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The NFL suspends Cleveland's QB Deshaun Watson for 11 games

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson must pay a $5 million fine and will not be allowed to play in 11 games of the upcoming season. The NFL penalized him after calling his behavior with massage therapists egregious and predatory. Watson has apologized but also says he's innocent. Here's Glenn Forbes from Ideastream Public Media in Cleveland.

GLENN FORBES, BYLINE: More than 20 female massage therapists accused Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct when he was quarterback for his former team, the Houston Texans. Watson was not criminally charged, and all but one of the civil lawsuits filed against him has been settled. Now, besides paying a massive fine and not being allowed to play more than half the season, Watson has to comply with counseling in order to be reinstated. And Watson continues to say he's not guilty of anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DESHAUN WATSON: I'm going to continue to stand on my innocence and keep pushing forward. And I've always, you know, stood on not disrespecting or sexual assaulting anyone.

FORBES: Despite claiming innocence, Watson did issue an apology last week through a team reporter before a preseason game, and he did again yesterday as he spoke with reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WATSON: For everyone that was affected about this situation, there was a lot of people that was triggered.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But not the women that accused you of this?

WATSON: I've apologized to all women, so anybody that was affected, even yourself.

FORBES: In March, the Browns traded three first-round draft picks for the QB and promptly signed him to an unprecedented $230 million guaranteed contract. Watson says the settlement allows him to move forward with his career and family life but stressed it was not an admission of guilt. Browns owner Dee Haslam says any perceived lack of remorse could be part of the process.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEE HASLAM: Counseling takes time. You don't just go to a counseling session and wake up and understand the impact it has. I think it's a layering effect, and it takes weeks, months, a long time to get where you understand so much more about yourself.

FORBES: That type of reasoning doesn't fly with longtime fan Stephanie Callasibedi (ph).

STEPHANIE CALLASIBEDI: So why does he need counseling if he didn't do anything wrong? I feel like the Browns value winning over they do integrity.

FORBES: This year, Stephanie plans on only watching the Browns when Watson isn't playing. Even fans who flocked to training camp earlier this month, like Ali Hamda (ph), are uncomfortable.

ALI HAMDA: You have a family. You got sisters, wives, aunts. To say it had no effect, I'd be lying to you.

FORBES: The season begins next month. Deshaun Watson won't make his regular season debut as Browns quarterback until December 4, coincidentally against his former team, the Texans, in Houston.

For NPR News, I'm Glenn Forbes.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUSTAVO SANTAOLALLA'S "ALMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Glen Forbes

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