Three lawsuits filed in Texas’ Harris County District Court accuse Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of assaulting licensed massage therapists by touching them with his penis or forced oral sex. The first lawsuit claims he touched a Texas-based therapist, an accusation Watson denies. The second, filed by an Atlanta-based massage therapist on Wednesday, contends that Watson pressured her to direct her hands towards his genitals. The third is brought by a Texas-based therapist who maintains that Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
An attorney representing the women says that additional lawsuits by message therapists are forthcoming, meaning there could be more accusers who offer similarly disturbing narratives. Such a development could suggest a pattern of misconduct, though Watson will have the chance to defend himself.
All three complaints, obtained by Sportico, include two claims—civil assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They seek jury trials and demand unspecified monetary damages. The accusers’ names are shielded from court records. The three women are recognized by the pseudonym “Jane Doe.” They claim extensive injuries, including physical and mental pain and suffering; anguish; loss of enjoyment of life and peace and mind; medical bills, counseling, psychiatric treatments; therapeutic expenses; and loss of earnings and diminished earning capacity. Judges Rabeea Collier, Donna Roth and Robert Schaffer, respectively, will preside over the cases.
News of the first complaint surfaced Tuesday night. A Facebook post by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Tony Buzbee, mentioned the lawsuit but offered virtually no insight into the specific claims. Buzbee, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Houston in 2019, wrote more on the topic of people in power engaging in wrongful behavior.
Watson posted a firm denial on Instagram, saying he has “never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect.” Watson added that Buzbee sent a demand letter that contained what Watson termed a “baseless six-figure settlement demand”—and which Watson “quickly rejected.”
Neither complaint makes mention of police involvement or law enforcement investigation into the accusations.
As told by Buzbee in the first complaint, Jane Doe I markets her massage therapy business through Instagram and works from home. On March 28, 2020, Watson allegedly sent an Instagram direct massage to the woman, who had never before treated Watson or other Texans players. She was surprised that an NFL player would contact her given their access to top trainers but was glad to get the business. Watson (as told by Buzbee) expressed a desire to Doe for a massage focused on “relaxation” and he wanted her to be “comfortable with certain areas” of his body that his team believed should be treated. Doe and Watson agreed to meet two days later. Before meeting, Watson allegedly texted the woman with the question, “Am I expecting to see someone else there [or] is it just you [?]”. She assumed Watson wanted privacy due to his celebrity status.
Before the massage was to begin, the woman says Watson made himself completely naked except for covering his groin area with a small towel. She contends that Watson then “aggressively’ instructed her to only use her fingers and to “focus” her massage on his groin area. She recalls feeling “extremely uncomfortable” and believed that Watson sought sexual services, not a massage. As the massage continued, Doe says Watson “purposefully exposed the tip of his penis” so that it would make contact with her hand. She ended the massage and demanded Watson leave. She recalls him admonishing her, “I know you have a career and a reputation, and I know you would hate for someone to mess with yours, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.” She later texted Watson with a demand that he apologize but he refused. Doe added that two other Texans players reached out to her based on a recommendation from “Big D,” who she assumed was Watson.
Jane Doe II, meanwhile, asserts that Watson reached out to her through Instagram and flew from Houston to Atlanta last August to obtain her massage services. Like Doe I, Jane Doe II was pleasantly surprised that an NFL player would wish to hire her. The woman’s experience with Watson, however, turned troubling, at least as she tells it. She maintains that Watson “got completely nude and on the massage table with his penis completely exposed.” Watson is also depicted as urging her to “come up more” and “go here” towards his genitals—an order that eventually caused her to make contact with Watson’s penis, and as grabbing her hand and pulling her arm while assuring her that “it is okay, it is okay.”
Jane Doe III was similarly contacted by Watson through Instagram. She maintains that Watson placed her in fear by the aggressive manner in which he instructed her to use her fingers in his groin area. She also contends Watson directed her mouth towards his penis and “forced” her to perform oral sex on him.
As with any lawsuit, the filing of a complaint does not prove that wrongdoing occurred. Likewise, a complaint’s retelling of history reflects advocacy and might be false, exaggerative or misleading. Watson has vehemently denied the first allegation. His Instagram post also depicts the lawsuit as an extortive act. Watson’s attorneys will answer the complaints and seek motions to dismiss.
Still, a lawsuit can prove problematic for Watson. For starters, the plaintiffs appear to have relevant electronic evidence, including Instagram messages and texts. While none of the correspondences mentioned in the complaints establish that wrongdoing occurred, they could be interpreted in a negative light for Watson. There might also be other messages and texts that aren’t mentioned.
Second, the NFL is justifiably sensitive to the topic of players committing sexual assault. The league has seen several of its stars accused of assault, prompting multifaceted investigations that lasted months, sometime longer, and in some instances generated litigation. The three complaints allude to this point, charging “the NFL is notorious in its own right for a culture that fosters sexual harassment and sexual assault.” Whether or not the allegations against Watson are true, their presence might be with him for some time. The league would also be worried about there being multiple accusers against Watson who tell similar stories.
Third, Watson is contractually accountable to Nike and his other sponsors. They have invested in him because they believe his endorsement will help them sell a product or service to consumers. If Watson’s name is tarnished by accusation, he could become less marketable. Sponsors also preserve substantial discretion in endorsement deals through “morals clauses,” which typically state that if a player brings controversy on himself or herself or on the company, the sponsor can suspend payment or terminate the deal. Although there is no reason to believe an endorser would take such action against Watson at this time, morals clauses can influence how quickly and privately an athlete attempts to resolve an accusation.
(This story has been twice updated throughout to include information from second and third lawsuits filed against Deshaun Watson.)