The Cleveland Browns introduced new quarterback Deshaun Watson to the media on Friday afternoon. Watson flanked by Browns GM Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski answered questions from the media for the first time since being traded to Cleveland.
Each of them gave opening statements before it was opened up to questions for the trio from the media. Berry opened up the press conference and talked about how difficult the decision was to acquire Watson knowing the affect it would have on Browns employees and fans.
“Good afternoon, everyone. Before we introduce Deshaun, I thought it was important to say that we as an organization know that this transaction has been very difficult for many people, particularly women in our community. We realize that it is has triggered a range of emotions, and that, as well as the nature of the allegations, weighed heavily on all of us – myself, Kevin (Stefanski), Jimmy (Haslam), Dee (Haslam), (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul (DePodesta), Whitney (Johnson) and JW (Johnson), as well as the men and women up and down the organization who are involved in the decision-making and vetting process."
Coach Stefanski echoed the same sentiment and talked about the amount of work they put in doing their homework on both Watson and the allegations against him.
"This organization did a tremendous amount of work on Deshaun – Deshaun the person, and a tremendous amount of background. I understand the concerns completely. I understand the questions. Like Andrew talked about, we understand that there are questions to be answered. I have confidence in the work that we put in. I have confidence in the extensive work that our group put in to understand Deshaun. I am really looking forward to coaching Deshaun. I know he is ready to get to work. I am looking forward to him being around his teammates. Really, I am looking forward to him making a very positive impact in this community. With that, I will turn it over to Deshaun.”
Watson then had his turn to express himself before the tough round of questions were thrown his way. He thanked Jimmy & Dee Haslam for having faith in him and giving him the opportunity to play for the Browns organization.
“First, I want to say thank you to Dee and Jimmy Haslam and the Haslam family for giving me this awesome opportunity to be the quarterback of this historical organization in the Cleveland Browns. I want to thank AB and Coach Kevin for also giving me the opportunity to come here to join this organization, to join this locker room, to lead these guys and be a servant leader, and then another opportunity for this organization for me to come in here and have the opportunity to show this community, show this city, show this organization and show this locker room who the person I really am. That is the main focus that I want to do is continue to show people who I really am and get my story out eventually.”
The biggest thing Watson wanted to communicate to the fans and city of Cleveland is that he is a person of good character that treats women with respect. He referenced how he was raised by women, his single-parent mother and two aunts who raised him to be genuine and respectful.
“Definitely, I understand the whole circumstance is very difficult, especially for the women side of the fans in this community. I am not naive to that. I know these allegations are very, very serious. Like I mentioned before, I have never assaulted any woman. I have never disrespected any woman. I was raised by a single-parent mom, who has two aunties as her sisters, and that is who raised me. I was raised to be genuine. I respect everyone and everything around me. I have always defended that, and I will continue to stand on that. I just want the opportunity to be able to show who I really am in the community and be hands-on and help people and serve other people.”
When questioned about the 22 allegations, Watson said he could not comment about the specific allegations due to the ongoing civil suits. He stated that once those are settled he would be able to openly have a conversation and tell his side of the allegations.
Andrew Berry was asked if they spoke with any of the 22 women who are making the allegations during their investigation, but noted they were strongly advised to not speak with the alleged victims as it would be considered interfering with a criminal investigation. He stated that all of the independent and unbiased investigators hired by the team were able to get a "full perspective" of all of the cases.
As expected during the 30 minute press conference there was not much talk about football. Andrew Berry was asked if the decision was made 5 months ago that the team needed to improve at the quarterback position.
“No. I think I mentioned to you guys before that every offseason, we do go and look at player availability or look at the roster as if we have an expansion team. Certainly, as we got more involved into the research process, we did think through a number of different possibilities, but I can’t say that there was a specific decision made at that time.”
Jimmy & Dee Haslam were unable to attend the press conference due to a prior commitment outside the country. The met with the media via Zoon and hour and a half after the press conference. The common theme you heard from Jimmy Haslam was "trusting the legal process" when it came to the allegations and Watson being cleared to play for Cleveland. The Haslams were asked at one point if they involved their daughters in the discussions about trading for Watson.
Dee: "We knew that this could trigger a lot of emotion. It has obviously triggered that emotion in a lot of people. Our daughters weighed in really early how hard this and some of the experiences they have had in their lives. I think the conversations that are coming out of this have been so helpful to us to understand the issues, and I think we look forward to growing and learning more. Jimmy said it a few minutes ago that he has learned so much more about the issue, and it has been something that we definitely will continue to work on."
Jimmy: "We had several Sundays in a row where we involved our daughters with our football personnel people – with Andrew, Kevin and (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul (DePodesta) – in which we vetted the issue and had open, honest conversations and asked them to speak up, which they did. Dee and I had conversations with our daughters collectively and individually. We weighed their opinions very heavily, as we did several of our friends and other family members who are not involved in the Browns. I know we are sounding redundant, but I can't tell you how much time and thought we put into this decision."
You could sense a nervousness from all involved today but they were all well prepared and handled the situation well. Watson came across as genuine and confident that he will be clear of these allegations at some point and able to focus on winning Super Bowls in Cleveland. He maintains that he has no intention of settling any of the civil suits at this time as he wants to clear his name. Time will tell if that changes as these cases could drag on awhile.
Full Press Conference with GM Andrew Berry, HC Kevin Stefanski and Deshaun Watson.
Jimmy & Dee Haslam Zoom conference with the media following the Watson press conference.