As the NFL’s 15-month investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Deshaun Watson neared a resolution, one of his accusers filed suit on Monday against Watson’s former team, the Houston Texans. , alleging that the organization had “turned a blind eye” to Watson’s behavior towards female massage. therapists.
Watson, a quarterback who was traded to the Cleveland Browns in March, reached settlements last week with 20 of 24 women who have accused him of assaulting or harassing them during massage dates that took place. place between 2020 and 2021, while he was on the Texans. listing. The civil suit against the Texans was filed by one of four women who did not settle with Watson. She said the team enabled her behavior by providing Watson with a nondisclosure agreement to give to therapists and providing the location he used for some of his appointments, as reported by the New York. Times earlier this month.
“We are aware of the lawsuit filed against us today,” the Texans said in a written statement Monday. “Since March 2021, we have fully supported and respected law enforcement and the various investigations. We will continue to take the necessary steps to respond to the allegations against our organization. »
Watson has repeatedly denied all charges and, through his attorneys, has admitted having had consensual sexual contact with three of the women who sued him. In March, two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges. Between those rejected deals, the Browns traded for Watson, signing him to an unprecedented, fully guaranteed five-year deal worth $230 million.
The lawsuit against the Texans was filed the day before Watson was scheduled to appear in an NFL disciplinary hearing with former federal judge Sue L. Robinson, an arbitrator jointly appointed by the league and players’ union. It is the league’s first personal conduct case to be heard by a disciplinary officer instead of commissioner Roger Goodell, a protocol set out in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement.
In briefing documents provided to Robinson and the union ahead of the hearing, the NFL recommended that Watson be suspended indefinitely and that he should wait at least a full season to seek reinstatement, according to two people who reviewed the documents. of the league. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the NFL has not publicly commented on the findings of its investigation.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the NFL’s recommendation.
The hearing was scheduled because the league and Watson’s representatives were unable to negotiate a mutually agreed-upon penalty, indicating there is a wide gap between what each side would agree to. An indefinite suspension would give the league the flexibility to adjust its discipline if new allegations were made against Watson or if new information relevant to the investigation came to light through avenues such as pending civil cases or the new lawsuit. brought against the Texans.
The union was expected to argue against a significant penalty, in what will be the first test of the new disciplinary process. The NFL Players Association can appeal Robinson’s decision, and that appeal would be heard by Goodell or someone he chooses.
During their investigation, NFL investigators interviewed 10 of the women who filed lawsuits against Watson, as well as other witnesses, including women who worked for the massage therapy group under contract with the Texans. The league first met Watson last month for several days of talks.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the NFL based its case for a lengthy suspension of Watson on the accounts of five women who the league said had the strongest evidence, including contemporary corroboration. A detective who led the Houston police investigation into Watson said in a deposition for civil suits that of the 10 criminal complaints filed against Watson, the strongest evidence came from the cases of Ashley Solis – the first accuser of Watson – and a woman who has not been publicly identified, who said Watson ejaculated on her during their second massage appointment.
Both women have met with NFL investigators and are among four civil plaintiffs who have not settled with Watson.
Solis’ lawsuit alleged that Watson deliberately touched his hand with his erect and exposed penis during a massage in March 2020. Watson said in a deposition in the case that he apologized to Solis via text message after their date to make her feel uncomfortable, and went on to describe her as “tears in her eyes” at the end of the massage, although he said he didn’t know why.
A woman Solis worked with also reached out to a veteran massage therapist on Facebook the day after Solis’ session with Watson, writing that her colleague had been “solicited” by a professional athlete and didn’t know what to do.
The second plaintiff, the woman who also sued the Texans, massaged Watson twice during separate dates at her mother’s house in Manvel, Texas, a suburb of Houston, in November 2020. She claimed that Watson had ejaculated on her during the second massage and asked to schedule another date with her later that day. She agreed but then canceled shortly after, according to text message records. The woman ignored Watson’s other attempts to contact her and eventually blocked him.
This woman told a friend who played in the NFL about her experience with Watson. She asked for advice because she was just starting out as a massage therapist and she had mutual friends with Watson. Speaking on condition of anonymity to protect his privacy, he confirmed she reached out after the massage and said she felt uncomfortable during the session. He said he told her that if she didn’t feel comfortable, she wouldn’t have to work with Watson again.
He said he spoke to NFL investigators as a contemporary witness.
One of five stories the league asked the disciplinary officer to consider came from a woman who told Sports Illustrated about her experience with Watson, according to a person who reviewed NFL briefing materials. . During their November 2019 massage appointment, the woman said Watson deliberately exposed himself, told her she could move his uncovered penis, and started thrusting his pelvis into the air after he developed a erection.
She told the therapist who had set the appointment, and later, when Watson again tried to make an appointment with her, she told him in a message that he had made her feel uncomfortable. .
The woman did not file a complaint or a police report and, according to her lawyer, did not participate in the NFL’s investigation. League investigators do not have the power of subpoena, so their investigation relies on the voluntary participation of witnesses and the acquisition of evidence gathered through criminal or civil proceedings.