With the civil lawsuits mounting, and no trade out of Houston on the horizon any time soon, It's not fun times right now for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Right now, the 19 lawsuits from various massage professionals are more than just the obstacle standing in the way of a trade out of town. They represent a legitimate threat to his back account, and the possible gateway to criminal prosecution (although that front has remained quiet since plaintiffs' attorney Tony Buzbee suggested he was going to the authorities over a week ago).
The damage to Watson's reputation is already done, even if he somehow is able to dodge civil liability and criminal prosecution. He has already admitted, through statements from his camp, that at least one encounter with a massage therapist involved what he deemed "consensual" sexual activity. Not great for your P.R. image. The sheer volume of accusers has likely stained Watson with his corporate sponsors and, in a way, his future teammates (on whatever team that might be).
In the big picture right now, as Rusty Hardin tries to construct a defense strategy for Watson (amidst a pile of lawsuits that grows every couple days), it seems as though legal experts see five of the 19 civil lawsuits as particularly damaging to Watson's case. These five lawsuits are embedded below, and numbered in the chronological order in which they were filed:
LAWSUIT NUMBER 3, filed March 17, 2021
WHY LAWSUIT NUMBER 3 IS A PROBLEM:
This was the third overall lawsuit to drop, but the first one where the accusations crossed over the line of Deshaun Watson being accused of some serious, rape-level allegations. The details in the lawsuit were shocking, well beyond what the previous two that had been filed prior to this one. This was the first lawsuit that had details that made the average reader feel like there might be a strong criminal case, if the details were true. Later, when Watson's camp made their first response to Buzbee's slew of lawsuits, this particular suit appeared to be the one that Watson's marketing manager, Brian Burney, referred to in an affidavit highlighting a possible extortion attempt against Watson.
While Burney's affidavit was designed to help keep Watson from losing his cases, Burney had to accomplish that by admitting that Watson engaged in some sort of "consensual" activity with the therapist in this case, which is, I suppose, the lesser of two evils.
LAWSUIT NUMBER 8, filed March 22, 2021
WHY LAWSUIT NUMBER 8 IS A PROBLEM:
This was another lawsuit that had some shocking allegations, and paints Watson as a soulless monster. The particular massage therapist in this lawsuit is a lesbian, who Watson forced into various, graphic sexual activities. Like Lawsuit Number 3, the allegations from Jane Doe Number 8 appear to leap frog well over the line of criminal activity.
LAWSUIT NUMBER 15, filed March 23, 2021
WHY LAWSUIT NUMBER 15 IS A PROBLEM:
The problems for Watson in Lawsuit Number 15 were first highlighted in a column by Dan Wetzel
of Yahoo! Sports. This particular plaintiff alleges to have contacted two people, her mother and a friend, just after her massage session, which she claims was complete with many of the disturbing activities other Watson accusers allege. Also, Watson followed up with the plaintiff to see if she was okay following the alleged incident. As Wetzel points out:
The fact that Doe 15 alleges to have told two people — her mother and her best friend — that very day about what allegedly happened could provide significant credibility to her claim. Her story is on the record. Both individuals could be called to testify in either a criminal or civil claim.
“That is a contemporaneous report,” Mordock said. “It is the key to these cases. It signals that the alleged victim in the matter knew that it was severe enough that she had to tell someone right away. They knew something was wrong right away.
“Then you have him following up asking if she is OK?” Mordock continued. “That is not a particularly good fact for Watson. And then she refuses to engage with him.”
Those contemporaneous reports from the accuser to people close to her would seem to absolve any doubt that Jane Doe 15 is "piling on" the wave accusers in an attempt to just "cash grab," given that the massage in question took place in late May 2020, ten months before the first lawsuit was filed.
LAWSUIT NUMBER 17, filed March 29, 2021
WHY LAWSUIT NUMBER 17 IS A PROBLEM:
This is yet another accuser who alleges misconduct from Watson, AND a contemporaneous conversation right afterward, with the purpose of conveying exactly what she claims to have occurred. In this case, Jane Doe 17 called an NFL player she knew to share what happened, and the NFL player reportedly agreed that Watson's activity crossed over the line from physical therapy to unwanted intimate contact. This certainly opens up the likelihood that this player will be interviewed by the attorneys involved, as well as the NFL in their ongoing investigation of Watson.
LAWSUIT NUMBER 19, filed March 29, 2021
WHY LAWSUIT NUMBER 19 IS A PROBLEM:
The problem with Lawsuit Number 19 is mostly a perception problem. In this lawsuit, the accuser claims Watson has been deleting Instagram messages and approaching accusers about settlements (something was adamantly against in his denial of the first lawsuit's accusations). Watson's attorney Rusty Hardin denied Watson's doing either of these things, but the conversation and perception of Watson doing them are now already out there. Also, the massage in question in this lawsuit took place on the exact SAME DATE as the massage in Lawsuit Number 5. So Watson has two accusers that he was getting services from on the same day, which feels beyond compulsive. Again, this particular suit is more about establishing a strong negative PERCEPTION than damaging facts, but many of Watson's issues going forward, after this is all over, will be perception issues.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.