On Friday afternoon, the Browns held an introductory press conference for Deshaun Watson, who will be paid only $1.035 million of his new five-year, $230 million mega-contract this season specifically to minimize the amount of money he’ll have to give up in the likely event of the suspension he’ll earn as he faces civil suits from 22 massage therapists all alleging sexual misconduct. That extremely cynical bit of forward planning was but one of many things reporters grilled Watson, Browns general manager Andrew Berry, and head coach Kevin Stefanski about during the presser. As was the case with most of the other hard questions posed by the press, the Browns trio didn’t have a good answer.
Berry denied that the team structured Watson’s deal to help him skirt financial consequences stemming from, again, the 22 sexual misconduct lawsuits filed against him by massage therapists, claiming the team did so merely for cap reasons, though he did acknowledge, “We understand the optics of it.” Watson denied any wrongdoing, repeatedly invoking his mother and aunts. When asked whether he had any plans to go to counseling, he said, “I don’t have a problem. I don’t have an issue.”
The Browns claimed that they conducted a thorough investigation—in Berry’s words, “extensive investigative, legal, and reference work”—before they decided to trade five draft picks for Watson and hand him a quarter of a billion dollars. During the course of their supposedly widespread investigation, the Browns did not contact any of the 22 women who have filed suits against Watson, nor Tony Buzbee, the lawyer representing the group. There’s an obvious contradiction between the Browns’ claims of an “extensive” investigation and their sidestepping of the most relevant people in the case, one that can’t be squared by the team speaking with, per The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, “three female attorneys associated with [Watson’s lawyer Rusty] Hardin’s defense team.”
Reporters, most notably ESPN’s Jake Trotter, pounced on this discrepancy, and Berry didn’t have a substantive response.
Watson was also pressed on another of the most glaring aspects of this case, which is simply why he hired so many different people? Why not just find the best possible massage therapist and stick with them? One would think a professional athlete has a clear incentive to seek out top-level, consistent care, so why such a variety?
“I can’t get too far into detail, because there’s an ongoing investigation still,” Watson said. “But I can [say] that in this day and age, especially in my age group, social media is a big business part that goes into it, so that’s a factor into it.”
Got it? If that answer wasn’t clear enough, Watson was asked a different version of the same question and constructed an even less clear non-answer.
Watson was asked to square the discrepancy between his claims of innocence and almost two dozen different women accusing him of similar offenses. Were they all lying? Watson eluded the question, merely repeating, “I never disrespected, I never harassed any woman in my life.” Berry was asked point-blank whether or not he and the team believed that Watson was innocent, to which he only replied, “We believe in Deshaun the person.” I suppose that’s simpler than outright saying, “It doesn’t matter.” What a disaster of a presser, though it’s important to keep in mind the real victims—the Haslam family.