N.F.L. Begins Investigating Accusations Against Deshaun Watson

N.F.L. Begins Investigating Accusations Against Deshaun Watson

N.F.L. Begins Investigating Accusations Against Deshaun Watson

N.F.L. Begins Investigating Accusations Against Deshaun Watson

The N.F.L. on Thursday began investigating the conduct of the Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been accused in civil lawsuits of sexually assaulting seven women last year. The lawsuits were filed this week in Harris County, Texas.

In a letter addressed to Tony Buzbee, the Houston plaintiffs’ lawyer representing all seven women, Lisa Friel, a special counsel for investigations at the league, requested the cooperation of the accusers. Buzbee posted the letter to Instagram. A league spokesman said the matter was under review in relation to the N.F.L.’s personal conduct policy. That policy governs off-field behavior involving players and coaches.

The Texans said in a statement Thursday that they would “continue to take this and all matters involving anyone within the Houston Texans organization seriously” and that the team would not comment further until the league’s investigation had ended. The N.F.L. often takes months to complete its investigations, which include interviews with accusers and N.F.L. employees, as well as law enforcement officials.

Earlier on Thursday, Buzbee said on Instagram that a total of nine women had come forward with accusations against Watson, though only seven suits had been filed as of Friday afternoon. The women had been hired to give massages and provide other services such as stretching.

Watson has not spoken publicly about the allegations since he posted a statement to Twitter on Tuesday night, after the first complaint against him became public. He said that he had “never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect” and that he had rejected “a baseless six-figure settlement demand” made by Buzbee before the first suit was filed.

Four complaints filed Thursday night echo descriptions of behavior detailed in the three other suits filed against Watson. The alleged incidents occurred between June and November 2020, and in all of them, the complaints said, Watson exposed himself to women he had hired for massages; aggressively dictated how they worked on him; and moved his body in ways that caused his penis to touch them.

One accuser said Watson tried kissing her on the mouth, while another said he ejaculated during the massage. According to another complaint, Watson, after contacting the accuser over Instagram direct message, spoke with her on the phone before his session, telling her, “I make a lot of massage therapists uncomfortable and it’s really hard for me to find someone who will meet my needs.”

Yet another complaint, filed Wednesday night, said that Watson, 25, had pressured the woman to perform oral sex during a massage on Dec. 28 at an office building in Houston. According to the complaint, the woman was so shaken that she blacked out for a few minutes. Watson got dressed and left without apologizing, the complaint said.

Watson has hired Rusty Hardin, a prominent defense lawyer also based in Houston. Hardin has defended other well-known athletes in the area, including Roger Clemens and James Harden. In a phone interview Thursday, Hardin declined to discuss the case and said only that he was still learning the details.

After the league finishes its investigation, Watson could be fined or suspended if he is found to have violated the league’s personal conduct policy. He could appeal any penalties.

In 2014, the league began hiring its own professional investigators, including Friel, a former prosecutor in New York City, to review allegations of bad behavior off the field, particularly related to sexual assault and domestic violence. Before then, the league typically relied on law enforcement agencies and resolutions in the courts to decide whether to penalize anyone.

Ken Belson contributed reporting.




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