Deshaun Watson's accountability about-face after suspension underscores serious problem | Opinion

Deshaun Watson changed his tone from an earlier statement by insisting "I have always stood on my innocence" regarding sexual misconduct allegations.

Jarrett Bell

There are multiple ways to decipher the mixed messages we heard from Deshaun Watson shortly after his monumental settlement with the NFL came down on Thursday. Here are a few:

Playing both ends against the middle.

Wanting to have his cake and eat it, too.


Serious denial.

The Cleveland Browns quarterback put out a written statement expressing contrition and accountability after the punishment was announced for his violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy stemming from sexual misconduct allegations – an 11-game suspension, $5 million fine, mandatory treatment and counseling .

The tone of the written statement was similar to the message Watson delivered on camera last Friday before his preseason debut – and while the NFL’s appeal of independent disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson’s original six-game suspension and settlement talks ensued. He said he was sorry for "any pain this situation has caused."

In meeting with the media minutes after the written statement was released on Thursday, Watson had quite the contrasting message of defiance.

“I have always stood on my innocence and always said I’ve never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone,” Watson told reporters during a news conference at the Browns headquarters. “I’m going to continue to stand on my innocence.”

If that’s the case, why was there a settlement at all?

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Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson speaks to the media, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Berea, Ohio, after the team announced that Watson has reached a settlement with the NFL and will serve an 11-game unpaid suspension and pay a $5 million fine rather than risk missing his first season as quarterback of the Cleveland Browns following accusations of sexual misconduct while he played for the Houston Texans.

Watson, 26, said something about the deal not necessarily being an admission of guilt. That’s plausible.

Yet in flipping his script, Watson pretty much overrode his own statement, leading us to conclude that his previous remarks were put out there to move along the NFL discipline portion of a case that has also included settlements of 23 civil suits brought forth from the cast of 24 women who alleged sexual misconduct during massage sessions.

The fast change in posture should turn stomachs at NFL headquarters.

Of course, Watson arrived in Cleveland expressing his innocence. When he was introduced as the recipient of a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract with the Browns, he insisted that he didn’t have a “problem” and contended that there was no need for counseling.

One thing that seems obvious, given the mixed messages expressed on Thursday: Watson still needs professional help.

That is not to disparage the man who, as part of the settlement struck by the NFL and NFL Players Association, will undergo an evaluation and treatment as a component of his discipline. It’s just that the messages, wrapped in denial, further underscore the need for treatment.

If Watson didn’t see the “problem” that resulted in the mess that put his career on hold, then that’s a problem. Perhaps treatment and counseling will delve into root causes connected to the allegations and all that they suggest about violating boundaries.

Despite his contention in March that he didn’t need counseling, Watson voluntarily began therapy last spring and last Friday maintained that he wanted to continue that – which might coincide with what is now mandatory. It seemed like a positive that Watson had seemingly embraced counseling, even with the stigma that is surely attached as one of the consequences to his apparent behavior.

It looks like Watson had NFL commissioner Roger Goodell convinced. In the NFL news release outlining the discipline, Goodell maintained, “Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary.”

Well, with the manner in which Watson called an audible, it’s fair to wonder about the level of commitment from Watson for the work on himself.

This cloud could hang over Watson – and over the Browns owners, Jimmy and Dee Haslam – for the rest of his NFL career. And then some.

Still, despite the wishes of some that Watson should never step foot on an NFL field again, this shouldn't be about throwing him away.

Watson surely needs to pay a price, as he has and will in the form of his suspension, reputation and millions of dollars in a fine and the settling of civil suits.

But, as Thursday reminded us, he is also a man who needs help.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.