NFL adviser says she feels Deshaun Watson is 'playing us' after Browns QB's denial of wrongdoing

At least one NFL figure didn't appreciate Deshaun Watson saying he took "accountability" for his actions while accepting an 11-game suspension, then immediately proclaim his innocence to anyone with a microphone.

NFL senior adviser Rita Smith, who advises the NFL on matters of domestic violence and sexual assault, told's Mary Kay Cabot that the Cleveland Browns quarterback has been less than earnest in the aftermath of the sexual misconduct scandal that saw 25 different women sue him:

“I feel like he’s playing us,” Smith told by phone Friday. “He’s saying exactly what he thinks he needs to say to get on the field again. He’s not thinking strategically at all about ‘Did I cause harm to other people?’ He’s not questioning any of his behaviors at all. He’s absolutely certain from that last statement ‘I’ve done nothing wrong. This is all about people trying to get at me, and I just want to go play ball.’”

Watson was given an 11-game suspension as well as a $5 million fine, the largest for a player in NFL history, after the NFL appealed his initial six-game suspension for misconduct. Part of the deal struck before the case finished arbitration was that Watson would promptly undergo a professional evaluation by behavioral experts and accept their treatment program.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson walks on the field after an NFL preseason football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Cleveland, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. The Eagles won 21-20. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Deshaun Watson may not be a guarantee to return after his 11 games are up. (AP Photo/David Richard) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

When the suspension was announced, the Browns released a statement from Watson in which he apologized for "any pain this situation has caused" and claimed to "take accountability for the decisions I made."

What "decisions" was Watson taking accountability for? You wouldn't know from Watson' post-suspension news conference, in which he said he "never assaulted or disrespected anyone." As he has done throughout this process, Watson insisted he had done nothing wrong, even after agreeing to undergo behavioral treatment.

It was quintessential kettle logic, in which Watson issued an apology for a thing he then insisted had not happened.

Smith told Cabot that refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing was predictive of recidivism:

“That energy is not good for future reoffending,” she said. “That that purports to me that he’s still a danger to people, because he’s done absolutely no self-reflection that I can tell. You don’t have that many violations reported from somebody who’s not doing anything wrong.

“He’s doing something wrong in those sessions. He’s doing something inappropriate in those sessions. So he needs to figure out what that is and how he can stop it so that nobody gets hurt in that process.”

If that attitude is shared by the people treating Watson, it could be a problem for the Browns. One of the conditions of Watson's punishment is that the third-party provider for his treatment program can delay his return to the field if they deem him non-compliant.

Unless that happens, Watson is set to return to the field Dec. 4 against his old team, the Houston Texans. It would be his first NFL appearance in 699 days.