Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has apologized for the first time to the women who accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions.

Watson's immediate playing future in the NFL is in limbo after the NFL appealed a six-game ban handed by independent arbiter Sue L. Robinson last week for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

The league was seeking a minimum one-year suspension as well as a fine of at least $5million. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has appointed Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal.

In the meantime, the Browns announced on Wednesday that Watson would play in Friday's preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Ahead of Friday's game, Watson appeared in an in-house video where he spoke about the situation and apologized for his actions for the first time, having previously said he had "no regrets".

"I want to say that I'm truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation," Watson said.

"The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position, I would definitely like to have back.

"But I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character and I am going to keep pushing forward."

Watson had been facing 24 civil lawsuits filed by female message therapists alleging sexual misconduct between 2020 and 2021 during his time with the Texans.

The three-time Pro Bowler was not charged by two grand juries and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. He settled 20 of the lawsuits in June, with a further three settlements reported at the start of August ahead of the verdict of his NFL hearing.

Friday's appearance marked Watson's in an NFL game of any kind since the 2020 season finale, dating back to January 3 2021.

The Houston Texans had held him out of all of their 2021 games while a criminal investigation into the allegations was conducted. He was traded to the Browns in March this year.

"Each and every snap, I want to make sure I cherish that because I'm not sure when the next time I'll be able to get out there with those guys," he said.

Watson added that he would work on personal growth during his probable time out of the game.

"I know I have a lot of work to put in, especially on the field to be able to make sure I'm ready to play whenever that time comes whenever I can step back on the field," he said.

"But also, the biggest thing is I want to continue counseling and I want to make sure that I'm growing as a person, as an individual for my decision-making on and off the field.

"I want to make sure that I'm just evolving in the community as much as possible, and that is for the Cleveland community, that is the NFL community and beyond."

While his regular-season debut as a Cleveland Brown will not come until at least October, Deshaun Watson's first game with his new team is now just days away.

The Browns announced Wednesday that Watson will start Friday's preseason opener against the Jaguars in Jacksonville, though it is unclear how much the embattled quarterback will play in his first appearance since being acquired from the Houston Texans in March.

Watson is facing a suspension of at least six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy but is eligible to play in the preseason. The three-time Pro Bowler had been facing 24 civil lawsuits filed by female message therapists alleging sexual misconduct between 2020 and 2021 during his time with the Texans.

He was not charged by two grand juries and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. Watson settled 20 of the lawsuits in June, with a further three settlements reported at the start of August ahead of the verdict of his NFL hearing.

The NFL announced last week it will appeal arbiter Judge Sue L. Robinson's ruling in hopes of extending the ban. The league was seeking a minimum one-year suspension as well as a fine of at least $5million.

"We decided it was the right thing to do," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday at the league's owners meetings in Bloomington, Minnesota.

"We've seen the evidence. [Judge Robinson] was very clear about the evidence. She reinforced the evidence, that there was multiple violations here and they were egregious, and it was predatory behavior. Those are things that we always felt were important for us to address in a way that's responsible."

The Browns signed Watson to a five-year, $230m fully guaranteed extension following the trade and structured the deal so he would face lesser financial penalties in the event of a suspension. He is due a base salary of only $690,000 in 2022.

Watson has not appeared in an NFL game of any kind since the 2020 season finale. The Texans held him out of all of their 2021 games while a criminal investigation into the allegations was conducted.

A grand jury ultimately dropped all criminal charges in March, and Watson's attorneys have since settled all but one of the civil cases.

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski did not reveal his quarterback plans for the preseason when speaking to reporters Tuesday. The Browns held a closed practice Wednesday and were set to fly to Jacksonville later in the evening.

"We have a framework for how we are going to handle this preseason," Stefanski said Tuesday. "As you know, you always reserve the right to change your mind based on how practice goes and those types of things, but we are pretty confident in the plan we have."

Veteran Jacoby Brissett, who is 14-23 in 37 career starts, will serve as the Browns' quarterback during Watson's suspension. The journeyman started five games for the Miami Dolphins last season and finished the campaign with 1,283 passing yards, five touchdown passes, four interceptions and a 78.1 passer rating. 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has explained the league appealed the advised six-game ban for Deshaun Watson because a disciplinary hearing found "egregious" violations and "predatory behaviour".

