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Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-66-4673 or at https://rainn.org.
NFL season is just around the corner. As fans gear up for the upcoming season with weekend plans and their best gear to cheer on their favorite team, the NFL has experienced a dark side. More than 20 civil lawsuits have been filed against Deshaun Watson, accusing the quarterback of inappropriate conduct and sexual assault.
Who is Deshaun Watson?
Deshaun Watson is a quarterback drafted in the first round by the Houston Texans in 2017. As a starter, Watson helped the Texans make it into the playoffs back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. Although his team struggled at just 4-12 in the 2020 season, Watson managed to score 33 touchdowns, just seven interceptions, and a league-best 4,823 passing yards.
In March 2021, twenty-five women filed lawsuits accusing Watson of sexual misconduct during massage sessions. The lawsuits claim that the misconduct occurred between March 2020 and March 2021 during Watson’s time with the Houston Texans, his former team. One of the lawsuits was dropped following the judge’s ruling in April 2021.
Two separate Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints, but the quarterback didn’t steer clear from facing consequences from the NFL. Watson denied wrongdoing and agreed to help the organization in its investigation phase.
Deshaun Watson and Sexual Assault Lawsuits
There were initially 25 lawsuits filed against Watson. However, one plaintiff dropped her suit when the judge ruled that her petition included her name.
All lawsuits filed against Watson seem to have a pattern of behavior. According to the lawsuits, Watson would direct the massages into a sexual matter: asking the women to engage in intercourse, directing their hands to his private area, and touching them with his genitalia.
The massages occurred in various locations, including hotel rooms, spas, and Watson’s home and office. The number of massages is higher than the number represented by the lawsuits.
Currently, Deshaun Watson has settled 23 out of 24 lawsuits. In addition to the 24 women who filed lawsuits, there were two who filed criminal complaints. During his suspension, Watson cannot have contact with Browns’ personnel. A trial for the last lawsuit is expected in the spring of 2023. However, Watson wasn’t the only one involved in litigation.
Lawsuits against Houston Texans
After being accused of enabling Watson’s behavior, the Houston Texans reached confidential settlements with 30 women with claims related to Watson. One lawsuit said that the organization knew or should’ve known about Watson’s behavior, including unwanted touching during massages.
A lawsuit filed on June 27 states that Watson used the Houston Texans’ resources for his massage therapy. This included setting up his room at the Houstonian Hotel with massage tables for the private massage sessions. In addition, the head security of the Texans provided non-disclosure forms. By settling the claims, the Houston Texans will be able to close the door and avoid more lawsuits and the discovery of more evidence.
What Were the Repercussions Watson Faced from the NFL?
The NFL independently investigated whether Watson violated the league’s personal-conduct policy after he was accused of sexual assault and misconduct during massage sessions.
The best the league indicated it was willing to offer for the offense was an 11-game suspension and a fine in the range of $5 million, sources say. In addition, the settlement states that Watson must go without pay during that time and that he must also undergo a behavioral treatment program.
The league and players union initially agreed to use an arbitrator to decide on a punishment. In August 2022, the arbitrator, a former federal judge, recommended a six-game suspension. However, The NFL appealed that decision in an effort to extend his suspension.
Watson’s 11-game suspension will begin in Week 1 of the regular season, and he will return to the field on Dec. 4, when the Browns play the Houston Texans, Watson’s former team. As long as Watson abides by the league’s provisions, he can return to the Browns’ training facility on Oct. 10, just about halfway through his suspension. He can resume practice on Nov. 14 and be officially reinstated two weeks later.
Watson’s $5 million fine and $1 million contributions each from the Browns and the NFL– totaling $7 million– will go to a fund to support the work of organizations across the country to educate young people on healthy relationships and promote education and prevention of sexual misconduct.
The Carlson Law Firm Can Help
The Carlson Law Firm is dedicated to raising the voices of victims silenced by their abusers. Our firm has some of the best legal advocates to elevate your voice in the courtroom. Our sexual abuse attorneys will investigate all the details surrounding your case and help seek the proper compensation. We care, and we can help.