Rusty Deshaun Watson booed in ugly preseason debut

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Deshaun Watson apologized for his preseason debut with the Cleveland Browns, then got an ear from opponents.

Watson apologized Friday “to all the women I influenced” after he was accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.

Watson, potentially facing a one-year suspension, has 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 opening of the team’s exhibition, a 24-13 win at Jacksonville (0-2) that saw Watson outright booed during three sets of work. Fans in one end zone could hear vulgarities chanting at Watson on his first ride.

The three-time Pro Bowler completed 1 of 5 passes for 7 yards in his first game play since January 3, 2021, with Houston.

Deshaun Watson fumbles in an instant during the first quarter of the Browns' 24-13 preseason win over the Jaguars.
Deshaun Watson fumbles in an instant during the first quarter of the Browns’ 24-13 preseason win over the Jaguars.
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“I think he probably wants some throws back,” said Browns coach Kevin Stefanski. “Obviously I was playing football for the first time in a while, I thought it was important for him to go out with his teammates on this schedule. I’m sure he had the butterflies and the jitters early on. But I think that he understands what he is doing.”

Watson got no first downs and 7 yards while 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 replaces NFLPA president and salary cap JC Tretter, went down with a right knee injury during the second stretch.

Harris will undergo tests on 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 sidelines and chewing gum. If he made steps, they came before kick-off.

“Look, I want to say I’m really sorry to all the women I influenced in this situation,” Watson said in the pregame interview. “The decisions I’ve made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back, but I want to move on and grow and learn and show that I’m a real person with character and I’m going to keep moving forward Push.”

Deshaun Watson throws a pass during the Browns' preseason win.
Deshaun Watson throws a pass during the Browns’ preseason win.
USA TODAY Sports

The team declined to make Watson available after the game.

Watson, who denied any wrongdoing while settling 23 of 24 civil lawsuits, still faces competition discipline. The NFL has appealed the six-game suspension of independent arbitrator Sue L. Robinson. The retired federal judge concluded that Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy with “outrageous” and “predatory” behavior. As part of her statement, Robinson noted Watson’s lack of remorse.

The appeal now rests with Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey Attorney General appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Meanwhile, Watson can practice and play. Stefanski said he wanted to play for Watson despite the threat of suspension.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about for the past few months, weeks, just to figure out what the best way forward was — not just for our quarterbacks — but for the whole team,” he said.

Watson jogged into TIAA Bank Field with a guard by his side and later stopped to sign autographs after the warm-up. No protests against Watson were found outside the stadium, although several cars were seen carrying unsavory messages tearing the embattled quarterback.

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