BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Deshaun Watson didn’t address the accusations or reasons behind his time away from the Browns. No discussion. No reflection.
On the verge of his first regular-season game in nearly two years, Watson stayed clear of more controversy.
Cleveland’s new starting quarterback refused to address non-football questions on Thursday in his first comments since returning from an 11-game NFL suspension over sexual misconduct allegations.
Speaking to the media for the first time since his agreement with the league was announced in August, Watson declined to discuss his ban or the reasons for it. He has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual harassment and assault during massage therapy sessions.
On Sunday, the 27-year-old will make his long-delayed debut for the Browns in Houston, where he began his career, rose to stardom and where his alleged off-field misconduct happened.
Watson, who was reinstated Monday, opened with a brief statement thanking trainers, teammates and Cleveland fans for their support. He said he had been advised by his “legal and clinical teams” to only address “football questions.”
“I’m focusing on football,” he said. “My main focus is locked in on the game plan and trying to execute and make sure that I’m keeping the standard up for the Cleveland Browns so we can try to win.”
Watson agreed to the lengthy suspension, a $5 million fine and to undergo professional counseling and therapy after an independent arbitrator ruled that he violated the league’s personal conduct policy.
Watson has settled 23 civil lawsuits brought by the women, while two others, including one filed in October, are pending.
The three-time Pro Bowler, who signed a five-year, $230 million contract with the Browns in March, wouldn’t say what he learned during his punishment or if the league-mandated counseling helped.
“I respect your question,” Watson said inside Cleveland’s indoor field house. “I understand. But that’s more in that phase of clinical and legal stuff and I’ve been advised to stay away from that and keep that personal.”
Watson’s return to the field Sunday will be his first game in 700 days. In addition to facing former teammates and fans who once cheered for him, some of the women who sued him over the allegations are expected to attend, according to their attorney.
Watson insists he isn’t concerned about a potentially negative reaction and hostile environment inside NRG Stadium.
“I’m focusing on just being the starting quarterback and executing the game plan,” he said. “That’s my main focus. I’m not worried about the atmosphere. I have to go in and execute the game plan.”
Instead, Watson is holding on to “great memories” with the Texans, who drafted the former Clemson star in 2017 and made him their franchise QB,
“I respect the whole organization of the Houston Texans,” he said. “I respect the McNair family. I respect everyone that was there that drafted me in 2017. I have so much love for the city of Houston and H Town.”
Watson’s suspension started Aug. 30. He was banned from the team’s facility and returned Oct. 10, when he was allowed to attend meetings and work out. He returned to practice on Nov. 16.
Watson has always maintained he didn’t harass or force himself on any women. Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him over the allegations.
He took all the first-team reps with Cleveland’s starting offense on Wednesday, moving ahead of Jacoby Brissett, who started the Browns’ first 11 games.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper said Watson’s return gave the team a lift.
“It was cool just to see him out there and out practicing,” Cooper said. “You could see it in his face that he was kind of excited to be out there. It was pretty cool.”
The Browns (4-7) are hoping Watson can help them make the playoffs in what has been a disappointing season to this point. Cleveland’s chances are slim, at best, and he acknowledged maybe being rusty from his layoff.
“It might take time. It might not take time,” he said. “I just want to go out there and do what I want to do, make plays as much as I possibly can. Two years is definitely a long time, but at the same time I’ve been doing this since I was 6 years old. So just like riding a bike, I want to go out there and just find the pedals, get my transition going, and then just let everything kind of come to me.”
NOTES: TE David Njoku (knee) didn’t practice for the second straight day. … RT Jack Conklin and CB Denzel Ward were on stationary bikes during the portion of practice open to reporters.