Editor’s note: This story contains reports of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a sexual assault survivor, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org.
Deshaun Watson is returning from his 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s code of conduct where his NFL career began – in Houston. This time, however, he will don a Browns jersey in his first regular-season game in 700 days as his off-field legal troubles linger.
The quarterback has been charged with sexual assault and harassment in more than two dozen lawsuits since March 2021, and while most of them have been settled, two cases remain active. Received in a letter from sports illustrated Sent on behalf of the NFLPA to NFL Appeals Officer Peter Harvey days after independent umpire Sue L. Robinson made an initial disciplinary decision, the Players’ Association placed Watson’s case side-by-side with Ben Roethlisberger’s. If Watson’s case dragged on, the union was willing to side-by-side the league’s treatment for “a white star quarterback and a black star quarterback.”
The former Steelers quarterback faced two violent rape allegations in 2009 and 2010. The July 2009 lawsuit was finally settled in January 2012, and the person in the second incident did not want the district attorney to prosecute. But the district attorney investigating the case announced in April 2010: “I would still announce the same finding. Based on the evidence here, we do not have enough evidence to pursue a prosecution.”
Roethlisberger was initially suspended for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct guidelines. However, the penalty was eventually reduced to four games. The quarterback had denied the allegations, and the women were not cooperating with the league’s investigation.
Meanwhile, 28 women have publicly shared reports of Watson’s sexual misconduct, and 10 of them are cooperating with the league’s investigation. In the 26 lawsuits, filed from March 2021 to October 22, descriptions range from his refusal to cover his genitals to “touching.” [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.” The latest lawsuit, filed less than two months after the NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement to suspend Watson for 11 games and fine him 5 million dollars, says that “Watson removed his towel and offered her to ‘get on top.’ The plaintiff refused to have sex with Watson, but he was able to force her to have oral sex with the defendant.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went so far as to call Watson’s behavior “outrageous” and “predatory.” However, Robinson, who initially decided to ban Watson for six games, noted that his behavior “does not fall into the category of violent behavior”. The league appealed its decision.
The Players’ Association letter highlighted Robinson’s determination of violent versus non-violent behavior for Watson, while also emphasizing how Roethlisberger has been “accused of multiple alleged incidents violent sexual misconduct”.
The NFLPA was known to be willing to vigorously defend Watson’s case, which it is obligated to do because he is a union member who pays dues. The 2020 collective bargaining agreement left the NFL tremendous power in the hands of disciplinary procedures, and this was the first case to go through the new procedure.
However, Watson’s alleged sexual misconduct may have extended beyond the 28 women who have gone public. The New York Times‘s Jenny Vrentas reported in June how the quarterback booked massages with at least 66 women over a 17-month period. But when asked if the report was accurate, Watson said days later, “I don’t think so, after what I and my attorneys went through.” Additionally, in the same investigation, Vrentas reported that a Houston spa and the Texans “facilitated” his massage habit, specifically mentioning that the Texans provided non-disclosure agreements and facilities for Watson’s sessions.
The Texans franchise later reached comparisons to 30 women after being accused of enabling his behavior.
The Browns and Texans kick off Houston at 1:00 p.m. ET.