*(CNN) — The NFL and the NFL Players Association have agreed to suspend Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for 11 regular season games without pay and fine him $5 million after he was accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women.
Watson will undergo “a professional evaluation by behavioral experts and will follow their treatment program,” according to the agreement.
“I’m moving on with my career and my life, and I’m going to continue to stand on my innocence,” Watson told the media Thursday. “Just because settlements and things like that happen, doesn’t mean that person is guilty for anything.”
He added, “I feel like the person has the opportunity to stand on his innocence, and prove that, and we proved that on the legal side, and we’ve just got to continue to push forward as an individual and as a person.”
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Twenty-four civil lawsuits were filed against Watson; 23 have been settled confidentially. Two grand juries in Texas declined to charge Watson criminally.
Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy in private meetings with massage therapists while he was with the Houston Texans. League commissioner Roger Goodell called Watson’s behavior “egregious” and “predatory.”
‘Deshaun Watson deserves a second chance’
Susan “Dee” Haslam, co-owner of the Browns, on Thursday vowed to invest $1 million “towards educating youth for awareness of sexual misconduct.”
“We as an organization and as individuals, we have tremendous empathy for the women involved and we have an opportunity to make a difference in this community,” she told reporters.
Her husband and team co-owner, Jimmy Haslam, said, “People deserve second chances.”
“Is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? And that’s what we’re going to do,” he said, referring to Watson.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t have empathy for people affected and we will continue to do so,” he added. “We believe that Deshaun Watson deserves a second chance.”
The NFL had previously announced that it would appeal a decision by former federal judge Sue L. Robinson to sit Watson without pay for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy when he was with the Houston Texans.
The league had been pushing for at least a full-season suspension instead.
Goodell stated Thursday: “Deshaun has committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL.
“This settlement requires compliance with a professional evaluation and treatment plan, a significant fine, and a more substantial suspension.”
In her written ruling, Robinson cited Watson’s “lack of expressed remorse” as a factor in the discipline that she chose.
The Browns QB released a statement on Thursday saying in part: “I’m grateful that the disciplinary process has ended and extremely appreciative of the tremendous support I have received throughout my short time with the Browns organization.
“I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take accountability for the decisions I made.”
Prior to the settlement, Watson was awaiting the ruling from former New Jersey Attorney General and federal prosecutor Peter Harvey, who was named as Goodell’s designee to hear the appeal.
Watson did not play last season while a member of the Texans. Watson did play in the Browns first preseason game last week.
Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters on Thursday that Watson will not play in the team’s final two preseason games. Backup Jacoby Brissett will start in place of Watson until he is eligible to return on December 4.
According to the NFL, Watson would be eligible to play in week 13, against his former team the Texans.
“I want to say that I’m truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation,” Watson said in an interview before Friday’s preseason game in Florida against the Jacksonville Jaguars. “My decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back, but I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character and I am going to keep pushing forward.”
Before the short interview, Watson repeatedly denied allegations of misconduct, including sexual assault and harassment involving more than two dozen women. He did not elaborate in the interview on what he meant when he said “this situation.”
A three-time Pro Bowler, Watson did not play last season with the Texans because of a trade demand as well as the investigations into these allegations.
Earlier this year, the Browns traded three first-round picks for Watson and then signed him to a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract, the most guaranteed money in NFL history.
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