Latest Watson saga fallout raises stakes for everyone involved

Latest Watson saga fallout raises stakes for everyone involved
The Texans already may be accepting life without Watson. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Deshaun Watson had a good day last Friday, relatively speaking, as good a day as a 25-year-old quarterback who is demanding to be traded but there doesn't appear to be any team at the moment willing to take on a player with a $156 million contract who's being sued in civil court by 22 masseuses claiming inappropriate sexual behavior and is under criminal investigation by the Houston Police Department.

Friday it was announced that all 22 of the civil suits against the Houston Texans All-Pro quarterback will be consolidated during the pre-trial phase of the case. Also, the names of the 22 accusers must be made public before Friday.

This will boost Watson's position as it will help his lawyer Rusty Hardin to determine which, or all or none, of the masseuses are telling the truth in their accusations before the lawsuits go to court or are resolved in mediation.

"I think it's a critical first step in a journey of a thousand miles that will, in my estimation, result in the bulk of these cases being settled," according to Channel 2 legal analyst Brian Wice. "This is a step that benefits both sides. Neither side has to engage in hand-to-hand combat over 14 or 15 different venues."

Hardin held a press conference last week and got high marks for his folksy personality and respectful demeanor toward the accusers. A CBS Network legal contributor said Hardin clearly is "more likeable" than Tony Buzbee, the bombastic lawyer representing the 22 women accusing Watson of inappropriate sexual behavior.

What the legal analyst didn't say is, some might say that Hannibal Lecter is more likeable than Tony Buzbee. Likeable not, Buzbee's successful track record in court is undeniable.

The steady drip of lurid headline stories about Deshaun Watson and the 22 women accusers has turned into Shakespearean tragedy that is wrecking careers and lives. This needs to be resolved fast, one way or another, either in court or mediation.

Parents shouldn't have to worry about their children clicking on reputable mainstream sports websites and finding: "Content warning: This story contains details about alleged sexual abuse. The content may be difficult to read and emotionally upsetting."

Explicit court filings, also available online, are troubling reading, portraying Watson as a privileged sexual predator who doesn't believe rules apply to him. In two of the cases, Watson is accused of forcing a masseuse to perform a sex act on him.

However, the wheels of justice grind slowly and there doesn't seem to be an end to this nightmare any time soon. The stakes couldn't be higher. Either Watson is a serial sexual predator or the victim of an unimaginable character assassination and extortion plot.

For his part, Watson has denied all accusations of inappropriate behavior with the masseuses. On March 16, the day the first lawsuit was filed, Watson said on Twitter that he has "never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect." Eighteen other masseuses have come forward saying that Watson has never acted inappropriately with them.

Meanwhile, the 22 accusers are being ordered to put their names on their lawsuits and possibly face disparaging and unfair remarks about their motives and private lives. If you read the comments sections following published articles about the Watson saga, some Watson supporters, often anonymous, challenge the masseuses' honesty and integrity. Some comments are outrageous and sink to "slut-shaming," going so far as to equate the masseuses with sex workers.

Watson's lawyer Hardin admitted that the quarterback gets massages up to 150 times a year and consensual sex does sometimes occur. While not illegal if it's consensual, Watson's sexual history with masseuses does reveal a side to the quarterback that perhaps fans didn't expect, and certainly Watson didn't want revealed.

So far, Nike, Beats by Dre, and H-E-B have ended their endorsement deals with Watson. So has Reliant ("an NRG Company"), the corporation that owns the naming rights to the stadium where Watson plays.

Or played. Watson's demand to be traded apparently still holds, but that doesn't seem likely, at least until Watson's legal problems are resolved. The NFL Draft is April 29 and teams that might have been interested in Watson appear to be making other plans. Plus a suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could be coming Watson's way for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

The Texans already may be accepting life without Watson. Except for a brief glimpse of Watson in a background shot, the team has removed Watson, the face of the franchise, from its latest promotional video.

In collateral damage, the Houston Chronicle has dismissed Aaron Wilson, its Texans beat writer since 2015, after Wilson went on a Boston radio station and likened Watson's accusers to "terrorists."

Wilson said, "In his (Watson's) case, you know, it's kind of like you don't, you know, you don't negotiate with terrorists.

"People are demanding money, they're asking for money. It kept escalating, it kept going up and up and up. You're talking about more funds. I'm not going to say how much it got to, but my understanding is, you know, that there was an admission that, it was, you know, something, you know that this was, you know, just a money grab."

Wilson added that the women's lawyer Buzbee acted like "an ambulance chaser" by soliciting other masseuses who may have had an inappropriate experience with Watson to contact him.

The 22 women have sued Watson in civil court, where a money settlement is typically the goal. There's nothing unusual or suspicious about that.

After news of his firing was made public, Wilson acknowledged his error in judgment on Twitter: "I made a mistake that I fully understand and own. My efforts to convey perspectives on the situation clearly demonstrated an unintentional lack of sensitivity in the serious nature of these types of allegations. And I sincerely apologize for my remarks."

This is why it's smarter for news organizations to assign hard news, cityside reporters, who don't have a personal or, in some cases "fanboy," relationship with team personnel, to cover stories about coaches and players' off-field legal situations.

How's it all end? Borrowing from the brilliant philosopher and pro wrestling manager Paul Heyman … this is not a prediction, this is a spoiler.

Sometime in the next few months, too late for the Texans to trade him this season, Deshaun Watson will reach a financial settlement with his accusers. He will not admit guilt about anything, but say that he's made non-specific errors in how he deals with people in private situations, and will seek counseling. He will be suspended for eight or more games by the NFL.

The Texans ultimately will trade him for veritable pennies on the dollar. Nothing new about that, it seems to be the team's standard operating procedure.

Then the big question: who gets the exclusive TV interview with Watson? The early favorite is Gina Gaston, lead news anchor for Channel 13, the Texans longtime TV partner for pre-season games. Others in the running: Channel 26's Mark Berman, Channel 2's Vanessa Richardson and Channel 11's Matt Musil.

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