BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Aware of the public’s perception, Myles Garrett has made up his own mind about Deshaun Watson.
While Watson is being assailed by others for alleged sexual misconduct, Garrett has been impressed with how the embattled quarterback has conducted himself since joining the Browns despite facing serious legal consequences and possible NFL punishment.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s walked the right way,” said Garrett, Cleveland’s All-Pro defensive end and unquestioned team leader. “Whether he’s had a slipup or not, I’m not the judge. I’m not the jury or the executioner.”
Garrett’s comments came following practice Wednesday, a day after a 23rd massage therapist filed a civil lawsuit accusing Watson of sexual misconduct during appointments made while he played for Houston.
The newest lawsuit is the first filed since the Browns traded for Watson in March, when they signed him to a record-setting $230 million fully guaranteed contract.
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The 26-year-old Watson has maintained that any sexual activity with the women was consensual — two separate grand juries in Texas declined to indict him on 10 criminal complaints — and that he intends to clear his name.
In his first media availability since Watson signed, Garrett said he doesn’t feel the need to pry into the QB’s affairs just to learn more about him.
“It isn’t any of my business,” he said. “I try to keep my nose out of it. I don’t try to put my eyes on it. The only thing that matters to me is if he’s playing every game and what we need to do to step up as a defense if he isn’t.”
Garrett was pressed on whether Watson’s reputation matters, given the breadth of the allegations.
“It does,” Garrett said. “But I don’t know what happened. You don’t know what happened. No one in this room really knows what happened, other than the people that were involved. I can’t move one way or the other, based on hearsay.
“So, I just have to move with the character of the man that I know from day to day, and it’s a good guy from what I’ve seen, from what I’ve played against and from what I’ve seen in the building.”
For Garrett, Watson recently treating teammates to a weekend trip to the Bahamas and the respect he’s shown coaches are further signs of the QB’s makeup.
“I’m here to play a game and whether we agree or disagree with who he is off the field, that’s yet to be seen,” Garrett said. “But as far as the guy I know on the field, he’s special.”
Watson didn’t speak to the media for the second straight week. After practice ended, he signed autographs and took photos with some school kids before grabbing a smoothie off a table and ducking into the team’s complex.
On Tuesday, his lead attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a statement that Watson stands by his previous denials of any wrongdoing.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski again steered clear of saying much about the unresolved situation that hangs over his team.
Cleveland’s front office has stressed it was comfortable with what an investigation into Watson’s behavior yielded before the Browns traded six draft picks, including three in the first round, for him.
Stefanski was asked if the latest lawsuit changed anything about the QB’s status.
“It goes back to the work we did prior to this,” Stefanski said. “We’ve covered that. But I’ll just continue to let the proceedings play out.”
Watson is still facing potential discipline from the league, which is investigating whether he violated its personal conduct policy. If that’s found to be the case, Watson would in all likelihood be suspended.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week that he thought the inquiry was nearing a conclusion, but that was before the latest lawsuit or Tony Buzbee, the lead attorney for all 23 women, saying he plans to file a 24th petition.
Watson didn’t play last season after requesting a trade. He’s looked sharp on the field during two sessions open to the media, but Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said the three-time Pro Bowler is still getting into form.
“A whole year out, there’s definitely going to be rust, and you can see it,” Van Pelt said, “but he’s working through that.”
NOTES: Not to be outdone by Watson, Garrett said he’s treating his defensive teammates to a trip to Miami this week. “Taking my talents to South Beach,” he said, playfully mimicking a line LeBron James made famous when he left Cleveland. … Garrett has been outspoken about gun laws in the wake of the school shooting tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. He’d like to see things change in his home state and pledged to “be an advocate for this cause nationwide.”
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