Watson and Mulugheta have backed down on the long-held claim that Watson had done nothing wrong.

The league has not yet responded to an email from PFT asking the simple question whether Watson’s comments violate the terms of the settlement. He may not have breached the deal yet, but the “I didn’t do it” attitude doesn’t bode well for any specific aspect of the deal’s terms.

As noted by ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter, as part of an inherently contradictory stream of tweets and retweets that both carry water for Watson and dump it on his head, “Watson must comply of [evaluation] and treatment recommendations from a third-party behaviorist to be recovered’, and his ‘recovery is dependent on his adherence to the treatment plan’.

“If he doesn’t follow the rules, his recovery could be delayed, plus further disciplinary action,” Schefter said.

The evaluation and treatment should include frank, direct questions to Watson about whether he truly accepts responsibility for his behavior. Or he admits that he was guilty of non-violent assault. Judge Robinson found his “categorical denial” to be untrue. She also found that his claim that he never got an erection during a massage was downright false, as several massage therapists who vouched for him acknowledged that he became aroused during massages they gave him.

Therefore, we should not assume that Watson will automatically be back in week 13 in Houston. If/when the person giving him the evaluation and/or treatment plays the video from today’s press conference and Watson does not have a convincing explanation for his decision to insist on his innocence, Watson may not receive the appropriate certification to return and play.

It’s not a small problem. As noted by Schefter, the league regarded Watson’s apology from last Friday as a “important first step.” Today he took three steps back.

Our guess? If he doesn’t make a clear and unequivocal public statement of responsibility by Week 13, there’s a chance he won’t play for the Browns when they visit the Texans.


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