Deshaun Watson returned to Houston for his first game since being traded to the Cleveland Browns and serving an 11-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in connection with accusations of sexual assault against him. It was a road game against his former team; of course he’d be booed, and it will continue on the road most likely. But make no mistake, the boos aren’t in support of the 30 women who say Watson sexually assaulted them.
Deshaun Watson’s first snap and the reception from the crowd. pic.twitter.com/ghJXNqPS8M
— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) December 4, 2022
“They’re supposed to boo,” Watson said. “I’m a Cleveland Brown now, and we’re on the road, so they’re supposed to boo.”
Watson struggled and looked rusty against his former team. He only completed 12 of 22 passes for 131 yards. And threw an interception in the end zone that negated Cleveland’s best offensive scoring opportunity.
But the Browns still won the game off the strength of two defensive touchdowns and a punt return for a touchdown.
It had been 700 days since Watson last played quarterback. During that time, more than two dozen women accused him of sexual assault and other sexual misconduct during massage sessions. None of the allegations led to criminal charges but there were 24 civil suits filed against Watson. He agreed to settle 23 of the 24 civil suits.
Attorney Tony Buzbee, who represented the 24 women that filed civil suits, had about 10 of Watson’s accusers at the game in a suite at NRG Stadium.
“It is difficult to balance my efforts to heal, while being acutely aware that most in the media and sports world will continue to praise his athleticism and ignore his range of assaults against dozens of women,” Lauren Baxley, one of the two women with an open lawsuit against Watson, wrote in a text message. “Whatever nanoscopic punishment he may have fulfilled to the satisfaction of the N.F.L. brings neither healing nor justice to us, nor protection for future women in his presence.”
Watson did not answer any questions regarding the lawsuits or the accusers being at the game.
“That’s something that, legal and clinical, we’ve answered before. And they don’t want me to address anything like that,” he said. “Of course, it was a tough situation. The suspension was tough. But at the same time, my main focus is just trying to be 1-0 as a football player today.
“I was just excited to be back on the field today. I did everything that I was asked and was required to do. I did all that. And I was able to play and be on the field today.”
As far as the league is concerned, this matter is over. The legal component has played out. There were no criminal charges filed and 23 of 24 civil suits were settled. Watson served his 11-game suspension for violating the conduct policy, and now he’s back.
The average football fan only cares about their team winning. Browns fans will cheer for Watson because he’s theirs. Opposing fans will boo him because he’s not. It’s as basic and primal as that.
There were fans who had his old Texans jersey and new Browns jersey that wanted his autograph and posed for pictures with him pregame.
It’s nice to think that people can put aside their fandom and all unite behind basic human decency and support of women. Some people can. Most don’t care to or want to. They just want to watch their team win.
The boos will continue from some fans, but only because he isn’t theirs.