Last Friday, with a settlement of the Deshaun Watson’s disciplinary case suddenly a possibility, the Browns quarterback for the first time apologized to the women “impacted” by his behavior. Immediately after resolving the situation on Thursday, Watson issued a statement in which he accepted responsibility for his decisions.
Then, he basically said, “Psych!”
Like a criminal defendant who signs a plea agreement before proclaiming he didn’t do it, Watson insisted that he’s innocent during an ill-advised press conference. His agent, David Mulugheta, after deleting a tweet that attacked the ruling of Judge Sue L. Robinson that Watson did not appeal, tweeted that Watson has always stated that he is innocent.
That’s not what Judge Robinson found. In the decision that the NFLPA urged the NFL to accept, she found that Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy in three different ways, by committing four instances of non-violent sexual assault. She found that his behavior was “egregious” and “predatory.” And now, after agreeing to a deal that extended her punishment by five games and added a fine of $5 million, Watson and Mulugheta have retreated to the long-held insistence that Watson didn’t do anything wrong.
The league has not yet responded to an email from PFT posing the simple question of whether Watson’s remarks constitute a violation of the terms of the settlement. Maybe he hasn’t violated the deal yet, but the “I didn’t do it” attitude doesn’t bode well for one specific aspect of the terms of the deal.
As noted by Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, as part of an inherently contradictory stream of tweets and retweets that both carry water for Watson and dump it on his head, “Watson has to comply with: [evaluation] and treatment recommendations of a third-party behavioral expert to be reinstated,” and his “reinstatement is contingent upon his compliance with the treatment plan.”
“If he doesn’t comply, his reinstatement could be delayed, plus further discipline,” Schefter says.
The evaluation and treatment should include frank, direct questions for Watson as to whether he truly accepts responsibility for his behavior. Whether he acknowledges that he engaged in non-violent sexual assault. Judge Robinson found that his “categorical denial” was not truthful. She also found that his claim that he never got an erection during a massage was flat-out false, given that multiple massage therapists who vouched for him acknowledged that he became aroused during massages that they provided to him.
That’s why we shouldn’t assume Watson will automatically be back in Week 13 at Houston. If/when the person providing him with evaluation and/or treatment plays the video from today’s press conference and Watson doesn’t have a persuasive explanation for his decision to insist on his innocence, it’s possible that Watson won’t receive the appropriate certification to return and play.
It’s not some small issue. As noted by Schefter, the league viewed Watson’s apology from last Friday as an “important first step:.” Today, he took three steps back.
Our guess? If he doesn’t make a clear and unequivocal public statement of responsibility before Week 13, there’s a chance he won’t be playing for the Browns when they visit the Texans.