How many will it take? The answer wasn’t 10. It wasn’t 20. We’re quickly approaching 30 — perhaps that will be the number of women coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct about Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson that will finally get people to stop defending him or claiming that all of these women are lying.
Even after the New York Times report that stated that Watson had worked with 66 different massage therapists over a period of 17 months, even after his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, tried to make the argument that a “‘happy ending’ isn’t illegal,” even after two women came forward anonymously to the NYT without pursuing any legal action against Watson to give their corroborating accounts, even after the horrific, nausea-inducing testimonies from these women, even after the NYT reported that, rather than just have a third party in the room to protect himself, he made massage therapists sign NDAs before he would pay them, even after, even after, even after, there are still those who, for whatever reason, find the need to defend a man who recently signed the biggest guaranteed contract in NFL history and attempt to discredit the now-26 women who have accused the Browns’ newest investment of sexual misconduct.
The thing is, the Browns ownership and leadership know how the world works. There will always be people out there who claim that any accusation against a major public figure is a cash grab. There will always be a lawyer arguing that women who allege sexual misconduct are looking for money or fame. There will be reporters willing to look past these transgressions and let him get out of answering the tough questions — especially, especially, in sports, where the win-at-all-costs mentality is ingrained in the very nature of the product. So the Browns thought that, much like all too many sexual harassment, misconduct, or assault allegations that have come before, the world would quickly move on and forget about Watson. They thought he’d lay low and his talent would do the talking. But they haven’t been so lucky this time.
The testimonies that have been made public are enough to make one sick to their stomach — from the New York Times: he “begged” one woman (who didn’t sue) to put her mouth on his penis, who had to “specifically say, ‘I can’t do that.’” From the 24th lawsuit: “Watson then stood up and continued masturbating more aggressively. As he did so, Watson asked the Plaintiff, ‘Where do you want me to put it?’ Plaintiff by this point was in complete shock and could not speak. She froze. Watson quickly ejaculated; some of his ejaculate got on Plaintiff’s chest and face.” She quit her career not long after.
And still, people not paid by or paying for Watson find the need to defend him and discredit the two dozen plaintiffs.
Watson, who, according to the lawsuit, offered each of the initial 18 plaintiffs $100,000 in exchange for signing an “aggressive” nondisclosure agreement, told reporters yesterday that he wants to “clear his name.” It appears that the plan right now is to take each and every one of these cases to court rather than settle, but it will be almost a year until they go to trial, if they ever see the inside of a courtroom. While the court system will take its due time, the NFL’s arbitration process may have earlier consequences.
While it’s certainly true that every defendant in a criminal trial is innocent until proven guilty, these are civil cases, with depositions that have been extensively reported on by the media. The allegations and Watson’s vague defenses are there for anyone who cares to do the research to read. “Innocent until proven guilty” is simply a rote line that Watson’s defenders trot out to mean “I don’t believe women,” without having to think too hard about any of it.
Quite frankly, I don’t think his lawyers, whose argument is “all 26 women are lying,” really need the help of sexual harassment deniers on the Internet arguing with every post about Watson that comes up on their feed. To say these women are suing because they want money is dismissive, disrespectful, and likely untrue — as PFT’s Mike Florio pointed out, one of the plaintiffs would have stepped out of line or spoken out by now, or taken the $100,000 that they were offered in exchange for silence by Watson. There would be “cracks in the foundation,” as he put it. And so far, there haven’t been.