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Transcript: Jimmy and Dee Haslam Press Conference

The Haslams discussed the Browns' trade for QB Deshaun Watson with reporters via Zoom

Opening Statements:

Jimmy Haslam: "Good afternoon. Thanks for taking the time to spend with us this afternoon. Dee and I are very sorry that we cannot be there. We had a previous engagement out of the country, but we thought it was really important after hearing from (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew (Berry), (QB) Deshaun (Watson) and (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) that you hear from us. We will both make brief opening remarks and then obviously take any questions that you might have. I think it is important – we will both say this – for you to understand how seriously we took this whole process. Dee and I both have close friends who have been victims, men and women, of sexual abuse. We have seen up close the impact it has had on their lives, both short and long term. It is something we take very, very seriously. I was thinking this morning and this October will be 10 years that we have been involved with the Browns and have had that responsibility. I know we can both say, as can others in our organization, that we put more time, more thought, more effort, talked to more people and did more research on this decision by far than other decision we have made with the Cleveland Browns. It is not something we took lightly. It is something that we took very seriously, and we feel comfortable with the process we have been through."

Dee Haslam: "I just want to say this has been a really hard and difficult journey for us and for our family. We spent a lot of time and a lot of evenings spending time with our daughters and working through this as a family. I have to tell you, it was really hard. We had to really work hard to get comfortable with the decision. We knew going into this that this could be really hard on individuals and could trigger emotions from individuals who have been through sexual abuse. I just have to tell you, our compassion for those individuals is really deep. We know how hard this has been on them."

On why the Browns ultimately decided to acquire Watson:

Dee Haslam: "Obviously, the due process and the legal system, we let that happen, but we also spent just a ton of time learning about Deshaun as a person and talking to a lot of people and doing a lot of research on him. I think that really helped us get more comfortable with it and talking to just a tremendous amount of people that knew him."

Jimmy Haslam: "I would just add, the bottom line is we got very comfortable with Deshaun Watson the person."

On why legal counsel advised the Browns not to directly contact or interview the women involved in the cases:

Jimmy Haslam: "We got strong recommendation from legal counsel for us not to reach out to the 22 women. Very strong recommendations. I can tell you, however, that in research we did directly and research third parties did that we got comfortable with the situation."

On if the third-party investigators interviewed the women involved in the cases:

Jimmy Haslam: "I think they were able to read depositions and do a tremendous amount of work to where we became comfortable as an organization."

On recognizing not all of the women involved in the cases have given depositions at this time:

Jimmy Haslam: "I am not familiar with exactly how many have been given. I will just state what we said that we got comfortable with the process and obviously the legal process that was involved with Deshaun."

On the Haslams' past familiarity with Rusty Hardin and Hardin's role in providing background information about Watson:

Jimmy Haslam: "We knew Rusty just a little bit from the Pilot situation and obviously spent a tremendous amount of time with he and his legal team as we worked through the process with Deshaun."

On what factors they weighed as stewards of the team in the decision to acquire Watson:

Dee Haslam: "Again, we got really comfortable with Deshaun as the person. Studying his background and spending time with people he knew and speaking with Deshaun, he is a community guy. He wants to be involved in the community. I think he will work really hard to gain trust in the community and within our organization."

Jimmy Haslam: "Just to add, too, we as a family, we as ownership and we as an organization understood this was going to be difficult and that there would be a lot of people who were not comfortable with it and who would criticize it. We understand it will take time. Some people may never get over it. Here again, we are confident in Deshaun and in the organization that over a period of time, he will be able to gain their trust."

On the number of fans who have said they won't buy tickets anymore as a result of the decision to acquire Watson:

Jimmy Haslam: "We have not seen the numbers the last couple of days. The last time we looked – and it is a little misleading because the renewal date ends today so there is a rush – it appears there are way more people renewing than canceling tickets."

Dee Haslam: "We do respect individuals that have strong feelings. We understand those feelings."

On if the Browns expect Watson to face more grand jury hearings and decisions in the future:

Jimmy Haslam: "That is hypothetical so we do not know. We trust the legal process and due process. Ready to move forward."

On what level of tolerance they have for Watson's behavior moving forward:

Jimmy Haslam: "I would say this, we expect very high-performance levels on and off the field from our players, and Deshaun knows and understands that. One of the things that has impressed us about Deshaun is his continual drive to get better in all parts of his life, and we think that will continue, if not grow, as he joins our organization.

