Browns star Deshaun Watson’s sexual misconduct hearing is set to start this week as the NFL ‘seeks MINIMUM year-long ban’ over accusations of sexual assault and harassments against QB
- Deshaun Watson’s sexual misconduct hearing with the NFL starts Tuesday
- Watson is at risk of missing the upcoming NFL season as the league reportedly weighs an indefinite ban for the Cleveland Browns quarterback
- If he is suspended indefinitely, Watson could reportedly be reinstated in 2023
- In March, Watson signed a five-year, $230 million deal with the Browns, who got him in a trade with the Texans after two grand juries declined to indict the QB
- Watson, 26, recently settled 20 of the 24 lawsuits he’s facing in Texas over a variety of sexual misconduct claims made by female massage therapists
- He could also be fined by the NFL. Otherwise, the back-loaded contract protects Watson from significant financial penalty – a potential $33 million difference
Deshaun Watson is at risk of missing the upcoming NFL season as the league reportedly weighs an indefinite ban for the Cleveland Browns quarterback at his sexual misconduct hearing scheduled to start Tuesday.
The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that the NFL is seeking an indefinite ban that would prevent Watson from being reinstated within the next 12 months. An NFL spokesman did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for confirmation.
In March, Watson signed a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed deal with the Browns, who acquired him in a trade with the Houston Texans after two grand juries declined to indict him over sexual misconduct complaints.
Watson, 26, recently settled 20 of the 24 lawsuits he’s facing in Texas over a variety of sexual misconduct claims made by female massage therapists, including allegations that he forced two women to perform oral sex on him and forcibly touched others with his penis during private sessions. Specific dollar figures for the settlements have not been revealed.
Watson has denied the accusations, which allegedly occurred over 17 months from the fall 2019 through spring 2021, when Watson played for the Texans.
The hearing is the first under the NFL’s updated personal conduct policy to put the initial ruling in the hands of an independent arbitrator. The official in this case is former U.S. District Court judge Sue Robinson, who has been agreed upon by the NFL and the players’ union, according to the Journal.
A resolution is expected by next week, but both sides can appeal any ruling.
By suspending Watson indefinitely, the NFL could give itself more flexibility to increase his punishment in the event that more accusations surface over the coming months.
According to the Journal, the league’s case includes all 24 lawsuits (four of which are still outstanding), but primarily focuses on five cases that have that offer the most compelling evidence against the former Clemson star.
In addition to being suspended, Watson could also potentially be fined, which would ensure that he pays a significant financial penalty in the event of a ban. Otherwise, Watson’s backloaded $230 million contract would protect him for a hefty financial loss.
Watson is set to be paid only $1 million in 2022, when he could face a potential suspension, with another $46 million annually over each of the final four years of the contract.
This way, if Watson is suspended this season, he’ll lose around $60,000 per game missed. For comparison, were his contract structured evenly over the next five years, he’d lose more than $2 million for every game he’s suspended.
That’s a roughly $33 million discrepancy.
Watson will be represented at the hearing by Jeffrey Kessler, a high-profile attorney retained by the players’ union.
Last week, Watson reached confidential settlements with 20 of his 24 accusers.
The NFL star previously told reporters he had no plans to settle the lawsuits and has maintained his innocence since first being accused of sexual misconduct by female massage therapists 15 months earlier. Specifically, Watson has been accused of forcing two women to perform oral sex on him, ejaculating on three women, and forcibly kissing another, while 18 women say he touched them with his penis during massages.
One of the four accusers who have not settled their case with Watson is Ashley Solis, who was the first plaintiff to file a lawsuit.
‘The cases against Deshaun Watson started with one phone call, from one brave and strong woman,’ plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee said in a statement. ‘That woman was Ashley Solis.
‘As a result of Ashley’s lone but brave voice, soon many women who had allegedly experienced the same conduct were emboldened to step forward. I am incredibly proud to represent them all. They have endured vile criticism and fanatical ignorance.’
In addition to the four outstanding lawsuits, Buzbee has previously said he expects two more sexual misconduct filings naming Watson.
‘I never assaulted anyone,’ Watson said on June 14 as the Browns held their mandatory minicamp. ‘I never harassed anyone or I never disrespected anyone. I never forced anyone to do anything.’
The New York Times reported earlier this month that Watson booked appointments with at least 66 different women over 17 months while he played for the Texans. Previously Hardin estimated he had appointments with about 40 female massage therapists over his five seasons with the Texans.
Not every woman has accused Watson of sexual misconduct, and 15 have issued statements of support for him at his attorney’s request.
Following the publication of the Times piece, the Texans were added as a defendant in the sexual misconduct lawsuits for allegedly facilitating the massages. The NFL club is accused of securing Watson a membership at a local hotel and private club, the Houstonian, where some of the massages were alleged to have taken place.
One woman, who massaged Watson at the hotel but is not identified in the article, told the Times that she was told the room they used was ‘registered to a member of the Texans’ training staff.’
