Cleveland Browns address backlash as Deshaun Watson officially signs with team amid sexual misconduct allegations

Deshaun Watson is officially on the Cleveland Browns.

Despite allegations of sexual misconduct against the star player, the team announced on Sunday that Watson had officially signed with the Browns and would be their new quarterback following a trade with the Houston Texans.

In a statement, the Browns’ owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam acknowledged the mixed feelings fans had about signing Watson, but expressed their confidence in their decision.

“We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision,” the Haslams said in the statement. “Our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of the utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved.”

Before signing with the Browns, Watson had been accused of sexual misconduct by nearly two dozen women while in Houston.

Watson has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer last week said he “did not commit any crimes and is not guilty of any offenses.”

A Texas grand jury earlier this month declined to indict and criminally charge Watson.

However, even though Watson will not be criminally charged, he is still dealing with civil lawsuits from the women — massage therapists who accused him of assault and harassment. He’s also possibly facing a suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

The trade will not affect the league’s inquiry into Watson.

The trade to the Browns stunned fans and experts alike after Watson initially rejected the move. But on Friday, Watson waived his no-trade clause and accepted a trade to the Browns.

His position as starting quarterback in Cleveland will make Watson the highest-paid player in the NFL, according to The Associated Press. The guaranteed contract is worth $230 million over five years.

Ahead of the official announcement that the trade had occurred, Watson posted a picture of himself to Instagram wearing a Browns’ jersey.

“Cleveland, LETSSSS GOOOO!! #DawgPound Ready To Work!” he wrote on Instagram.

Representatives for Watson did not immediately return a request for comment about the signing made by NBC News.

Browns’ head coach Kevin Stefanski echoed the Haslams, saying that while he understands the concerns some might have about Watson, he has confidence in the quarterback.

“It was important for us to meet with Deshaun in person as part of our team’s evaluation process, we had a candid conversation regarding his approach to coming into our organization and community,” Stefanski said in a statement.

Stefanski added that he is looking forward to coaching Watson and believes he will help the team improve while also providing a positive impact on the community.

Cleveland Browns General Manager Andrew Berry said he also believes Watson will be a positive addition to the team and community. In a statement, Berry said that the team did extensive “investigative, legal and reference work over the last several months” before bringing Watson on to the team.

“Deshaun has been among the very best at the position and he understands the work needed to re-establish himself on and off the field in Cleveland,” Berry said.

However, not everyone appeared ready to give Watson the benefit of the doubt.

After the announcement that the trade had been made official, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center released a statement acknowledging how difficult the news would be for some.

“We understand the story surrounding DeShaun Watson joining the Cleveland Browns team is triggering for far too many of our friends and neighbors. For those who need additional support, please know Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is available to you 24/7/365,” the statement reads.

The statement goes on to say: “To the community we say, we see you. We hear your outrage. We feel it too. Every click. Every post and every tweet. Every donation sends a clear message.”

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. The hotline, run by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), can put you in contact with your local rape crisis center. You can also access RAINN’s online chat service at https://www.rainn.org/get-help.

The Associated Press contributed.

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