WHO'S TELLING THE TRUTH?
Here’s how dark a worst-case scenario for Watson, Texans could really get
The number of women filing civil lawsuits claiming that Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson sexually assaulted them now stands at 14. And counting. The lawsuits are available for the public to read on the Harris County district clerk's website. The details are graphic and paint Watson as an entitled, aggressive sexual predator. Twelve of the incidents allegedly occurred in 2020. Two allegedly happened this year, one as recently as this month. Tony Buzbee, lawyer for the women, say more women have come forward about unwelcomed sexual encounters with Watson and more lawsuits may be filed.
Watson insists that the allegations are false and he has always treated women with the "utmost respect." If these lawsuits ever reach court, it will be left for a jury to decide who's telling the truth: Deshaun Watson or 14 or more women.
He says, they say.
It would appear that Watson's lawyer Rusty Hardin has one job now: make this all go away and fast. Deshaun Watson's reputation, image and desire to be traded away from the Houston Texans are taking a daily beating, from which there may be no rescue unless Buzbee's tortuous, steady drip, drip, drip of lawsuits stops.
While a courtroom battle between Hardin and Buzbee would make great theater, with salacious testimony involving sex and celebrity, the rich and powerful against the poor and defenseless, it's in the best interests of both sides to resolve these lawsuits privately, out of the public's glare.
Here is one possible scenario: Watson and his accusers reach a financial settlement and sign non-disclosure agreements. Watson does not admit guilt. After teams lower their trade offers, he will play one more year with the Texans during which he is jeered mercilessly at road games. The Texans will trade him after next season.
That's a possible best case scenario for Watson.
Buzbee insists the lawsuits are not about money. "I personally don't need it, and the women don't want it," he said during a press conference. The lawsuits all seek minimal compensatory damages. That could change if Hardin calls and says let's make a deal.
Of course, Watson is presumed innocent of all these allegations. Civil lawsuits are not arrest warrants or guilty verdicts. Anybody can sue anybody for any reason. However, Watson needs to end this now, before the Houston Police Department and Harris Country district attorney decide to conduct an investigation and possibly file criminal charges. While a criminal case could proceed despite an out-of-court settlement and without the cooperation of the accusers, it is less likely.
"The sooner Rusty makes the civil cases go away, the less likely the criminal investigation would ever reach critical mass," said lawyer Brian Wice, Channel 2's legal analyst and winner of the 2016 "Percy Foreman Attorney of the Year" award.
While Hardin and Buzbee are two of the most famous and successful lawyers in the U.S., and both would love to notch a win against the other in court, neither wants this case to get that far for a simple reason …the loser has too much too lose.
If a jury sides with Watson, then Buzbee and the accusers have a lot to explain. Was this a frame job against a young, accomplished athlete? Who came up with this plot? There will be questions of whether the Houston Texans were involved in the takedown of Watson. It is stunning to listen to sports talk radio in Houston and hear fans accuse the Texans, specifically team owner Cal ("or Hal," according to Buzbee) McNair and his spiritual advisor Jack Easterby of colluding with Buzbee and the accusers. It is not a theory shared in the national media.
If a jury were to decide against Watson, that would destroy a glittering NFL career and possibly expose him to a criminal charges where a guilty verdict could compel him to register as a lifetime sex offender.
A drawn-out legal battle could last months, well past Texans training camp and the start of the 2021 NFL season. The NFL is not the NBA. An NBA team plays 82 games, so each game is less important than football's 16-game schedule. An NBA player can miss occasional games because he has to be in a courtroom. An NFL player, especially a star quarterback, can't miss games for non-injury reasons and weekday practices are critical to prepare for Sunday.
The NFL is conducting a separate investigation to determine if Watson violated the league's personal conduct code. While there are no guarantees, and again Watson is presumed innocent of all these allegations, a fast out-of-court settlement may help him avoid suspension or other punishment.
According to NFL insiders, several teams still are interested in trading for Watson. However, "interested" and willing to trade equal value are two different things. Any team trading for Watson while he is under investigation for sexual assault can expect howls of protest from social justice groups, ticket holders and fans. If teams can get Watson for pennies on the dollar, though, they might be willing to absorb bad publicity in exchange for winning.