4 questions that will tip the scales on Deshaun Watson's legal, professional future

The New York Times investigation of Watson raised more questions. Composite image by Brandon Strange

You know Deshaun Watson is having a bad week when his lawyer Rusty Hardin goes on radio and defends Watson (or as he explained later, men in general) having “happy endings’' during supposedly therapeutic massages as nothing unusual, certainly not illegal …

… and that’s the best thing that happened for Watson.

On Tuesday, the New York Times dropped a bombshell story by sports writer Jenny Vrentas alleging that Watson hired at least 66 different women for massages over a 17-month period, not the 40 women Watson claims during his 5-year career with the Houston Texans.

Watson has admitted finding some of the women on Instagram. Some worked at a massage business in a strip center on I-45. Some of the women he hired to massage him were not licensed to give massages in Texas.

The Times investigation was a brutal takedown of a superstar athlete at the height of his professional career.

The article quoted several women describing in graphic, lurid and degrading detail how Watson attempted to lure them into engaging in sex acts, succeeding in some cases.

“At least 66 different women.”

The number has continually risen since March 16, 2021 when lawyer Tony Buzbee announced on Instagram that he was filing a lawsuit against Watson for sexual misconduct. The current number is 24 active suits.

Watson has admitted to having sex with three of the masseuses, but insists that each time the act was consensual, initiated by the women, occurred after the massage and he didn’t pay extra for sex.

The New York Times investigation also claimed that the Houston Texans, if not knowing accomplices, were enablers in Watson’s massage spree. The article claimed that the Texans provided Watson with a membership at the Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa where he invited several of the women to hotel rooms for massage sessions.

The article alleges that a Texans staffer provided Watson with the nondisclosure paperwork that Watson insisted the women sign before he paid them. Tony Buzbee, the lawyer representing the two dozen women who filed civil lawsuits against Watson, now says he will include the Texans as defendants when the cases reach trial, most likely early in 2023.

Watson, the Browns and the NFL have declined comment about the Times article. The Texans say they have cooperated with various investigations into the Watson matter and will continue to do so. Hardin said, “we can say when the real facts are known this issue will appear in a different light."

The article noted that two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal charges. The article noted that the Harris County prosecutor for sexual cases spoke or emailed Hardin dozens of times before the grand jury decision, while contacting Buzbee only once. Buzbee has said he felt “duped.”

The Times article presents a much different side to Watson than the golden boy image he brought to Houston after winning the national championship with Clemson in 2017. The article describes Watson as a demanding, entitled athlete who hired masseuses with full intentions of having sex with them. The Times also interviewed several women who said Watson behaved properly and did not pursue sex with them. Most, however, said that Watson had sex on his mind during their encounters.

Watson and Hardin have said the parade of masseuses began in 2020 when the Covid pandemic arrived. The Times article says Watson started his pursuit of non-team affiliated masseuses much earlier.

Several of the women who accused Watson of aggressive, sexual behavior in the Times article have not filed civil suits against Watson so accusations by Watson defenders that these women are gold diggers don’t hold.

Reaction to Hardin’s comments about happy endings and the Times article have been swift and vicious. While some defend Watson and claim the masseuses and Buzbee merely are money grubbers out for personal gain, the overwhelming response has been against Watson.

Sports Illustrated has called for the Browns to sideline Watson until the civil suits are resolved. ESPN analysts say it’s time to stop using “comfortable language” like “inappropriate” and “misconduct” and call Watson what they believe he is, a sexual predator. Online comments call Watson a serial liar – to the media, to fans, the NFL, and prosecutors.

When announcing their trade for Watson, the Browns released a statement saying, “We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun Watson. He was humble, sincere and candid in our conversation.”

The Browns have had no comment since the Times article appeared. Watson has had no contact with the media since the press conference announcing his arrival in Cleveland, during which he said he has never “assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life.” He has denied all the accusations from the start.

Now some question if the Browns did any investigation of Watson before trading for the quarterback and rewarding him with an unprecedented 5-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract.

Did the Browns investigate then what the Times article alleges now? If they did, and the allegations prove true, would they still have traded for Watson, and what would that say about their values? If they didn’t, what does it say about the organization’s professionalism?

Most important, will the Times article have an effect on the NFL’s decision what, if any, punishment will be meted out against Watson?

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