3RD LAWSUIT FILED
How Watson lawsuits serve as cautionary tale of accusation, perception and perspective
A few years ago, a friend and I were talking, "Who, if they were caught taking steroids or arrested for drugs or domestic violence, would absolutely devastate the city where they played?"
Our final answer was: J.J. Watt. That's how beloved and respected he was in Houston, a modern day superhero and role model. Seemingly the perfect person.
We're not there yet with Deshaun Watson. But since arriving in Houston, he's made all the right moves, starting his rookie season in 2017 by donating his first game paycheck to NRG Stadium employees whose lives were turned upside down by Hurricane Harvey. Over the past four years, Watson has been a fine citizen and dazzling quarterback for the Houston Texans. With Watt's departure for Arizona, Watson is the brightest sports star in Houston.
Of course Watson's luster has been tarnished of late with his demand that the Texans trade him out of Houston. Somehow he remains the fans' favorite, a rare case where the public is siding with a superstar who wants to leave the city. We get it. Watson deserves better.
Then late Tuesday night, celebrity lawyer Tony Buzbee announced on Instagram that he was filing a civil lawsuit accusing Watson of sexual misconduct with a masseuse back in March 2020. That was followed with another lawsuit Wednesday, packed with lurid, step-by-step details about an encounter with a different masseuse at the Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa in August 2020.
Thursday morning, a third lawsuit was filed, this one claiming that Watson physically forced a masseuse to perform a sex act on him. Buzbee says a fourth, fifth and sixth lawsuits are on their way.
Watson, who has kept silent during his drawn out demand to be traded, spoke up immediately Tuesday night. In a social media post, he insisted that he's innocent of the claims in these lawsuits. Watson wrote, "I have never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect."
Watson claimed that Buzbee, before filing the first lawsuit, tried to shake him down for "six-figure" hush money. Watson concluded, "this isn't about money for me – it's about clearing my name and I look forward to doing that."
Buzbee says that he's received death threats and his children have been harassed since he filed the lawsuits against Watson. Buzbee insists that he will not litigate his clients' charges in the press. It does look that he will make his case on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, however.
This is where it stands today: is Deshaun Watson, Houston's highly paid, coveted and admired quarterback a sleazebag sexual predator, or is he the innocent victim of blackmail and character assassination orchestrated by a bombastic, publicity-seeking lawyer for some unknown reason, possibly revenge for Watson wanting to leave the Houston Texans?
Already wild conspiracy theories abound on social media and sports talk radio. Is Buzbee fronting for Texans management in an attempt to destroy Watson's reputation so other NFL teams will get cold feet on dealing for Watson? Is Buzbee, a former Republican candidate for mayor, exacting payback for Watson's activism on social issues? Or is Buzbee simply seeking to bring down a high profile professional athlete to stroke his ego and lure more clients?
In his Instagram post Tuesday night, Buzbee claimed, "I love football as much as the next person (although I've never been a Texans fan)."
In 2014, Buzbee, an A&M graduate, paid to erect several billboards around Houston imploring the Texans to draft Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel, whom Buzbee called "the greatest college football player ever." In a recent social media post, Buzbee refered to Texans owner Cal McNair as "my neighbor" in River Oaks.
Buzbee says he is not filing these lawsuits seeking fame or financial reward, but to fight for justice for his clients – "it takes a lot of guts to stand up to the powerful when you are perceived powerless."
The case may take months or longer to wind its way through court, if there aren't quiet private settlements to make all this go away. When a trade to move Watson is made, the quarterback's advisors may wish to avoid press reports that include "Watson currently is being sued by several women for inappropriate sexual behavior."
While fans and society in general tend to glamorize football stars like Watson, we really know little about them other than their accomplishments on the gridiron and what their personal management wants us to know. Even if these lawsuits ultimately do reach a courtroom, we still may not know what went on between Watson and the women. With multiple lawsuits, we will have a classic case of "he says, they say."
It's important to remember that Watson is guilty of nothing at the moment. Lawsuits are merely accusations. Anybody can file a lawsuit against anybody for anything.
However, these accusations are serious and should be taken seriously. We should hold judgment. The Texans released a statement saying little except they are aware of the lawsuits. The NFL has made no comment.
Often accusations of predator behavior are used as political or personal weapons. Deshaun Watson is not a government official whose decisions affect our daily lives. He is a quarterback. While many of us may think that's a more important position than elected official, we should take a deep breath and let this play out.
Wherever Deshaun Watson plays next season.