The N.F.L. quarterback Deshaun Watson on Friday gave his most direct and forceful denial to date of the accusations of sexual misconduct brought against him by two dozen women.
The former Houston Texans quarterback, speaking at a news conference held by his new team, the Cleveland Browns, said, “I have never assaulted any woman. I have never disrespected any woman.”
The Browns traded for the 26-year-old quarterback last week, sending the Texans a package that included three first-round picks and giving Watson a fully guaranteed, five-year $230 million contract that set a new N.F.L. record for guaranteed money.
The team made this commitment to Watson as 22 women say in civil lawsuits that Watson engaged in sexual misconduct during massage appointments by exposing himself, touching them with his genitals or, in a few cases, forcing oral sex. Two grand juries in Texas rejected 10 criminal accusations against Watson this month.
Watson declined to address the details of the allegations, citing the civil cases, but he asserted that the civil and criminal complaints filed by a total of 24 women are not true. He added that it’s “not my intent” to settle the civil lawsuits against him.
“I have never done the things that these people are alleging, and I am going to continue to fight for my name and clear my name,” Watson said.
Andrew Berry, the Browns general manager, said the team had embarked on a “five-month odyssey” to become comfortable pursuing a trade for Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, but he confirmed that the process did not include speaking to any of the women who have sued Watson.
He said lawyers consulted by the team advised that reaching out “could be considered interfering with a criminal investigation.” By the time the Browns traded for Watson, though, a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, had already rejected the nine cases in their jurisdiction and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said the criminal proceedings in that county were closed. Additionally, N.F.L. investigators have already conducted interviews with at least 10 of the plaintiffs.
Berry said the team used “independent investigative resources” in the Houston “law enforcement community” to get a “comprehensive and holistic perspective” on the claims against Watson. Berry did not answer when pressed by a reporter on whether these investigators spoke to any of the women who filed complaints.
Tony Buzbee, the lawyer representing the 22 plaintiffs, has said no one affiliated with the Browns or any N.F.L. team contacted him or requested to speak to any of his clients. A lawyer for an additional woman who told Sports Illustrated her account of Watson behaving inappropriately in a 2019 massage appointment also confirmed the Browns did not reach out to her or her client.
Understand the N.F.L.’s Recent Controversies
A wave of scrutiny. The most popular sports league in America is facing criticism and legal issues on several fronts, ranging from discrimination to athletes’ injuries. Here’s a look at some of the recent controversies confronting the N.F.L., its executives and teams:
A demoralizing culture for women. After the 2014 Ray Rice scandal, the N.F.L. stepped up its efforts to hire and promote women. But more than 30 former staff members interviewed by The Times described a stifling corporate culture that has left many women feeling pushed aside.
Racial descrimination lawsuit. The former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who is Black and Hispanic, sued the N.F.L. and its 32 teams for racial descrimination in their hiring practices. Mr. Flores was later hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a defensive assistant coach. (The lawsuit goes on.)
Sexual harassment claims. Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Commanders, is the subject of an N.F.L. inquiry after sexual harassment allegations were made against him by former employees. In July, the league fined the franchise $10 million after an investigation into allegations of harassment in the team’s front office.
The fallout from brain injuries. Recent violence and deaths by suicide have again highlighted the league’s longtime issues with C.T.E., a brain disease found in a number of deceased players. In addition to a nearly $1 billion settlement, the N.F.L. agreed to stop using race-based methods in evaluating dementia claims.
The Houston Police Department has not discussed its investigation into Watson and a spokesman said on Friday afternoon that he could not comment on whether the Browns had communicated with the agency. In search warrants that were part of the police investigation into Watson, one of the officers who worked on the case for nearly a year described the women who filed criminal complaints as “credible and reliable.”
More than 40 women have said they provided massage therapy to Watson from 2019 through March 2021, when the first lawsuits were filed. Watson has suggested the easy access to them through social media was a factor in why he has used them but declined to elaborate. He said that he, his agents and the Browns will “find a plan” for how he finds massage therapists in the future.
Watson said he will have to earn trust in the Cleveland community and that “there is a stain that is probably going to stick with me for a while.” He bristled when a reporter asked if he would seek counseling, saying, “I don’t have a problem. I don’t have an issue, and that’s what I have been saying from the beginning.”
Berry was asked if he and the Browns organization believe Watson had committed any wrongdoing. In response, he expressed the team’s confidence in Watson and the positive impact he will make in Cleveland. A team public relations official then wrapped up the news conference and called for a photo. Watson stood between Berry and Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, holding a No. 4 jersey for the team he now represents.