At Deshaun Watson’s introductory press conference in March, he said “four times” that he has “never disrespected” a woman.
On Tuesday, two of the 22 women who have filed civil suits against Watson for sexual misconduct during massage appointments, detailed, on camera in a segment with HBO, moments during those sessions when Watson placed his penis in their hands or ejaculated during sessions. One of the women, Ashley Solis, said Watson vaguely threatened her, noting that their mutual reputations were at stake. (Watson denies that interaction happened.)
In the months before that interview, similar details of inappropriate behavior during a massage therapy session were also recounted to Sports Illustrated via a massage therapist who is not among the 22 women currently filing suit against Watson.
When Watson was introduced as a Brown, general manager Andrew Berry talked at great length about the effort the team placed into getting “comfortable” terma term Berry used 13 times that that introductory press conference — with Watson. But Berry was never asked a question that seems extraordinarily pressing, now that some of the women have taken the extraordinary step of detailing horrifying moments on camera.
Do Berry, coach Kevin Stefanski, and owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam believe Watson when — as he did four times while sitting between Berry and Stefanski and in front of a Browns backdrop — Watson says he “never disrespected” a woman?
This question sits at the heart of everything happening right now. It raises still-unanswered questions about what the Browns actually know, what they are pretending not to know and what they are willing to live with.
We know (a little) about how the NFL feels, even though it has not yet handed down a suspension. Its own vice president of broadcasting said in an interview that Watson’s first game against the Texans since the trade is “not the right game that we want all eyes on.” The Browns have just one Thursday Night Football game and one Monday-night game. Matt Ryan will play in prime time more often than Watson. Russell Wilson will be in prime time three times as often as Watson will be.
We know (a little) about how Watson’s legal counsel feels. On the HBO program, Leah Graham, one of Watson’s attorneys, was asked why we should believe one man over 22 women. Mostly, she attacked the credibility and character of the women’s lead attorney, Tony Buzbee.
We can even guess (a little) about how the Browns feel, as evidenced by the way they structured Watson’s contract — a $ 1 million base salary for the 2022 season, the year when he’s most likely to serve a suspension. (Of course, Berry denied that at Watson’s opening press conference, saying it was a commonly used structure. The Browns also included noticeably low base salaries into the contracts of Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb and Austin Hooper.)
From the 30,000 foot perspective, there can be only three real scenarios:
• The Browns do believe Watson, which would mean that they also believe the accounts of each and every one of the more than two dozen women to be completely false. They believe not one of these women was disrespected during a massage session with the team’s new franchise quarterback.
• The Browns don’t believe Watson, which would mean they signed a player to the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history knowing full well that he’s not telling the truth. Consider how troubling that character trait is for a player who now controls the fate of almost everyone in the organization.
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• The Browns, due to their extensive background work, know exactly what in the lawsuits is true and what is false and have made a calculated football decision hinging on our tendency to eventually forget about misdeeds of the past, which would ultimately make whether they believe him a moot point when they are hoisting trophies and using Watson’s presence in the Cleveland area as a thick coat of paint to cover up what we decide to remember about these cases.
The third scenario seems most likely, but for right now, at this moment, the organization should have no choice but to commit to the first.
It would represent a truly monumental occasion in our football society, of course, for an NFL team to take a stand on something and not hide behind some cloud of meaningless platitudes or legalese. The Browns are not alone in this regard — the Falcons, Saints, Panthers and Colts are among the teams we know also pursued Watson. The NFL is not alone in this world. We live in a culture that places the bottom-line result above the integrity of the journey.
But on Tuesday night, Ashley Solis sat down with a reporter on camera and fought back tears as she described a client much larger and stronger than her, lying on a table, refusing a protective towel to cover his genitals and constantly insisting she work lower and lower beneath his abdomen. That is information we all knew. That was information the Browns knew. Watson later admitted that he texted her apologizing for the fact that she cried after the session, while saying he didn’t know why she was crying.
Was Ashley Solis disrespected?
Was the woman who shared her account with SI, under the pseudonym “Mary,” who is not among the 22 plaintiffs, disrespected?
Were any of the other 21 plaintiffs disrespected?
Was the former plaintiff, who chose not to go forward when she learned her name would become public as part of the case, disrespected?
Were the two other women who did not file civil suits but filed criminal complaints (a Harris County grand jury declined to indict Watson) disrespected?
Did the Browns get “comfortable” useto use Berry’s word — with Watson as a person who will eventually be redeemed if their plan is executed perfectly? Or did the Browns get comfortable with a person who has nothing to apologize for in the first place? Because there’s an enormous difference.
Time after time, Solis and the other women have placed their own well-being, safety (read the pig-brained comments responding to these kinds of articles when you get a chance) and reputations on the line to voice their truth. It’s time for the Browns to voice theirs.
More NFL Coverage:
• What You Haven’t Heard — But Need to Know — About the Deshaun Watson Cases
• A Massage Therapist on Her Session With Deshaun Watson
• The Browns Will Never Live Down the Watson Trade