Updated Tuesday, June 14, 2022 @ 1:24 p.m.
Hours after a Houston TV station reported that two more lawsuits were planned against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watston, the signal caller broke a nearly three-month silence on the issue.
Speaking with reporters from the team’s facility in Berea, Ohio, Watson again denied that he ever participated in non-consensual sexual activity with any of the 24 women currently suing him in Texas over those accusations, and said that it’s been “tough” focusing on his new role while dealing with the legal action against him and the constant publicity about the lawsuits.
“I’ve never forced anyone,’’ Watson said after the first day of mandatory minicamp. “I’ve never assaulted anyone. I’ve been saying it from the beginning and I’m going to continue to say it.’’
He added, “I understand these allegations are very serious. ...I’m focused on clearing my name.’’
Watson spoke during a media availability after the Browns’ first day of mandatory minicamp, which is an offseason light practice commonly held in early summer by NFL teams.
Local NBC-affiliate KPRC reported this morning that Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing all of the plaintiffs against Watson, is preparing to file two more lawsuits against the embattled pro football signal caller. That would bring the total number of civil lawsuits against Watson to 26.
The previous 24 lawsuits all make similar allegations: that during his time as the Houston Texans’ franchise quarterback, contracted with multiple female massage therapists, then engaged in non-consensual and inappropriate behavior during the massage sessions. That behavior allegedly included exposing himself, requesting oral sex, touching the women with his penis, masturbating and ejaculating during the massage sessions.
A New York Times investigation published last week found that Watson had engaged some 66 therapists for massages, despite having access to massage therapy through the Texans’ medical and training staff. The Times report also found that Watson had paid a woman who owned a massage parlor to arrange sessions for him, that there are some women who make similar allegations against him but decided not to pursue lawsuits and that the Texans provided Watson with a non-disclosure agreement that he had massage therapists sign, as well as a membership to an exclusive Houston hotel-club where some of the alleged activities took place.
Last week, Buzbee said he would add the Texans and unnamed others to the existing lawsuits as defendants.
Watson has acknowledged consensual sexual activity with some of the women, but has always denied accusations of non-consensual acts. Today, he disputed the number of massage therapists that the Times reported he had contact with and also expressed contrition for some of his past comments.
He said he he has no regrets about his behavior in the massage appointments, but does regret that his words during his introductory press conference that he has no regrets triggered so many people. He understands how many people have been hurt by sexual misconduct.
The slow-drip of new accusations hovers over Watson’s attempt to move forward in his new job with the Browns, who exchanged a package of valuable draft picks with the Texans for the quarterback and then signed him to a record $230 million, five-year deal. When they announced the trade in March, Browns executives said they had investigated the situation and were prepared to deal with the fallout.
But although two Texas grand juries had already declined to criminally charge Watson at that point, at least two lawsuits had yet to be filed. There has been recent pressure for the team to again publicly address the allegations of their new quarterback, ahead of a season in which it’s possible Watson won’t even be permitted to play.
NFL officials met with Watson last month in Houston to discuss his case but haven’t announced potential discipline against him, which could include a suspension, fines or both under the league’s personal conduct policy. That policy doesn’t require criminal charges or a judgement against a player in civil court for discipline to be meted out. And it has been used in a similar instance to suspend now-retired Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for four games after he was accused of sexual assault twice early in his career.
Watson currently has 12 times as many accusers who have filed suit against him than Roethlisberger did at the time of his suspension by the NFL.