Deshaun Watson ‘deserves a second chance,’ Browns owner says after suspension over sex assault lawsuits

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Cleveland Browns team owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam defended the acquisition of Deshaun Watson and the belief that “people deserve second chances” following the quarterback’s 11-game suspension.

The NFL announced Watson’s suspension on Thursday after the league and the NFL Players Association came to an agreement on the discipline. Watson must also pay a $5 million fine.

At training camp, Jimmy Haslam said the Browns believed Watson “deserves a second chance” and cited how well things have worked out with Kareem Hunt. 

Cleveland signed Hunt in 2019, and he was suspended for eight games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy after a video that surfaced appeared to show him assaulting a woman in a hotel.

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Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis, left, and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam talk before a game at FirstEnergy Stadium Dec. 20, 2021, in Cleveland.
(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

“I think, in this country, and hopefully in the world, people deserve second chances,” Jimmy Haslam explained. “I really think that. I struggle a little bit … Is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be a part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? That is what we are going to do. 

“You can say, ‘Well, that is because he is a star quarterback.’ Well, of course. But if he was ‘Joe Smith,’ he would not be in the headlines every day. 

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“We think people deserve a second chance. We gave Kareem Hunt a second chance, and that has worked out pretty well. We are hoping this will work out, and we have strong belief it will. That does not mean we do not have empathy for people affected, and we will continue to do so. But we strongly believe — strongly believe — that people deserve a second chance; we believe Deshaun Watson deserves a second chance.”

He added he was “absolutely, 100%” comfortable with having Watson on the team and he would make the trade again for Watson if given the chance.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson looks to throw during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., Aug. 12, 2022.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson looks to throw during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., Aug. 12, 2022.
(Douglas DeFelice/USA Today Sports)

“We mentioned at the time that our process was thorough,” Haslam said. “We felt like we made an informed decision. Understand why others might not have made the same decision that we did, but we do believe that Deshaun has strong positive qualities.

“And we do think that he has done everything in his power to integrate himself with our team and done everything we have asked. We do believe that as he goes through the self-improvement and self-growth process that he has the opportunity to make a strong and positive contribution to our team and our organization.”

Dee Haslam said she hoped the conversation around Watson could be more productive.

“I hope the conversation comes to ‘What can we do going forward to get the information out to help other people?’ I think there is just a huge opportunity to talk about the major issues in our country in this area, such as sex trafficking, massage parlor abuse, etc.,” she said. 

“There is so much information that we can glean from this, and the opportunity is tremendous. We can continue to talk about Deshaun, or we can talk about the major issues our country faces and make a difference.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson during training camp at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus in Berea, Ohio, July 28, 2022.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson during training camp at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus in Berea, Ohio, July 28, 2022.
(Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

“My hope is that using this platform to talk about how we are in the business of preventing this happening to other young men and women, how can we move forward as a country in so many areas that we tend to ignore? This is not about Deshaun, and I hope those women will get involved and actively participating in programs that educate people so we can move to a different place.”

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Watson would be eligible to play again in Week 13 against his former team, the Houston Texans.