The Deshaun Watson saga keeps getting uglier, but the newest details shed equal light not only on the NFL quarterback’s alleged sexual misconduct with massage therapists but but also calls into question what his former team, the Houston Texans, may have known and whether it—possibly unknowingly—helped facilitate the behavior.
Watson, who was quarterback of the Houston Texans from 2018 through 2021, was sued yesterday by a 24th woman who alleges he hired her for massage therapy sessions but proceeded to engage in non-consensual sexual acts, including masturbation, while she worked. The 23 other plaintiffs have all made similar allegations in Texas courts; Watson denies all the accusations and criminal investigations ended in March with no charges.
But a New York Times investigation that dropped late Tuesday broke down that Watson had hired almost three times as many women for massage therapy than the number currently suing him. That number is significant because, while it isn’t an indicator of misdeeds, would show that Watson frequently had a preference for massage therapy sessions outside of those available to him and any other Texans player through the team’s training staff.
Watson has said publicly that he hired about 40 different therapists across his five seasons in Houston, but The Times’s reporting found that he booked appointments with at least 66 different women in just the 17 months from fall 2019 through spring 2021. A few of these additional women, speaking publicly for the first time, described experiences that undercut Watson’s insistence that he was only seeking professional massage therapy.
The Times’ story also reported that the Texans’ director of security had provided Watson with a non-disclosure agreement that he asked therapists to sign, and that a room he frequently used for massage appointments at the Houstonian hotel had been arranged for by the team. Again, neither of those details makes the team complicit in the actions he’s alleged to have committed or that it knew specifically about the massages. But it opens the possibility that the Texans might have been unknowing facilitators.
The reporting also shows how NFL teams often act as far more than employers, especially for star players, providing services like private security and facilities, even legal documents like Watson’s non-disclosure and arranging for hotel rooms, club memberships and other perks. In that regard, NFL teams aren’t much different than most large companies that provide fringe benefits at no cost to their executives or top performers. But those arrangements also provide opportunity for potential abuse if a player is inclined toward bad behavior.
The Texans told the Times that the team had cooperated with law enforcement and that it is cooperating with the NFL’s investigation. Watson, now with the Cleveland Browns, still faces a possible suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.