On if the Browns have a 'zero-tolerance policy' with Watson with expectations moving forward:

Jimmy Haslam: "Deshaun – I think he said this several times – starting in high school in Gainesville, at Clemson and at Houston has been very active in the community. One of the questions he asked us early on was, 'If I did come to Cleveland, what all are you all involved in as owners? What is the team involved in? What would you like me to be involved in?' I think some of you know he grew up in a Habitat for Humanity house so he has a special bend that way. We expect Deshaun to be – not at our suggestion; if he asked our advice, we will give it to him – because he is naturally bent that way as a man, to be involved in the community."

On if the idea to pursue Watson was conceived in football operations and then presented to ownership or if it was conceived by ownership and presented to football operations:

Jimmy Haslam: "It was definitely conceived by football operations. I can tell you it was widely vetted throughout our organization, including ownership, but it was conceived in football operations."

On if the preference is for Watson to settle the civil cases:

Jimmy Haslam: "That is Deshaun and his legal team's call about how they want to pursue the legal cases."

On their thoughts early in the process of considering Watson and if their views evolved over time during the investigation, understanding the team's process took multiple months and fans have only been aware for a week:

Dee Haslam: "I can address it. The football operations are always evaluating players so I know that is what they do. It is part of their job so I do not know exactly when the process [started]. I know when I was brought into was after the season was over I was included in the conversation of looking at our whole roster and particularly the quarterback position. As I said in my opening remarks, this was really hard. This was a journey that I had to get comfortable with, and I got comfortable with it the more people we talked to about Deshaun as a person and then I got more comfortable meeting Deshaun and having those conversations. It definitely took some time, and it was definitely a process of not just on behalf of myself but on behalf of our family and our daughters for sure."

Jimmy Haslam: "Let me address something that Tony (Grossi) actually asked the question this morning and I just want to clear up, when Andrew said we started working on it five months ago – I think some of you all understand this – midway through the year or three-fourths of the way through the year, our personnel group analyzes every single position on the team, obviously including quarterback. When Andrew said when you start looking at it five months ago, that is correct. We did not begin earnestly looking at what our options were, including Deshaun, until after our last game against Cincinnati on January 9."

On expanding on the use of the word 'comfortable' and if they were comfortable with the idea that Watson did not do anything wrong or if it is more of the idea that if he learned from mistakes and it won't happen again:

Dee Haslam: "I think we got comfortable in the legal process. If you follow the legal process, it is part of it. We have to trust in the legal process. I think that is what we did is we trusted the process, and then again, learning more and more details about Deshaun as a person, we felt good about Deshaun as a person. "

Jimmy Haslam: "I think another way to say it is two different grand juries in two different counties looked at nine different criminal cases and decided not to move forward. We have to trust that process. I think that is really important. I have not asked Deshaun this – well actually, we have – I know that Deshaun learned through this process, just like all of us do every day in life, particularly when you hit a bump in the road. Do I think he learned from this process? Absolutely."

On if the Browns tried hard to patch the relationship with QB Baker Mayfield before Watson's acquisition:

Jimmy Haslam: "Contrary to what is out there in the press, we think highly of Baker and did not get down on him. I know there is [an anonymous Browns] statement [reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen] that we needed 'an adult in the room,' and Baker felt that came from ownership, but that is not true. Baker gave it everything he had while he was here. Nobody can question his effort this past year, and nobody can question the four years he gave to the City of Cleveland. We wish him nothing but the best of luck."

On if the Browns had to make the record commitment of $230 million guaranteed to acquire Watson:

Jimmy Haslam: "I guess that is really a question for Deshaun, right? He seemed to say no. I will say this on behalf of Deshaun, I think maybe he struggled a little bit with the weather and how far it was away from home, and it took a period of time to get him comfortable with that."

On if the Browns will encourage Watson to seek counseling:

Dee Haslam: "I think we will leave that up to our medical personnel, but I do think that I personally believe in counseling for everybody. I think there are times in your life you need that, and he has been through a tremendous amount and it would probably be beneficial, but I am going to leave that up to the experts. That is not something I am an expert in, but I would hope that is something he would consider."

Jimmy Haslam: "We have great resources with the Browns with University Hospital to help Deshaun or anybody else in our organization – player or non-player – with anything they want help with."

On saying they became comfortable with Watson and if that means they do not believe the 22 allegations from the women filing suits:

Jimmy Haslam: "I think we would just say what we said earlier, and that is we trust the legal process. I think due process does exist in our country. The extensive amount of time that we spent researching him led us to make the decision we made."

