HOUSTON (CN) — NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson has settled most of two dozen lawsuits women filed against him over the past two years, accusing him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions, the women’s attorney announced Tuesday.
Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee said 20 of 24 women who sued Watson in Harris County District Court have accepted confidential settlements from the Cleveland Browns quarterback.
The allegations stem from massage sessions Watson booked in 2019 and 2020 – reaching out via direct message on Instagram to women offering beauty services or massage therapy – while playing for the Houston Texans, who traded him to the Browns in March.
The women claim Watson left them traumatized with his lewd behavior ranging from exposing himself, brushing their hands with his penis and masturbating in front of them. One alleged she threw up after he forced her to perform oral sex on him.
Through it all, Watson, 26, who was raised by a single mother in Georgia, has insisted he did nothing wrong and always treats women with the utmost respect.
Two Texas grand juries declined this year to criminally charge him.
Several of the women said in court filings they felt flattered a high-profile professional athlete had contacted them and thought it would be a boon for their small businesses.
Watson reportedly told several of them he was trying to support Black businesses.
But they said Watson made them uncomfortable by eschewing the large towels or sheets they use to cover their clients during massages, opting instead to cover his butt or genitals with a small washcloth, before exposing himself.
Despite the sordid details in the lawsuits, which Buzbee, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said described a “strikingly similar pattern of behavior,” the Browns signed Watson to a five-year, $230 million contract, the largest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history.
The NFL is investigating Watson for possible violations of its personal conduct policy and considering suspending him for one season, according to the Washington Post. Though because his contract is guaranteed, any suspension will not result in a pay cut.
Ashley Solis was the first woman to sue Watson and the first to publicly identify herself. His accusers initially only identified themselves as Jane Does in court filings due to fear of harassment from fans of the star quarterback.
Speaking at a press conference alongside Buzbee in April 2021, Solis said, “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.”
“My father who was once a diehard-Texans fan can no longer mention his name without turning red,” she added. “We were all deceived into thinking Deshaun Watson was a good guy. Unfortunately, we know that good guys can do terrible things.”
Solis said Watson’s huge contract with the Browns felt “like a big ‘screw you’” in an interview with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” aired last month. “That's what it feels like. That we don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about," she said.
Buzbee said Solis is not among the women who have settled with Watson and praised her for going public with her allegations.
"The truth is, without her courage and willingness to come forward, the NFL wouldn’t currently be contemplating discipline; there would be no examination of how teams might knowingly or unknowingly enable certain behavior; sports teams wouldn’t be reviewing their personnel screening processes; and this important story wouldn’t have dominated the sports headlines for more than a year," Buzbee told the Houston Chronicle.
He recently said he planned to add the Texans as a defendant in the suits following media reports that the team’s director of security had given Watson a nondisclosure agreement, which he allegedly had women sign before they massaged him.
This after a woman named Nia Smith posted Watson’s phone number and receipts from an app he used to pay her for massages on Instagram, writing, “I could really expose you.”
Smith sued Watson on May 31. She claims he repeatedly tried to grab her butt during a massage session in August 2020 and kept asking if she wanted his penis in her mouth.
“Plaintiff recalls this experience as being the most uncomfortable experience in her life. She cut the session short by fifteen minutes. She resolved to avoid Watson in the future,” the complaint states.