Deshaun Watson’s attorney admitted in a news conference Friday that the Houston Texans quarterback engaged in sexual activity during the massages, but said the encounters were consensual.
The attorney, Rusty Hardin, stated that there were “sometimes friendly encounters” during Watson’s massage sessions. When Hardin was later asked for clarification by a reporter, he said, “We never ran away” and the question “was always about consent.”
“I’m not going into what it is, nature, numbers, or with whom,” said Hardin. “The question we have always emphasized: never, at any time, under no circumstances … has this young man ever got involved in something that the other party did not want each other.”
Watson, 25, has been charged with sexual misconduct or assault in lawsuits filed by 22 women in the past four weeks. The women who filed their complaints under the pseudonym “Jane Doe” have generally claimed that he exposed himself or touched his genitals during the massages. Two women have also accused him of sexual assault.
The Houston Police are investigating at least one complaint involving Watson, and the NFL is also investigating the matter under the auspices of their personal conduct policy. Hardin said he hadn’t heard from either company until Friday and didn’t know how many women filed criminal charges against his client.
Watson, who spearheaded the NFL last season, has largely denied the wrongdoing in his only public statement on the matter.
Meanwhile, Hardin reiterated on Friday that “we don’t believe the allegations” and defended both Watson’s character and some of his actions related to the massages.
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Hardin, flanked by four lawyers, said Watson had received about two or three massages a week, or even 150 massages a year, for the past four years. He said strict COVID-19 protocols were partly, but not entirely, the reason Watson contacted massage therapists on Instagram over the past calendar year.
“You have to remember the landscape and the availability of those things changed in 2020,” Hardin said. “… Sure, it’s a lot. And the reason is that he got a lot of massages.”
Among the other discussion topics of the press conference:
When asked why Watson sought massages from so many different massage therapists, especially during a global pandemic where such sessions could risk potential exposure to COVID-19, Hardin cited the quarterback’s ever-changing schedule, among other things.
“His schedule is longer than anyone else’s and more unpredictable,” said Hardin. “He might not know when he’ll be available tomorrow until 11 a.m.”
► Hardin described filing anonymous lawsuits against Watson as a “new model for extortion”.
“You bleed it out, you keep saying it, you keep saying it, you keep talking about it,” he said.
► When asked about Watson’s alleged desire to be naked during massages, Hardin believes that nudity is not uncommon in such situations. He added that he would be surprised “if masseuses were really shocked or surprised or uncomfortable when a man wanted to be naked.” (Several women have alleged in court cases that Watson’s nudity was either surprising or uncomfortable.)
► Hardin did not directly address a question about the alleged Instagram exchange where Watson asked women to dress in a specific way for a massage session. The news was referenced by Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the 22 plaintiffs.
“I’m really not going to go into what Tony said because it’s a long, long journey,” Hardin said. “We’ll be happy to answer all of these questions. There will be deposits, there will be everything else.”
Hardin and his team also spent a significant portion of the press conference discussing Watson’s character.
Attorney Letitia Quinones, who said she was a sexual assault survivor, spoke about Watson’s upbringing, characterizing him as someone who is still reconciling to his fame and public figure.
“This 25-year-old young man was tossed into the depths of something he was not used to: money, fame and fame,” Quinones said.
Watson played collegially at Clemson, was selected for three consecutive Pro Bowls, and signed a four-year contract extension for $ 156 million last fall.
Another attorney on Hardin’s team, Rachel Lewis, said she didn’t know who Watson was before opening his case. Originally not from Houston, she said, and she doesn’t watch football. But after spending a few hours with Watson, Lewis said, “I can tell you that this man is incapable of doing the things that are alleged.”
“I would ask anyone not to be too quick to judge,” Lewis later added. “… He’s a good man. He doesn’t deserve this. And I know everyone will see that.”
Hardin’s press conference took place hours after two hearings on emergency requests asking the court to force 13 of the nameless women to use their names to reassert their claims. The judge granted Hardin’s request at every hearing.
Buzbee said at one of the hearings that nine of his clients had already agreed to come forward, in addition to Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley, who revealed their identities at a press conference earlier this week.
“After seeing Ashley Solis make her compelling and truthful testimony, these brave women felt encouraged and strong enough to take this important step,” Buzbee said in a statement Friday afternoon. “You are ready to be identified.”
Hardin is required to file formal responses to some of the lawsuits as early as Monday under Texas law. He suggested that he and Watson are “absolutely” ready to fight the lawsuits on trial.
“What he wants more than anything is to regain his reputation,” said Hardin.
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.