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NFL senior advisor believes Deshaun Watson is ‘playing us’, calls out lack of accountability

The National Football League settled on an 11-game suspension with Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson to avoid a lengthy legal battle. While many in the league are ready to put the matter behind them, not everyone is happy with Watson’s response since the suspension.

When the 11-game ban and $5 million fine were announced, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that the NFL felt Watson took an important first step the Friday prior with his apology. For the first time on Aug. 12, the Pro Bowl quarterback admitted there were “decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back” and his statement offered a direct apology to the women impacted by it.

Many league officials viewed it as a step forward after the quarterback vehemently denied more than two dozen allegations of sexual misconduct and assault, even saying in his introductory press conference that he doesn’t have any regrets.

Related: Deshaun Watson accuser calls quarterback a ‘predator’

However, Watson’s tone and words changed once the settlement was announced. Speaking to reporters shortly after, the Browns’ signal-caller reiterated that he had no regrets and simply expressed remorse for those who were “triggered‘ by the situation.

Watson will still need to be cleared by league officials after he undergoes mandatory counseling. If he is allowed to return, he’ll make his first start in Week 13 against the Houston Texans. At least one prominent NFL adviser isn’t convinced Watson has changed nor is there a belief that his public apologies are genuine.

In an interview with Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, NFL senior advisor Rita Smith cast doubt on Watson stopping his predatory behavior based on his lack of accountability and thinks the Browns’ quarterback played league officials.

“I feel like he’s playing us. 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.’”

Rita Smith, NFL senior adviser on domestic violence and sexual assault, regarding Deshaun Watson

Smith, who served as an executive director for 23 years with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, sees the constant refusal and lack of accountability as risk factors for “future reoffending.” She also cited what she sees as a complete absence of self-reflection for more than a year.

Part of the problem, in her evaluation based on her experience, is the NFL star being surrounded by people who “carry him forward no matter what” and enable him to believe nothing is wrong.

Watson likely would have received a year-long suspension if the independent arbitrator the NFL appointed in its appeal was allowed to make a ruling. However, league officials wanted to avoid a legal battle with the NFL Players Association that would have cost millions of dollars in legal fees and resulted in the NFLPA digging up transgressions by team owners as evidence of the NFL being far harsher with players.

Despite receiving a lighter suspension than the NFL wanted and many anticipated based on the number of accusers, Watson has stood firmly in believing the discipline was unwarranted. Between that and his other comments, Smith believes there is a risk for allegations of inappropriate behavior against him in the future.

“That energy is not good for future reoffending. 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 [massage] sessions. He’s doing something inappropriate in those [massage] sessions. So he needs to figure out what that is and how he can stop it so that nobody gets hurt in that process.”

Rita Smith on why Deshaun Watson’s refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing is a risk factor for future offenses

The 26-year-old quarterback will continue to receive league-mandated counseling and evaluations. While there’s a chance he isn’t automatically reinstated by the NFL, especially based on his comments following the suspension, the league will likely make the decision that is in its best interests.