NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson says the arrest last year that led to his 18-game suspension came when he started drinking again after 23 months of sobriety.
Watson, who turns 27 on Sunday, said Friday in an Instagram post that he's been dealing with anxiety, depression and alcoholism since the age of 18. Watson said he voluntarily entered the NHL's substance abuse program after his June 16 arrest.
"I am currently sober and committed to living a healthy lifestyle so that I can be the father, partner, teammate and person I want to be," Watson said.
Watson pleaded no contest July 24 to domestic assault and agreed to a judicial diversion program that enabled the misdemeanor charge to be dismissed if he served three months of probation and completed an in-patient treatment program and a batterer's intervention program.
He initially received a 27-game suspension from the NHL, but an arbitrator reduced it to 18 games. He was reinstated in mid-November and has six goals and two assists in 28 games this season.
Watson was arrested in connection with a June 16 incident after a witness flagged down a police officer to a gas station in Franklin Tennessee. According to the incident report, Watson told police he and his girlfriend were arguing and that he pushed her. Officers said they found red marks on her chest, and she said Watson caused them.
Watson's girlfriend, Jenn Guardino, issued a statement in October taking blame for the incident and saying Watson would never hit or abuse her. In her statement, Guardino said she had "struggled with alcoholism for many years."
In his Instagram post, Watson said that he and his girlfriend were "engaged in a heated, nonphysical argument" that day. Watson said that both he and his girlfriend had relapsed in their battles with alcoholism during the month leading up to the incident.
"I did not cause marks on her chest or blood on her leg," Watson said. "I did handle matters that day poorly and did not uphold the standards of an employee of the Nashville Predators or National Hockey League.
"I take full responsibility for my involvement in the argument and have learned from the situation and taken the necessary steps to ensure that nothing of this nature happens again."
Watson added that he and his girlfriend are "healthy, happy and committed to our own individual sobriety as well as continuing to strengthen our relationship."
"We have learned from our mistakes and are excited to move forward in our relationship," Watson said. "We wish only to raise our daughter Olivia in the most healthy and loving atmosphere we can provide."
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