On what the Browns will do moving forward to engage with organizations that focus on sexual-abuse victims and awareness:

Dee Haslam: "We are going to continue to be involved in the community. I think sexual abuse is a topic that is a really important one in our country. As an organization, that is something that women are such an important part of our organization and we value them, we are empowering them and we are doing everything we can to provide opportunity for women in our organization so I think it is a natural conversation to have going forward."

Jimmy Haslam: "I might add that Dee and I have been in our organization strong believers in diversity of color, gender and thought, and we will continue to promote that. I can't speak for Dee, but I know personally, this has raised my awareness on the issue of sexual abuse, and it is something that we will pay a lot more attention to going forward."

On if the Browns have plans of how to address the community and members of the team if there are further developments related to the suits:

Dee Haslam: "That is hypothetical, too. I think what we are going to do is continue to trust the legal process."

On some Browns fans feeling embarrassed or saying the team 'sold their soul for a Super Bowl' after acquiring Watson:

Dee Haslam: "Again, we respect our fans and their feelings. This is a really tough subject, and there are a lot of people who have experienced a lot of pain through sexual abuse, so we respect [those feelings], or know someone so we absolutely respect that. I think our goal all along was to build an organization that Cleveland can be proud of, and we are going to continue that."

On how much their daughters were involved in discussions related to acquiring Watson:

Dee Haslam: "We knew that this could trigger a lot of emotion. It has obviously triggered that emotion in a lot of people. Our daughters weighed in really early how hard this and some of the experiences they have had in their lives. I think the conversations that are coming out of this have been so helpful to us to understand the issues, and I think we look forward to growing and learning more. Jimmy said it a few minutes ago that he has learned so much more about the issue, and it has been something that we definitely will continue to work on."

Jimmy Haslam: "We had several Sundays in a row where we involved our daughters with our football personnel people – with Andrew, Kevin and (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul (DePodesta) – in which we vetted the issue and had open, honest conversations and asked them to speak up, which they did. Dee and I had conversations with our daughters collectively and individually. We weighed their opinions very heavily, as we did several of our friends and other family members who are not involved in the Browns. I know we are sounding redundant, but I can't tell you how much time and thought we put into this decision."

On if the Browns are putting any parameters or stipulations around when and Watson can get massages:

Jimmy Haslam: "I think that is guidance and advice that our medical staff, our trainers, etc. will give to Deshaun."

On if they are concerned if Watson decided to take the civil cases to court that it could distract him related to game preparation:

Jimmy Haslam: "That is why the decision will be made by Deshaun and by his legal team, and we are comfortable they will make the right call."

On if they have talked to any legal experts in the field of sexual abuse about the civil litigation process:

Jimmy Haslam: "Let me answer it in a little bit different way, I had extensive conversations with a counselor who works with and helps people in this type of environment."

On if the Browns plan to reach out to any organizations committed to sexual-abuse victims or awareness, including those that have issued statements or received donations in light of this situation:

Jimmy Haslam: "I think you all know that Dee and I have been heavily involved in the Cleveland community since Day 1, particularly Dee, and our primary focus in on education. I think it would be shallow for us to rush to judgment and say, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, we are going to do that.' Like I personally said, this has raised my awareness so I think we will give a lot of time and thought into these organizations – organization or organizations – and will we give not only time to but potentially financially resources."

On if any of their daughters 'begged them' not to acquire Watson:

Dee Haslam: "No. Our daughters had some really incredible comments on it, but we were pretty thoughtful of giving them all of the information, as well. I think that was just part of the process for our family is really just thinking about all of the details and what comes of it. They worry about individuals who have experienced sexual abuse and how this would impact them, and that has been our concern as a family is how is it going to impact people who have experienced sexual abuse and what are they going to think. I think that has been something that we care about these people so that has been something we thought about."

Jimmy Haslam: "I would add that they were not exposed to not all of the information but almost all of the information we were. It is not like we were hiding anything; they just were not quite as involved. Like I said, we had several long Sunday afternoon conversations with Andrew, Paul and Kevin in which they got to listen, they got to ask questions and they became educated on the situation. As I said, I consulted, as did Dee, several people I trust and respect outside of the organization. One is a family member and the other is this counselor I refer to. Both of them said exactly the same thing, they said. 'Your daughters and Dee ought to have veto over this trade. If they are not for it and any one of them is not for it, you should not do it.' At first, I thought, 'That is interesting,' and then I thought, 'It makes a lot of sense.' Everybody was on board with doing this – some later than earlier, but everybody was on board with moving forward with this trade for Deshaun."