When Tuesday began, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson faced a total of 22 lawsuits brought by woman who say he assaulted and terrorized them during massage services.
By the close of business on Tuesday, the number had risen to 23.
The latest filing is a reminder that if the NFL—as expected—decides to suspend Watson this summer, his legal situation could remain in the courts well into 2023 or beyond. Additional accusers and plaintiffs could surface after he’s suspended. That could mean additional NFL suspensions and less certainty for the Browns that their QB, whom they signed to a $230 million guaranteed contract, will be available to play for significant stretches of time.
Nia Smith, a licensed cosmetologist, sued Watson on Tuesday for assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. Like the 22 other plaintiffs, Smith is represented by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee and her complaint was filed in Harris County in Texas.
Smith says she had three sessions with Watson in 2020, and that Watson’s “behavior grew worse during every massage.” Like the other plaintiffs, Smith finds it “peculiar” that Watson, a famed NFL player with access to world class healthcare, would contact her through social media to secure massage services. She asserts that Watson aggressively made sexual overtures, including by repeatedly asking her “if she wanted his penis in her mouth” and by attempting to grab her buttocks. Smith says she was traumatized.
Smith also contends that she has been on the radar screen of Watson’s legal team for some time. When the first lawsuits were filed in 2021, Smith says an attorney for Watson reached out to her and, “in an effort to intimidate her,” vowed that Watson’s legal team would fight the lawsuits to the fullest extent. Smith says she was also told by this attorney that “us black women must stick together.” Smith refused to go along. She says her name was leaked to the media and that she faced death threats.
Smith asserts she had no plans to sue Watson until she watched the HBO Real Sports piece on the saga which aired last week. She was “struck by the courage” of the accusers to “step forward and speak” and felt dismayed that Watson’s representatives would try to discredit the accusers.
The NFL would not be barred from suspending Watson again if new allegations surface that show he engaged in conduct detrimental. The NFL knows it can’t punish Watson twice for the same misconduct: In 2014, retired Judge Barbara Jones ruled, in an arbitration, that the NFL had wrongly suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice twice for the same misconduct involving his then fiancée. But in Watson’s case, a new accuser who was not known to the NFL during its initial investigation could prompt the league to suspend the quarterback a second time.