“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and have suspended Deshaun Watson. We will continue to closely monitor the situation,” Nike said in a statement.
The move comes a day after Ashley Solis, the first of now 22 women to accuse Watson of sexual assault and harassment, spoke publicly, saying she was terrorized by her encounter with him. “People say I’m doing this just for money. That is false,” said Solis. “I come forward now so that Deshaun Watson does not assault another woman. I am seeking justice not just on behalf of myself but for all survivors. This is about having my voice heard.”
The Texans’ quarterback has mostly remained silent—his only statement coming in a tweet on March 16. “As a result of a social media post by a publicity-seeking plantiff’s lawyer, I recently became aware of a lawsuit that has apparently been field against me,” he said, referring to Tony Buzbee, who is representing all 22 of Watson’s accusers. “I have never treated any woman with anything but the utmost respect. Unlike him, this isn’t about money for me—it’s about clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that.”
At the time of Watson’s statement, three women had alleged assault; the number has since risen to 22. Watson has hired lawyer Rusty Hardin, who has questioned Buzbee’s motivations, claiming the allegations were made public only after Watson rejected a proposed $100,000 payoff. Hardin shared emails between Scott Gaffield, the general counsel for Watson’s agency Athletes First, and Buzbee’s office, in which they discuss a settlement proposal with Gaffield ultimately writing, “[We] don’t believe that the alleged facts show that Deshaun did anything wrong with regards to Ms. Solis.”
Last Friday the Houston Police Department tweeted that it has officially opened a criminal investigation against Watson. The NFL began investigating Watson on March 18.
Watson has a litany of endorsement agreements outside of Nike, including national deals with Apple’s Beats by Dre and Rolex; Watson also has local sponsorships with H-E-B, Reliant Energy and Lefty’s Famous Cheesesteaks.
As of March 29, the cheesesteak maker is sticking with Watson. Sam Berry, Lefty’s founder and owner told the Houston Chronicle, “I check in with [Watson] daily, and I try to boost his spirits and try to give him words of encouragement and to know that the truth shall come to light.” Lefty’s did not immediately respond for comment.
With all of the attention around him intensifying, Watson could soon end up on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s exempt list, wherein a player is suspended from playing games or practicing but can continue to be paid.