When the NFL’s Houston Texans’ season ended Jan. 3 with a 41-38 loss to the Tennessee Titans, they headed into the off-season as an organization on the decline after having won the AFC South division title four of the previous five years.
The Texans finished 4-12, losers of their final five games, and would summarily begin a search for a new general manager and head coach. The one indisputable ray of hope was their 25-year-old quarterback Deshawn Watson. He concluded the 2020-’21 season leading the league in passing with 4,823 yards, and had established himself as a dynamic superstar on the field, a respected team leader in the locker room, and upstanding, philanthropic member of the greater Houston community.
Merely 10 weeks later, Watson’s career is potentially in disarray and his character under siege following allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct. As of Tuesday, Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee had formally filed 16 civil lawsuits on behalf of individual clients against Watson, several who have been identified as female massage therapists.
The filings appear on the Harris County District Clerk’s website. Among the allegations, which cover incidents spanning from May 2020 to earlier this month, 14 occurring in the Houston area, is that Watson touched women with his penis and ejaculated onto them against their consent during the course of massages
Watson is being represented by prominent Texas attorney Rusty Hardin, who has successfully won cases for accounting firm Arthur Anderson for their role in the Enron scandal, retired New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens, and NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen. Hardin says he is confident Watson will be vindicated.
In a statement on Tuesday before Buzbee had filed the 15th and 16th suits, Hardin put forth that his counterpart has “orchestrated a circus-like atmosphere by using social media to publicize 14 ‘Jane Doe’ lawsuits.” Hardin also said Watson had been the target of blackmail by at least one plaintiff.
A binary view is that Watson is the victim of a nefarious and calculated operation by Texans CEO Cal McNair, the son of the franchise’s founder, the late Bob McNair, for demanding a trade after the organization’s chief decision makers failed to hire one of the Black GM and head coaching candidates Watson had recommended. They eventually brought on Nick Caserio, who is white, as the general manager and David Culley, a Black man, as the head coach.
Or Watson has heretofore hoodwinked the masses by cultivating a pristine public persona and deftly masked pathological deviant behavior. However, there is almost certainly a vast swath of gray area. Buzbee has rejected unsubstantiated innuendos that he is part of a conspiracy.
“I need to dispel some silly rumors,” he said last week. “Yes…I live near the McNair family [in Houston]. I don’t know the McNair family. I wouldn’t recognize Cal or Hal or whatever his name is, if I saw him on the street. This case has nothing to do with the Texans…
“I don’t know anything about that silliness,” Buzbee continued, “and frankly don’t care about it. The Texans are not a team that I follow. This case is about brave women who are willing to step forward knowing that they will be criticized and ostracized and we should all get behind them, applaud them for their bravery and support them.”
Watson deserves the presumption of innocence. Equally, his accusers stories should be thoroughly considered and investigated. Time and time again, history shows this entanglement will become uglier with more salacious accounts being publicly revealed in the days and weeks ahead as observers pick sides.