CLEVELAND — Support groups from Houston and Cleveland have spoken out ahead of Deshaun Watson’s return to the NFL.
It’s been more than 700 days since Watson last played, but this Sunday he’ll return to Houston as a member of the Browns to face off against his former team.
While football fans wonder how the 27-year-old will perform on the field, Watson is also facing more questions surrounding the sexual assault allegations that stem from his time in Houston.
“It’s difficult because it’s a story of someone in a position of power and celebrity,” said Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s Donisha Green.
The story about Watson and his return has a national audience, which Sports Illustrated highlighted on its cover on Thursday.
Sports Illustrated speaks with Green about how Browns fans should handle Watson as their quarterback with the controversy.
Meanwhile, more than 1,200 miles away, the Houston Area Women’s Shelter released a statement about Watson’s return.
“In the wake of overwhelming evidence of a pattern of abuse, Deshaun Watson will take the field this Sunday as one of the highest-paid athletes in the NFL and with no longstanding financial or professional consequences,” the statement read. (You can read the entire statement below.)
Watson completed his 11-game suspension and paid the $5 million fine, all in order to return to the playing field. Speaking publicly for the first time since the end of the suspension on Thursday, Watson -- who has not been criminally charged -- insisted on only answering football-related questions.
“We recognize that healing and justice look different to everyone and so that’s why it’s incredibly important to create more pathways to justice,” Green told 3News.
As Watson prepares to take the field, some of the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct are reportedly attending Sunday’s game.
“For them, you know, while traditional avenues of the criminal justice system might have failed them, this might be a way for them to regain that power and control and telling their story and representing themselves,” said Green.
As for the Browns, the organization has put Watson on the forefront, even adding a poster of the quarterback on the east side of FirstEnergy Stadium.