BEREA, Ohio — The day after Browns starting quarterback Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension was announced—a suspension levied in response to two dozen women suing him in civil court, all saying Watson engaged in sexual misconduct during massage therapy appointments that he scheduled with them—backup QB Jacoby Brissett met with reporters.
Watson was there too. After the Browns morning walk-through wrapped on Tuesday, Watson walked past the tent where the media was gathered and went straight into Cleveland’s facility, the hood of his neon orange Browns sweatshirt pulled over his head. Brissett, meanwhile, headed to the podium.
Watson has not yet spoken to reporters during training camp, and he isn’t expected to do so until the status of his suspension is final. The NFL has until Thursday to appeal the six-game suspension levied by retired judge Sue L. Robinson. The appeal would be to the commissioner himself, Roger Goodell, or someone else he chooses. (Update: About 4:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the NFL said it would appeal.)
At Browns camp, this meant almost everyone on Tuesday ended up being asked to talk about the biggest story in football—Watson—except for one person: Watson.
The Browns didn’t have any players address the media on Monday, the day Robinson’s 16-page report was released. Head coach Kevin Stefanski spoke on Monday but said he hadn’t read Robinson’s report yet. The team’s training camp notes from that day did not include the biggest news of the day, Watson’s suspension, but did make sure to mention the tally of puppies adopted at the “Browns Puppy Pound,” 16.
By Tuesday, Stefanski said he had read it, and he was asked during his pre-practice press conference if any of what Robinson wrote in her decision gave him pause about his starting QB. (In her decision, Robinson wrote that Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy because he “engaged in sexual assault” and “his conduct posed a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person.” Robinson also wrote that “Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL.”)
“I will continue to be respectful of Judge Robinson and her ruling and that’s where my focus is,” Stefanski said.
At least Stefanski read the decision.
Brissett, linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. and QB3 Josh Dobbs all said on Tuesday that they had not read the decision. Brissett said he doesn’t plan to.
“That is Deshaun’s business,” Brissett told reporters, “and I would like to stay out of that.”
Dobbs told me in a one-on-one: “Honestly right now, with camp and a new playbook and a season quickly approaching, we got a game coming up next Friday, that’s all my focus is on at the moment.”
Walker Jr. gave the same line as Brissett, when I asked him at his press conference why he hadn’t read the decision, or any other coverage of the lawsuits against Watson.
“That’s none of my business,” he said. “I feel like that’s Deshaun’s stuff to take care of and gotta let the process handle itself, and I didn’t want to put myself in that situation. It’s football here for us and he handles it the way he needs to handle it.”
But isn’t the franchise quarterback’s business also your business? I asked.
“That’s a great question,“ he said. “I wouldn’t say that. I would say, at the end of the day, we are all a part of this organization, a part of this team and we all have a job to do and that’s not everybody’s job to worry about somebody else’s job. We have our own job to do, if that makes sense.”
Neither Brissett, Dobbs, Stefanski nor center Nick Harris would give any details on Tuesday about whether Watson had addressed the team about Robinson’s decision and his suspension.
Dobbs: “No, most of that stuff we just like to keep in house. Given the circumstances, we keep all that stuff in house.”
Brissett: “I’ll keep whatever happens inside that building in that building.”
Stefanski: “I am going to let Deshaun speak for himself when it comes to that. Short of that, I don’t have much to add.”
At the end of Tuesday’s practice, Watson walked over to the edge of the field and kneeled to sign autographs for a long line of smiling kids. He spent around 10 minutes putting his No. 4 on footballs and towels and posing for photos with kids.
“Deshaun, you’re the GOAT!” someone shouted from the stands.
“That’s a nice guy!”
“MVP! We’re ready for you!”
But at least one Browns fan watched with mixed feelings as the fans around her cheered and parents rushed to push their kids into the line in front of the quarterback.
“I felt apprehensive,” Tina Colantone said. “It is part of the experience to get guys autographs. If my daughter was here I would let her go if she wanted to, but we have [Browns players] autographs, I’m not trying to put him on my wall, you know what I mean? I wouldn’t. Personally, I wouldn’t.”
Colantone said she read the decision as soon as it came out Monday, and she’s been upset about the allegations against Watson since the Browns traded for him in March.
“Did she not say that she felt like he lacked remorse?” Colantone said. “It’s hard to sit here and celebrate someone who is lacking remorse. I say sorry to people for just bumping into them, so if you are in the public eye, you have to show kindness and consideration.”
Colantone was in the minority of Browns fans I spoke with Tuesday. Four other fans I talked to told me they were happy that Watson was on their team.
“Whether he’s guilty or innocent, I really don’t give a crap,” Jim Cecil said. “I am a Browns fan, I just want to win.”
“And he does not seem like that bad of a guy, ” Jennifer Cecil, Jim’s wife, added. “Watching him at training camp the past few days, we’ve been watching it on the news, and seeing him sign his shoes and give his shoes away. He seems like such a good guy.”
Watson continued to get most of the first-team reps on Tuesday, and Brissett mostly worked with the twos. Stefanski said on Monday that he had created multiple training plans depending on Watson’s suspension length, but he didn’t go into detail into what those plans are. Neither did Brissett.
At the end of practice, Watson worked on footwork drills on an agility ladder with a strength coach. He then joined the other quarterbacks who stayed on the field after practice broke to put in some extra work with the receivers.
On the field, Watson is vocal and engaged with his teammates. At his introductory press conference in March, Watson said that he’d be available to anyone in the organization. “I want people to be able to come to me and have an open dialogue and show the person I really am,” he said.
I wondered on Tuesday if any Browns players have taken him up on that and wanted him to answer questions about the allegations against him. Do any of them care enough? Have any of them read enough about it to ask? But, this being the NFL, how many of them actually are secure enough in their jobs to do that even if they wanted to? Dobbs declined to say if he’d had any conversations like that with Watson.
“His leadership really stands for itself,” Dobbs told me. “… He’s been a great teammate since he’s gotten here, and that’s really all that matters for us.”
Brissett: “He has been a good friend, a good teammate and a good player.”
On Wednesday, I talked to Browns guard Joel Bitonio and asked if he was purposely avoiding the Robinson decision so that he could keep doing his job. He said no. Instead, he attributed it to something far more banal—the perpetual player turnover that is the seasonal grind of working in the NFL.
“No, I don’t think so. I—you know—it’s, again, she did her research or she looked into the case. Like you said, I have played with so many quarterbacks here and there has been so many people that play in the NFL. I have one job, I go out there and I block and I play football, and I have had probably 20 quarterbacks back there,” Bitonio said.
“So it’s, like, you get to know guys on and off the field and they are just different people. But there’s no purpose. Me and Deshaun have been good and there’s been no—ever since he’s been here, it’s been a good relationship.”
Watson’s six-game suspension impacts every player on the Browns roster, and every staff member in the building. But for the Browns, the reason for that suspension, at least publicly, is sticking to the line not my business. It is their business, but it seems that Browns players and their head coach have decided that purposeful ignorance is probably the best and maybe the only way for them to keep going.