Raised in Georgia by a single mother who overcame tongue cancer, the star quarterback had a squeaky-clean image before the sexual-assault lawsuits hit.
HOUSTON (CN) — The first of numerous women to sue Deshaun Watson for alleged sexual assault spoke publicly Tuesday about the Houston Texans quarterback. The massage therapist said he has forever tainted the profession she loves, so much that her hands now shake whenever she touches a client.
Known for his ability to elude pass rushers on the gridiron, Watson, 25, is looking on quietly, only denying the accusations through his attorney, as woman after woman, most of them massage therapists, bring lawsuits against him making claims of assault or infliction of emotional distress, or both, for incidents they say happened during massage sessions in 2020 and this year.
Two live Georgia, one in Arizona, another in California, the rest are from the Houston area. Fifteen are Black, four are white and three are Hispanic, their attorney Tony Buzbee said in a press conference Tuesday in his office in a downtown Houston skyscraper.
They all sued anonymously and Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin of Houston has used that fact to try to undermine the allegations.
When the Houston Police Department announced Friday they were investigating one criminal complaint against Watson, Hardin said he was looking forward to learning the complainant’s identity.
While that woman did not come forward Tuesday, A.S., the first woman to sue Watson on March 16, did publicly air her allegations, wiping away tears as she sat next to Buzbee in front of a throng of TV cameras and reporters.
A.S. claims she agreed to massage Watson at her home on March 30, 2020, and during the treatment he complained she was not doing it right before exposing himself and brushing her hand with his penis.
Raised in Georgia by a single mother who overcame tongue cancer, Watson had a squeaky-clean image in Houston before the lawsuits hit, even though he is demanding the team trade him.
After the Texans drafted him with the No. 12 pick in the 2017 draft, Watson donated his first game check of $27,000 to three women who worked in the Texans’ team cafeteria at its home field NRG Stadium, and whose homes had recently been flooded by Hurricane Harvey.
“That’s the type of guy he is. He’s a first-class guy,” then-Texans coach Bill O’ Brien said at the time.
But A.S. said just thinking about what Watson did to her sends her into a tailspin.
“I suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression. I’m in counseling as a result of Deshaun Watson’s actions. I hope he knows how much pain he has inflicted on me emotionally and physically,” she said. “My father who was once a diehard-Texans fan can no longer mention his name without turning red.”
“We were all deceived into thinking Deshaun Watson was a good guy,” she added. “Unfortunately, we know that good guys can do terrible things.”
A.S. said her lawsuit is not about the money: “I want to prevent this type of conduct. … I come forward now in hopes he won’t assault another woman.”
In addition to A.S., another woman, L.B., who has sued Watson talked Tuesday about her experience with the quarterback. But she was not at the press conference.
Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, an attorney for Buzbee’s law firm, read the letter L.B.’s therapist reportedly told her to write to Watson, but not give to him, as a form of therapy.
L.B. wrote Watson exposed himself to her during a session in June 2020 while she was massaging his legs, then moved himself in a way that she touched his penis. “You then told me to ‘just grab it if it was in my way.’ This happened multiple times and I felt as if the session time was spent trying not to be sick, not to have an outburst and to keep you covered,” she wrote, as read by Brandfield-Harvey.
Hardin has tried to counter the allegations. He issued a press release March 31 including the statements of 16 female massage therapists who the attorney said had worked with Watson more than 130 times over the past five years.
They described Watson as invariably professional and respectful during massage sessions. One stated she does not believe his accusers are being truthful.
But Buzbee said Tuesday that in addition to the 22 women he is representing, he had to turn away five other massage therapists who made claims against Watson, but for whom he did not believe he could “sustain a case for.”
Buzbee said around 50 massage therapists have now either vouched for Watson’s character or accused him of wrongdoing, and questioned why someone who had access to world-class trainers on the Texans staff felt the need to seek the services of all these massage therapists.
“Each of the cases describes a strikingly similar pattern of behavior,” Buzbee said.
He said Watson had contacted the women on social media, usually Instagram, and arranged for them to massage him, even though some were not massage therapists, but specialized in other beauty or wellness services.
“In some cases he even dictates what he wants the particular women to wear,” Buzbee said. “In some cases he takes pictures of the particular women from Instagram and sends it to her and says, ‘Wear something like this because it’s hot today.'”
He said Watson insists on bringing his own towel to cover himself during the sessions, but instead brings a wash cloth.
“In some cases he asks the women to sign a [non-disclosure agreement] before the session, and in some cases he asks the women to sign the NDA after,” Buzbee continued.
The latest lawsuit was filed Monday by an esthetician who owns a skin care company. She claims when Watson contacted her on Nov. 9 she told him she is not a licensed massage therapist and offered to connect him with one.
“Watson declined, saying he already had licensed massage therapists and trainers provided by the Texans organization, and insisted that he wanted her to perform a massage,” the complaint states.
She says she decided to do it because she thought it would help her business to count an NFL football player among her clients.
The woman says she immediately ended the session after Watson grabbed her butt. Watson then handed her an NDA and told her she had to sign it before he paid her, she claims.
Watson has not spoken about the allegations since he issued a statement on March 16.
“I have never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect,” he said in part.