Watson faced 24 civil lawsuits following sexual assault and misconduct allegations. He was not charged by two grand juries and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.

The Cleveland Browns quarterback settled 20 of the lawsuits in June, with a further three settlements reported at the start of August ahead of the verdict of his NFL hearing.

Former US district judge Sue L. Robinson oversaw those proceedings and concluded Watson should miss six games with no additional fine.

But the NFL felt, having reviewed that decision, the evidence uncovered by Robinson required a harsher punishment, and it has used its right to appeal.

It is widely reported the league believes Watson should be suspended for the entire 2022 season, and Goodell outlined why this is the case.

"We've seen the evidence," he said. "[Robinson] was very clear about the evidence, should we enforce the evidence – that there were multiple violations here, and they were egregious, and it was predatory behaviour.

"Those are things that we always felt were important for us to address in a way that's responsible."

Tom Brady "set a standard that players will chase for years" during his storied NFL career that commissioner Roger Goodell paid tribute to following the legendary quarterback's retirement.

An ESPN report on Saturday revealed Brady was set to bring his career to a close after 22 seasons in the NFL.

Those claims were soon disputed, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar "still going through the process" on Monday as he discussed his future.

But Tuesday brought an official statement from the 44-year-old on his Instagram page.

Brady commented that the sport required "100 per cent competitive commitment" but he could no longer live up to that expectation, choosing instead to focus "time and energy on other things that require my attention".

His retirement sees the NFL lose an icon and star who has thrilled audiences for nearly quarter of a century, with his seven Super Bowl wins unmatched by anyone in the sport's history, and Goodell paid tribute to Brady's longevity and legacy.

"Tom Brady will be remembered as one of the greatest to ever play in the NFL," Goodell said in a statement.

"An incredible competitor and leader, his stellar career is remarkable for its longevity but also for the sustained excellence he displayed year after year.

"Tom made everyone around him better and always seemed to rise to the occasion in the biggest moments.

"His record five Super Bowl MVP awards and seven Super Bowl championships set a standard that players will chase for years.

"He inspired fans in New England, Tampa and around the world with one of the greatest careers in NFL history. 

"It has been a privilege to watch him compete and have him in the NFL. We thank him for his many contributions to our game and wish Tom and his family all the best in the future."

Roger Goodell remains unsatisfied with the level of minority hires for head coaching roles in the NFL, while he has also revealed his hope that international games can return in 2021. 

Only two of seven vacant head coach positions have been filled by a diverse candidate, with the New York Jets hiring Robert Saleh – the first NFL coach known to be Muslim – and the Houston Texans appointing David Culley, who becomes just one of three black head coaches currently in the league. 

NFL commissioner Goodell noted positives in other positions but said alternative avenues to encourage more diversity will be explored. 

"It's much broader than just head coaches for us, but the head coaches are important, and we put a lot of our policies and focus on that this year as you know," Goodell said at a pre-Super Bowl LV news conference.  

"We had two minority coaches hired this year, but it wasn't what we expected and it's not what we expect going forward.  

"So, for us we want to continue to look and see what went right and what went wrong. There needs to be visual discussions with candidates both successful and unsuccessful candidates of the teams and try to understand it.  

"They're not the outcomes we wanted and we're committed more than ever to make sure that we do that but we want it to be a natural process. We want it to be a process that is what we believe in diversity is making us better ultimately." 

The coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of five games that were due to take place in London and Mexico City last year due to uncertainty over travel amid the global health crisis.

Goodell is planning for the international fixtures to return to the calendar this year, though warned the league is ready to pull the plug again if the situation demands such action. 

"We are planning for our international games in 2021. That's the approach we're going to take, we obviously are going to stay in close contact with our partners in the UK and in Mexico and make sure that we are doing that safely," he added.  

"If at any point in time, we don't think we could execute that safely we will make that determination like last year. I think we ended up deciding not to play the international sometime right before the schedule was announced.  

"I think it was in April and that I think that was done after a lot of consultation not only with our medical officials, but also looking at the risks with the Players Association of travelling the entire party over in a stadium where we weren't able to implement our protocols. 

"So, we hope to get back there and we're planning for it and we'll make that decision whenever we have enough information to do so."

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