What was, at first, a pretty one-sided barrage of salvos, accusations, and legal posturing, has escalated pretty rapidly over the last two days into a street fight between two of the most prominent attorneys in this city (and maybe ANY city). Tony Buzbee's 21 civil lawsuits filed against Deshaun Watson, along with several Instagram posts that serve as his own "breaking news" sounder, have been answered by Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, with two strong statements over the last couple days.
On Wednesday, there was the statement from Hardin that included quotes from 18 different massage therapists, most from Houston but some in other locales, all of whom had worked on Deshaun Watson, and all of whom professed some combination of (a) praise for Watson's professionalism and (b) shock at the claims in the sea of civil lawsuits against Watson.
Then, on Thursday, Hardin fired back at Buzbee's claim from earlier in the week that he would no longer be submitting these allegations against Watson to police for possible criminal prosecution, in part because Buzbee felt that the HPD would be biased in favor of Watson. The catalyst for these feelings, according to Buzbee, was the presence of Hardin's son, an employee of the city's police department.
Hardin fired back at this notion in this strongly worded statement:
Since March 19, Mr. Tony Buzbee has repeatedly promised to submit evidence to the Houston Police Department in support of his anonymous clients’ complaints against Deshaun Watson. So far, he has not done so. Now, in response to media inquiries, Mr. Buzbee has abandoned his promise altogether and, in his words, will go “elsewhere to provide his evidence to investigative authorities.”
His latest excuse for failing to go to law enforcement is also his lamest. Anyone who has dealt with HPD, as I have for many years, would know that Mr. Buzbee’s suggestion that the Department would overlook legitimate complaints based upon a family connection of one of its officers is ludicrous. It is also insulting to the dedicated professionals at HPD and to common sense. Mr. Buzbee’s claimed fear of HPD’s partiality is inconsistent with his prior praise for the Department’s response to the burglary of his home during his recent mayoral campaign. See Exhibit 1 below.
I would respectfully suggest that Mr. Buzbee’s failure to go to law enforcement does not result from some baseless fear that HPD will not fairly investigate. Instead, it is from the knowledge that his parade of anonymous allegations could not survive the rigorous inquiry of trained investigators or the need to attest to the truth of the allegations under oath.
For our part, we will continue to learn about the cases in any way that we can. We and Deshaun will always remain available to any law enforcement or regulatory agency who desires our cooperation.
Apparently, Mr. Buzbee is unwilling to do the same.
I'm sure this is a long way from over, so buckle up, because it's Friday, and that seems to be the day Buzbee likes to drop news. For now, let's circle back to Wednesday's statement involving the 18 pro-Watson massage therapists for a minute. If you read through those 18 brief statements, you can see a pattern emerging, in which Hardin is trying to almost normalize some of the aspects of the allegations that most regular civilians (i.e. non-professional athletes) have had a hard time wrapping our heads around.
As best I can glean from these 18 brief testimonials on behalf of Watson, the massage therapists quoted are illustrating an environment where the following things are far more normal than many of us initially perceive them to be:
5. The sheer quantity of massage therapists utilized by Watson
One question many of us have had throughout this ordeal is "Why is Deshaun Watson using SO many different massage therapists?" Now, on the one hand, yes, it does seem strange. On the other hand, if all we are hearing about is his alleged mistreatment of massage therapists, then it would stand to reason that he would run through them pretty quickly. When we see that there are so many massage therapists with positive reviews of Watson, then the perception is that he is doing this more out of reasonable choice or a busy lifestyle (i.e. last minute scheduling) than because he is pathological or a bad client. In fact, oftentimes, if I had to guess, with so many off field commitments outside of football, Watson is probably doing quite a bit of ad hoc scheduling of many facets of his athletic career, including massage.
4. The use of Instagram
Another question that's been asked quite a bit — "Why is he booking these massage therapists via Instagram DMs? Isn't that kind of shady?" To be fair to Watson, there is probably a direct correlation to age and the frequency of this question. The fact of the matter is twofold. First, as illustrated by these 18 women in Hardin's statement, perfectly legal, above board, sports massages can be scheduled via Instagram. Not everything booked on the internet is supposed to result in something salacious. Second, social media is a burgeoning marketplace where a lot of goods and services are sold these days, including massage treatments. If you're above the age of 50, just know that.
3. The use of a towel for cover as opposed to a full sheet or draping
The lawsuits offered by Buzbee make frequent mention of Watson's desire to use a towel, as opposed to a draping. Furthermore, Buzbee uses very subjective synonyms for "small" to describe the towel Watson uses in these massages, adjectives that automatically send the reader's mind to something the size of a washcloth when juxtaposed to the accusations. Many of Hardin's vouchers for Watson admit that Watson likes to use a towel, something they have no problem, nor anything that kept the sessions from being anything but professional. One even described the towel Watson used in their session as the size of a "beach towel."
2. The requests for groins and gluteal muscles to be massaged
When embedded in the same document as accusations of sexual misconduct, requests for rubbing of the groin area and gluteal area seem, at the very least, aggressive, if not bordering on illegal. Per several of the massage therapists in Hardin's statement, it's quite normal for a client, especially an athlete playing a sport as physically punishing as NFL football, to request specific body parts, including groin areas, to be rubbed. In fact, they portray it as common courtesy, and something that Watson did as a point of clarity before he received his rubdowns.
1. The oft chance that genitalia could be grazed and erections happen
I've actually talked to athletes and former athletes who have all had hundreds of massages, and they say the inadvertent touching of genitals happens from time to time. It is addressed by multiple massage therapists in Hardin's statement, and the proper handling of that type of situation is probably best summed up in this quote:
"There’s a proper and professional way to address this area with proper draping and communication. When working the adductors and groin/pelvic area, it is not uncommon to accidentally graze the penis, but you don’t engage it. I teach my students to use a firmer touch or to move to a different area if a client gets aroused during a session, which sometimes happens."
Overall, to be clear, the presence of and accounts from the 18 therapists on Hardin's statement doesn't mean a slam dunk that Watson is innocent and the 21 women tied to Buzbee are lying, but it does illustrate a counterpoint, and likely ends up as a mitigating factor in whatever settlement the two sides ultimately agree upon, if indeed that's the direction both sides choose.
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