Deshaun Watson repeatedly denied allegations of sexual assault leveled against him by 22 women in his first press conference since being traded to the Cleveland Browns, adding that he looks forward to clearing his name "once everything is resolved."
Watson, 26, was joined by Browns' general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski during his Friday introductory presser, where the group fielded more questions about the process behind pursuing a quarterback who recently had nine of 10 criminal complaints against him dismissed by a grand jury.
"We as an organization know that this transaction has been very difficult for many people, particularly women in our community, and we realize that it has triggered a range of emotions, that as well as the nature of the allegations, weighed heavily on all of us," Berry opened the conference by saying.
"It was really through this five-month odyssey and the information we were able to amass, the reference work, and obviously working through due process and the legal process, that got us comfortable pursuing a trade for Deshaun."
Berry explained that the Browns only decided to move forward with the trade after feeling "comfortable" with who Watson was as a person, using "independent investigative resources" to get a "comprehensive perspective" on all the cases.
"We are not naive to the fact that there are people who are not as comfortable with this transaction as we are today but this is something, a trade that we made to be evaluated over the long run."
Watson answered multiple questions about the validity of those allegations and repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
"I understand the whole circumstance is very difficult, especially for the women’s side – the fans in this community. I’m not naive to that," he said of the criticism his trade has drawn. "I know these allegations are very, very serious but like I mentioned before, I’ve never assaulted any woman. I never disrespected any woman. I was raised by a single parent mom … that’s who raised me."
He continued: "I was raised to be genuine and respect anyone and everything around me. So I’ve always defended that and I will continue to stand on that and I just want the opportunity to be able to really show who I am in the community and be hands-on and help people and serve other people."
Watson was asked about the amount of allegations leveled against him and if they were all wrong.
"I can’t speak on what people’s opinions are, because everyone has their own opinions," he responded, "but what I can continue to do is tell the truth and that is I’ve never assaulted or disrespected or harassed any women in my life. Like I said before, I was raised differently. That’s not in my DNA, that’s not my culture. That’s not me as a person and that’s not how I was raised."
The former Houston Texans quarterback spoke repeatedly about his goal to give back and work with the community of Cleveland which prompted one reporter to ask is he had plans of specifically working with women’s groups.
"I have to earn that trust, to be honest. I have to earn their trust back."
When asked if he would be open to counseling, Watson said: "I don’t have a problem. I don’t have an issue and that’s what I've been saying from the beginning."
Watson understands the implications of such allegations and told reporters he will continue to do what is necessary to clear his name.
"I know that there’s going to be a stain that’s probably going to stick with me for a while but all I can do is keep moving forward and continue to show the person that I am, the true character, the true person, the true human being I am. Like I said before, I've never done the things these people are alleging and I’m going to continue to fight for my name and clear my name."
A second grand jury in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal charges over sexual assault allegations this week, but the NFL is still conducting its own investigation. When asked if the Browns had any indication that Watson could be suspended, Berry said the team would continue to work with the league.
"We’ve had an open line of communication with the NFL and we’ll cooperate with the investigation as appropriate. They have their own process that they have to work through and, like I mentioned, we’ll cooperate with that. We’ll work with them when they render their decision. We obviously will respect it."