Watson and his legal team had been adamant he wouldn’t settle the lawsuits. on June 14, he was asked if recent filings against him have changed his stance.
‘I just want to clear my name and be able to let the facts and the legal procedures continue to play out,’ he said.
Watson also acknowledged last week that he’s been receiving counseling since joining the Browns.
Watson is facing similar accusations from other women, who have not filed suit against him.
One such woman, who refused to be identified due to concerns about her family’s privacy, told the Times that Watson was ‘begging’ her to put her mouth on his penis.
‘I specifically had to say, ”No, I can’t do that,”’ she told the Times. ‘And that’s when I went into asking him, ”What is it like being famous? Like, what’s going on? You’re about to mess up everything.”’
Another woman who did not sue Watson told the Times that he tried to initiate sex during each of the three appointments she had with him.
The Times’ revelations came shortly after Watson was sued by a 23rd and 24th woman earlier this month.
According to the report, which includes excerpts from civil suit depositions and interviews with some of the women, Watson’s behavior was far more egregious than previously known, and the Texans may have been aware of the problem.
It still remains unclear why he repeatedly met with so many new massage therapists. Hardin, his attorney, previously claimed his client needed to book appointments ‘ad hoc’ during the pandemic.
The Texans allegedly secured Watson a membership at the Houstonian, an upscale hotel and private club, where many of the massages are said to have taken place.
One masseuse declined to meet with Watson at the hotel, saying she wanted to keep things ‘professional and respectful’ due to the fact that she knew his girlfriend, and had once babysat the woman and a younger sibling years earlier.
‘Oh most definitely always professional,’ he responded via text, as quoted by the Times. ‘I even have a NDA I have therapist sign too.’
That nondisclosure agreement was allegedly provided to Watson by Brent Naccara, a former Secret Service agent who serves as the Texans’ directory of security. Watson reportedly received the document from Naccara after telling the Texans staffer about Instagram posts from one woman, Nia Smith, who was threatening to expose the quarterback’s behavior.
Katy Williams, a former masseuse residing in Texas, filed suit in Harris County earlier this month, claiming he exposed his erect penis and began masturbating during a session in August of 2020. Williams says she called a friend to report the incident afterwards and ultimately quit the profession.
A footnote included in the 23rd sexual misconduct lawsuit against Watson recently revealed that the NFL star’s legal team offered $100,000 settlements to the other 22 plaintiffs on the condition they agree to an ‘aggressive’ non-disclosure clause.
‘Of course, we now know that Deshaun Watson offered each Plaintiff $100,000 to settle their cases, but not all would accept that amount, due to the aggressive nondisclosure agreement that Watson’s team proposed,’ read a footnote contained in Nia Smith’s lawsuit against Watson filed in earlier this month.
When contacted by DailyMail.com, a spokesperson for Hardin declined to confirm if the defendant offered $100,000 settlements to the plaintiffs.
This wasn’t the first report of a $100,000 settlement offer by Watson to his accusers, most of whom work as licensed massage therapists in the Houston area. In January, the Daily Beast published a settlement offer to an unidentified plaintiff, stipulating that she agree to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice ‘within 24 hours’ and comply with a non-disparagement clause that bars her from criticizing Watson publicly.
The woman did not sign the settlement offer, according to the January piece in the Daily Beast.
Hardin previously told podcaster and attorney Gabe Feldman that the Miami Dolphins wanted Watson to offer settlements that included NDA language when the team was considering acquiring him from Houston, where he played from 2017 until 2021. Hardin told Feldman on his podcast that Buzbee wanted the NDA because he was trying to hide the relatively meager settlements his clients would receive.
Smith, a licensed cosmetologist from the Houston area, says she had three separate encounters with Watson in 2020, and claims his ‘behavior grew worse during every massage.’ According to Smith’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Harris County, Watson demanded she ‘go inside of his anus’ during their first appointment before grabbing her buttocks and repeatedly asking ‘if she wanted his penis in her mouth’ at their second. At one point,
‘Plaintiff was feeling extremely uncomfortable by this point, but she wanted to stay professional and not cause any conflict,’ read Tuesday’s filing. ‘Watson was much bigger and much stronger, and they were alone in a room. She was deathly afraid of what he would do if she reprimanded him.’
During their third meeting, Smith claims, Watson ‘repeatedly requested that [she] have sex with him.’
Smith did not want to go through with the third massage, according to the complaint, but felt ‘she could not refuse’ because of pressure from her boss at A New U Salon Spa, Dionne Louis. According to Smith, Louis ‘facilitated massages’ for Watson, for which she was paid at least $5,000. Smith said she complained about Watson to Louis, but those concerns were dismissed by her boss, who knew that the quarterback was pressuring her into sex.
DailyMail.com’s attempts to contact Louis have been unsuccessful thus far.
Smith says she finished her third appointment with Watson by massaging him ‘from a distance as a way to avoid his groping.’
Afterwards, she says, Smith quit her job. She also says she’s suffering from depression, anxiety, and panic attacks as a result of her encounters with Watson.