The NFL has never investigated cases like the Deshawn Watson case.
Investigations by other NFL players usually involve few incidents. In contrast, 22 women sued Watson for sexual harassment during massage sessions in four states.
This gives the league 22 cases against the Houston quarterback that can be dismissed based on the results, whether or not he is charged with a crime after a separate investigation by the Houston police.
One case is enough to justify discipline, said former NFL operations and litigation adviser Jody Balsam, now an associate professor at Brooklyn Law School. Thus, even if they cannot come to a determination after 20 cases, but in one case it is a clear episode of sexual violence or harassment in some form, this is enough to impose disciplinary sanctions. They do not need to resolve every factual dispute on a case-by-case basis to justify discipline.
Deshawn Watson was charged with sexual harassment by 22 women in separate lawsuits.
So what are the most problematic things for him?
Two of the 22 lawsuits appear to be more serious than the others because they accuse him of sexual assault.
Another case stands out for its timing.
The latter happened on March 5, according to the lawsuit filed by a massage therapist from Georgia. Depending on the point of view, this can make Watson look really bad or really innocent, which raises another problem regarding the scope of the league’s investigation: even if the case is not critical in itself, any of them can provide clues that will add to the pile of evidence. … for or against his fault.
In the March 5 case, the meeting with the massage therapist is the most recent alleged incident in 22 lawsuits against Watson, with most others accusing him of misconduct in 2020, Watson denies the charges.
It is also the only case that occurred during a sensitive time on the case schedule. It was 11 days before the first woman made her legal action public on March 16, but just weeks after Watson was warned not to have the habit of massaging strangers on social media.
In fact, Watson was alerted by his own sports agency Athletes First after another Texas therapist, Ashley Solis, attempted to resolve her misconduct lawsuit against Watson privately through lawyers out of court in February.
Prior to that, in mid-January, another woman spoke to the Watson marketing manager at Athletes First and asked for an agreement to keep quiet about her meeting with Watson, according to marketing manager Brian Bernie.
Those attempts were unsuccessful, and according to her lawsuit, in early March, Watson contacted a therapist in Georgia to book a $ 55 discount on Instagram. Watson’s lawyer admitted in the trial record that Watson had contacted the woman in such a way as to hire her for a massage.
According to lawyers on each side, this can mean one of two things:
Or the NFL star ignored the warning about her behavior and continued the sexual harassment model, according to plaintiffs attorney Tony Buzby, who represents all 22 women. Or a therapist in Georgia is lying about what happened to get money from him, like the other 21 women, according to Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin. Women seek compensation for damages in their claims.
For him to resume this behavior following the conclusion of the lawsuit, following a warning from his own support network … that pattern is reckless to say the least, Balm told USA TODAY Sports, referring to Watson’s pattern of contacting strangers on social media for messages. … It could also indicate some kind of addictive or compulsive behavior.
Watson’s lawyers said Watson reached out to massage therapists in this way for a variety of reasons: because that’s where they advertised – on Instagram – and because of his busy schedule and changes to it during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to his social media accounts, 25-year-old Watson was in his native Georgia in late February to promote charity. In an Instagram post on March 7, he posted about this video, thanking those who helped.
At the very least, Watson’s behavior when dealing with a massage therapist would appear to be extremely reckless … after being warned that another therapist had complained about his behavior during a previous massage, said Kenneth Williams, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston. This could undermine his defenses, but he could also use it to claim that he did not believe he had done anything wrong or inappropriate to Solis.
In April, the agency representing Watson cited settlement discussions with Solis in February.
We believed then – and we fully believe now – that Deshawn learned a lesson about how to put himself in this situation by talking to people he doesn’t know, says a statement released April 6 by Scott Guffield, Athletes First General Counsel.
Then why would he mess with another massage therapist he didn’t know in Georgia in a few weeks?
According to Athletes First, the two women demanded a settlement from Watson before March. The first did so in mid-January, when Bernie spoke to a woman who asked for $ 30,000 in exchange for her “indefinite silence” about her alleged meeting with Watson, according to Bernie’s written statement released by the Watson March legal group. 23. But what exactly she wanted to settle, I did not understand, – wrote Bernie.
Burnie also wrote that the woman confirmed that everything that happened was agreed upon during her meeting with Deshawn. Burney said that the man claiming to be the woman’s business manager then said the request was not extortion. This is chantage.
I informed this person that Deshawn would not pay the $ 30,000 requested, ”Bernie wrote.
Since then, Watson’s legal team has identified the woman as a massage therapist, who said Watson contacted her on Instagram in December. The woman filed a lawsuit against Watson on March 17 and is one of two plaintiffs accused of sexual assault.
Another woman who filed a lawsuit against Watson before March was Solis. She said that Watson opened up to her and made her touch her genitals during a massage after he contacted her on Instagram in March 2020. She insisted on her lawsuit privately in February after hiring Buzby, who said she was his only client at the time.
On her behalf, Buzby’s firm approached Athletes First and demanded $ 100,000 from Watson to resolve Solis’s complaint and prevent her from publicly filing a lawsuit.
In response, Guffield said he did not believe Solis’s claim and rejected the figure, but said he was willing to pay Solis a reasonable amount of settlement because we believe he can learn a lesson from being in this situation according to emails. released in February by Watson Legal Group.
However, this lesson apparently went unnoticed by Watson. On March 3, Watson sent a Georgia massage therapist a message via Instagram to express her interest in a $ 55 discounted massage, according to her lawsuit. The two met on March 5, when she said that Watson had been exposed to her and forced her to touch her genitals – a description of the events that matches that of Solis and many other plaintiffs.
Gaffield declined to comment further on Friday and referred to his April statement. The statement read: “We were ready to continue discussions on behalf of Deshawn to explore ways to prevent a lawsuit and public spectacle.” But Mr. Buzby informed us that he does not want to do this. We hope that this issue will be resolved in court.
By itself, seeking massage from strangers on social media does not justify disciplinary action, even after you have been warned of the risks associated with famous athletes. But even if he did nothing wrong, and it was all for the money, Watson apparently willingly went for it again with another stranger from Instagram, despite the lesson in February.
In his defense, Watson’s legal team portrayed him as a victim of a scheme of several masseuses. Hardin has previously stated that all of their accusations stunned Watson and that Watson reacted to them like madness.
In a court document filed on April 19, Hardin essentially argued that Solis caused a gold rush of copycat lawsuits when she filed the first lawsuit.
The Georgia woman filed a lawsuit on March 22, less than three weeks after she said she met Watson, and less than a week after Solis filed the first lawsuit against Watson on March 16.
Hardin’s documentation states that the Georgia woman has since destroyed evidence by deleting her Instagram account, and that witnesses describe her as a money robber.
How the NFL interprets competing narratives is part of a process that could drag on until 2022. The NFL will likely want to investigate the Houston police before deciding on any punishment. But the NFL does not need to bring criminal charges to remove Watson from acting in accordance with its personal conduct policy.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may assign a player to a paid administrative job if circumstances and evidence require it to involve behavior that is dangerous to the safety or well-being of another person, in accordance with policy.