HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Stacy Lewis has a great story to tell

Stacy Lewis was honored at Augusta. Courtesy photo

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Stacy Lewis shook her head as she watched her acceptance notes  disappear from her phone.

She was shifting hands as she prepared to pose for a picture with a cast bronze statue of Ben Hogan – her trophy for winning the 2018  Hogan Award -- and, before she could step to the microphone, she was in reboot-mode.

No sweat.

A minute later, the former No. 1 female player in the world delivered the line of the night at the annual the Golf Writers Association of America Awards dinner in Augusta, Ga.

“Just so you know,’’ she grinned, “a golfer has reached No. 1 in the world and won major championships already with a back fusion.’’

Point taken. Writers have been so swept up with Tiger Woods’ latest comeback – this from spinal fusion – they forgot about Lewis, who had back fusion in the summer of 2003.

Diagnosed with scoliosis as a child, the Houstonian wore a back brace for years, but, when she was 18, the curvature was still there and she underwent surgery. She redshirted her first year at Arkansas.

By 2014, she had won two majors, had been Rolex Player of the Year twice, had two Vare Trophies (lowest scoring average on the LPGA Tour) and earned the LPGA’s 2014 money title. In 2016, she finished just off the medal stand at the Rio Olympics, tying for fourth.

Lewis was sidelined with an oblique strain earlier this year, but returned to competition at last week’s ANA Inspiration, the women’s first major of the year. She finished tied for 55th, then she flew to Augusta where she accepted her award Wednesday night and she and her family spent a few days watching the first men’s major of the season.

Lewis has won the writers’ Player of the Year award twice and may soon be in line as a nominee for another award – this one for giving back, something Lewis does constantly.

A week after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last fall, Lewis won the Portland Cambia Classic. She celebrated snapping a 39-month winless drought by donating her $195,000 winner’s check to Hurricane Harvey relief. Her sponsor KMPG matched that and Marathon Petroleum donated $1 million.

She invited Mackenzie McRee, a 14-year-old junior player from Arizona who has scoliosis who competed at the Drive, Chip & Putt Finals Sunday, to sit with her at the awards dinner.

“I just thought it would be a cool experience for her to come here, meet some players and enjoy this,’’ she said. “… For me, it’s all about just being there for those kids and letting them know they’re not alone in (scoiosis).’’

Lewis made sure to introduce McRee to world No. 2 Justin Thomas, who was at the dinner to accept the writers’ 2017 Player of the Year award,  and spend about five minutes with him.

Lewis, who is the subject of an upcoming ESPN 30-for-30, admitted the years she wore the back brace were some of the most uncomfortable times ever, but, the brace and the surgery were, eventually, blessings in disguise.

“I learned that if I put in the effort and the time, I could reach my goals and even surpass them,’’ she said a few years ago. “You never know how high you'll be able to go if you don't let the condition define your limits.’’

She opens up about her journey to make sure McRee and others with the same condition know they’re not alone. And, after years of not wanting to talk about the journey, she is proud to share the story.

The normal way to do the surgery Lewis underwent was to go in from the back, but her surgeon, Houston orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gary Brock, chose to go in from the side.

He had won a raffle ticket for a free golf lesson before the surgery and, after the lesson, he called Lewis’ parents – Dale and Carol Lewis – to tell them he needed to perform the surgery from the side so she could have better rotation and flexibility.

“I was talking to (Brock) the other day and it turns out I’ve been a case study,’’ she said. “They’re convinced if they had done the surgery another way, I wouldn’t have been the golfer I am today.

“It’s amazing how little things in life move you in the right direction.”

As she wrapped up her note-less speech, she paused to thank her parents and her voice began to shake.

“Mom always said ‘You’re going to have a great story to tell one day,‘’ Lewis said. “And mom was right.’’


 

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Watson's accusers appeared on Real Sports on Tuesday night. Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images.

HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’s heavily promoted and much anticipated examination of Deshaun Watson’s legal mess involving alleged sexual misconduct shed little new light and merely presented a summary of well worn he said/she (x22) said accusations and denials.

The episode debuted Tuesday night on the premium cable service and will be repeated dozens of times throughout the week on HBO’s platforms. Check your local listings for times and channel.

The segment was hosted by Soledad O’Brien who presented compelling face-to-face interviews with two of the quarterback’s accusers: massage therapists Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes. Their stories were detailed and graphic. Both cried during the interviews.

Solis: “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. I pulled my hand away instantly and I started crying. I told that I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Solis said she felt threatened when Watson, before leaving the session, allegedly told her: “I know you have a career to protect, and I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

Solis added, “That’s when I got really scared because that sounded like a threat to me.”

Hayes: “He wanted me to kind of make a V motion in his pelvic area. I just kept massaging and did what he asked, until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it.”

Hayes said that Watson had an orgasm, which she said was “mortifying, embarrassing and disgusting.”

O’Brien asked Hayes why she continued to have contact via email with Watson after their encounter.

Hayes: "I wasn't sure what he was capable of. He could've physically assaulted me. He could've bashed my business, so I had to protect myself and my business the best way I saw fit. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes."

O’Brien pointed out that two separate grand juries in Texas heard criminal accusations against Watson and neither found enough evidence to indict him.

Solis and Hayes, and 20 other massage therapists have filed civil suits against Watson. The cases aren’t expected to reach a courtroom until next March. Both sides could reach a settlement before then which would effectively shut down any legal action against Watson. However, both sides say they aren’t interested in any pretrial settlements. That’s what they say now, anyway.

After being banished to the sidelines for the 2021 season by the Houston Texans, Watson signed a historic, 5-year fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Hayes said she feels Watson “is being rewarded for bad behavior." Solis said, "It's just like a big screw you. That's what it feels like. That we (the Browns) don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”

Watson currently is participating in preseason workouts with the Browns and, at the moment, is cleared to play the upcoming NFL season.

That is unless the NFL suspends Watson for some, most or all of the 2022 season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is nearing completion of its independent investigation into Watson’s case and will reach a decision “shortly,” probably this summer. The NFL and NFL Players Association mutually agreed to have former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson decide whether or not Watson violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and what discipline should be handed down if he did.

The Browns are scheduled to play the Texans on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

O’Brien said, while producing the Real Sports piece, she tried to interview Watson, his attorneys and the Cleveland Browns for their side of the story. All declined.

During a press conference in March to announce his joining the Browns, Watson denied any inappropriate behavior with the massage therapists.

Watson: “I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman. I was raised to be genuine and respect everyone around me. I’ve never done the thing that these people are alleging. My mom and my aunties didn’t raise me that way.”

Leah Graham, a member of Watson’s legal team, sat for an interview after O’Brien’s segment was complete.

Graham: "It's 22 women. It's one lawyer. There's only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. (Houston attorney Tony) Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

My reaction after watching the Real Sports segment? We weren’t in the room when the massage therapists worked on Watson. We weren’t in the grand jury room when evidence against Watson was presented. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what will happen if these cases go to trial.

Until then all we have is one big, lurid, embarrassing mess. In American courtrooms, defendants are presumed innocent. That’s often the opposite in the court of public opinion. We’ll just have to wait while the wheels of justice grind painfully slow.

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