After a 19-month absence from football, Deshaun Watson began an N.F.L. preseason game on Friday night.
Before the sport began, the Cleveland Browns quarterback did something else that had been nearly as long coming: He apologized for the primary time since greater than two dozen women said he sexually assaulted or harassed them in massage appointments.
As Watson took the sector, met by boos from the sparse crowd at Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field, a league adviser was continuing to weigh his eligibility for the upcoming regular season.
The day before each the sport and Watson’s apology, The Associated Press reported that Watson could be willing to just accept an eight-game suspension and a $5 million high quality, after his representatives initially argued for no missed time.
“I need to say that I’m truly sorry to the entire women that I even have impacted in this case,” Watson said in an interview with the Browns broadcast team. “The selections that I made in my life that put me on this position, I might definitely prefer to have back, but I need to proceed to maneuver forward and grow and learn and show that I’m a real person of character.”
Because the game’s kickoff approached, there was growing tension about whether Watson’s start would go ahead as planned. Even with a regular-season suspension looming, he’s capable of take part in all practices and exhibition games until his suspension begins within the season’s first week. But when the appeal yielded the season-long ban that the league was pushing for, and if that call were reached before the sport, Watson would have been immediately excluded from all team activities and would have needed to apply for reinstatement at the top of the season.
The appeal is being heard by Peter C. Harvey, a former Recent Jersey attorney general, who was chosen by N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell last week to review the case and issue a choice on an “expedited” basis. There is no such thing as a timetable for when that can occur.
The Browns had announced Wednesday that Watson would start Friday’s preseason opener. He looked rusty, completing only certainly one of five passes in three offensive series before being pulled, but his on-field performance was only a footnote.
On Aug. 1, Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge jointly appointed by the N.F.L. and the players union to oversee the disciplinary hearing, determined that Watson had committed multiple violations of the league’s personal conduct policy because of this of behavior she deemed “predatory” and “egregious.” Two days later, the league appealed, in accordance with a recent disciplinary process established as a part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement.
In arguing for a full-season ban, together with a high quality and counseling, the league expressed concerns over Watson’s lack of remorse, an element Robinson also cited in her decision.
Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the owners of the Browns, expressed support for Watson in a press release last week and said that he had been “remorseful.” Watson’s comments before Friday’s game were the primary time he had publicly expressed contrition for his actions.
Watson had previously denied the accusations, telling reporters at a news conference in June that he regretted their impact on his teammates and the people around him. Watson settled 23 of the lawsuits filed against him by women who said he assaulted or harassed them during massage appointments, and two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him on criminal charges.
Watson’s suspension is ready to start the week of the Browns’ first regular-season game, Sept. 11 against the Carolina Panthers.
He has not played in a game, either regular season or exhibition, since Jan. 3, 2021, when he was still a member of the Houston Texans. He requested a trade that month, and in March 2021 the primary lawsuit was filed against him. Though Watson was eligible to play, he sat out the 2021 N.F.L. season.
The Browns traded for Watson this spring after a grand jury in Texas declined to indict him. The team sent multiple top draft picks to Houston and signed Watson to a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract.