Deshaun Watson was accused of more than 20 incidents of sexual assault or sexual harassment from women the quarterback interacted with dating back to 2019, prior to being traded from the Texans to the Browns. Since that time more accusers have come forward. At this point, the NFL’s investigation into the quarterback is still ongoing, and there’s seemingly no end in sight to its probe.
The allegations against Watson are now more than a year old, and are on the verge of spanning across two NFL seasons. Here is a full timeline of how claims against Watson unfolded, and continue to progress.
Warning: The following will detail allegations of sexual assault.
The first allegation against Watson
On March 16, 2021 Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee filed a civil suit on behalf of a massage therapist who alleges that Watson sexually assaulted her during a session in March of 2020. The suit states that Watson touched the woman with his penis before asking for sex. The woman ended the session with Watson following the incident, and was subsequently called by other NFL players, who told the therapist that Watson recommended her.
The woman alleges that Watson later called her, and apologized for his actions.
Watson responds on Twitter
On the evening of March 16, Watson issues a statement about the lawsuit, denying the incidents. In it he said he has “never treated a woman with anything but the utmost respect,” adding that he feels the suit was the result of a “publicity-seeking” lawyer.
The Texans make their first statement
On the morning of March 17 the Texans released a statement to local news saying in part that they “hope to learn more” about the incident.
“We became aware of a civil lawsuit involving Deshaun Watson through a social media post last night. This is the first time we heard of the matter, and we hope to learn more soon. We take accusations of this nature that involve anyone within the Houston Texans organization seriously. We will await further information before making any additional statements on this incident.”
The second allegation
On March 17, the following day, Buzbee announced that a second massage therapist was also filing a suit against Watson over an alleged incident which took place in The Houstonian Hotel in August of 2020.
This new allegation stated that Watson met a massage therapist at the hotel and completely disrobed for the session, refusing to put his clothes back on. The second massage therapist alleged that Watson directed her to massage his penis, and when she didn’t he made an intentional movement which caused her to touch his penis.
In addition the lawyer also announced that seven more women were filing suit against Watson.
More accusers come forward
The following day, on March 18 the third and most serious suit against Watson was filed. A massage therapist alleged that Watson sexually assaulted her in an office building in December of 2020, forcing her to perform oral sex on him.
According to details from the suit filed it’s alleged that the massage therapist, now living in Oregon was:
“coerced and intimidated by Watson to “move her mouth towards his penis, forcing Plaintiff to perform oral sex on him. Plaintiff did not consent to any of this conduct. Plaintiff blacked out for a few minutes from the fear.”
The suit also details trauma caused as a result of the incident. Following the third suit the NFL began to take action, assigning senior VP Lisa Friel as lead investigator into the incident. Friel most recently took a similar role for the league in 2019, investigating allegations against receiver Antonio Brown. However, details of the league’s “probe” into Watson were limited, and did not explain how it would be conducted, or whether Watson would be suspended from team activities pending the result of the investigation. That probe is still ongoing.
Buzbee announces more women are coming forward with stories
On March 19 Buzbee said that more women contacted his office in the wake of the previous three accusations. Nine additional suits were filed, bringing the total to 12 — and in total the attorney said that 22 women had contacted his office saying they too were harassed, or assaulted by the Texans’ quarterback.
The nature of the suits ranged from a woman who said Watson tried to force her to kiss him, and another who alleges the quarterback tried to sexually assault her on two different occasions after they met in an office building. As a result of these suits Buzbee asked the Houston police department, and the Harris County District Attorney’s office to look into these complaints filed against Watson, potentially seeking criminal charges in addition to the civil cases filed.
On March 22 another suit was filed, this time from California. It is the 14th civil case against Watson, once again from a massage therapist. This suit referred to Watson as a “serial predator,” detailing an incident in which Watson called the woman to meet him for a massage, locked the door and during the massage allegedly forced her hand on his penis. When she recoiled he allegedly said “I will not have you sign an NDA, but don’t ever talk about this.”
In response to a request for information from ESPN, Dane Schiller, a spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said it would be “inappropriate” to offer a statement on whether his office was pursuing charges.
“It would be inappropriate for the District Attorney’s Office to comment on a civil lawsuit, and we refrain from publicly discussing allegations in any matter until and if a criminal charge is filed; we do this out of fairness to all,” Schiller said in a statement.
The NFL remained quiet during this period, with there being no word from the league office beyond the initial statement by spokesperson Brian McCarthy, who said “the matter was under review.”
The Sports Illustrated story shines a new light on the allegations
On Monday, March 29, 2021 Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated wrote an article detailing allegations from another California-based massage therapist, “Mary,” one who isn’t involved in the Buzbee suit. The woman said she reached out to the lawyer, but wasn’t comfortable signing a contract that made him her sole legal representation.
This alleged incident, which occurred in 2019, did not involve sexual assault, but rather numerous inappropriate actions during what was believed to be a routine session.
“After 90 minutes, Watson asked to extend the session for another hour. She continued to work only on his quads, inner thighs and abdomen—the specific areas he requested. Watson developed an erection, she says, and also began clenching and slowly “thrusting the air.” Mary at first wondered whether his movements were a pain response to her deep-tissue work, so she asked whether he was O.K. She says he replied that he was fine and stopped thrusting for a short time.”
The therapist said she speaking to legal counsel on how to proceed at the time of publication.
The 2021 NFL season
At this point police were investigating claims against Watson, and had sent information along to the Houston district attorney’s office. The NFL probe was ongoing, but the league had yet to suspend Watson, or place him on the commissioner’s exempt list.
On September 3, 2021, Texans GM Nick Casserio said that Watson would be named to the team’s 53-man roster to start the season — however, the quarterback would not play. Instead he was inactive each game due to “non-injury reasons/personal matter.”
The grand jury chooses not to indict Watson
On March 11, 2022 a Harris County grand jury declines to indict Watson on charges of “harassment and sexual misconduct.” It should be noted that a grand jury’s job is not to assess guilt or innocence, but rather evaluate whether prosecutors have enough evidence to bring a case to court and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a party is guilty. To complicate matters, Texas grand jury proceedings are closed to the public and secret — meaning there’s no way to know what was, or wasn’t presented.
Teams begin to try and trade for Watson
Teams around the NFL begin calling the Texans to inquire about Watson immediately following the grand jury decision. The teams most fervently trying to trade for Watson were the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints.
On March 18, 2022 the trade is announced, sending Watson and a sixth-round pick to the Browns in exchange for three first-round picks, a third round pick, and two fourth round picks.
Watson is signed to a new fully-guaranteed, five-year contract worth $230M. This was the largest contract guarantee in NFL history. In addition, it’s revealed the Browns have structured the contract to be back-loaded, limiting Watson’s 2022 salary to $1,035,000. If the NFL suspends him for any part of the 2022 season, he loses the corresponding base salary, so this is potentially a shield against expected financial loss.
Watson’s story is revisited following Real Sports interviews
On May 23, 2022 two of Deshaun Watson’s accusers appear on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel to share their allegations against the quarterback. Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes detailed the alleged abuse they experienced while conducting massage treatment with Watson.
Following the airing of the episode another woman comes forward with new allegations against Watson, bringing the total number of civil suits against Watson to 24, with two more potentially coming. Nia Smith had previously alleged she was harassed by Watson on social media, but chose not to file a lawsuit. However, after the HBO show Smith said she felt compelled to come forward officially.
Smith “was struck by the courage of the victims willing to step forward and speak and was extremely displeased by Watson and his legal team’s mistreatment and revictimization of the plaintiffs.”
Watson’s legal team responds saying the lawsuit is frivolous and the claims are a lie.
The New York Times article that blew everything open
On June 7 the New York Times publishes the widest, most detailed investigation into the claims against Deshaun Watson. Titled “How the Texans and a spa enabled Deshaun Watson’s troubling behavior” the story details the role Watson’s prior team played in finding the quarterback massage therapists, as well as accusations the team was aware of the allegations against the QB while they were happening.
In addition, the story claims Watson routinely used non-disclosure agreements — and that the Texans supplied Watson with these NDAs. In addition it detailed how Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, had deep connections to the Harris County legal system and his power inside of the area could have manipulated the grand jury process.
This report also brought forward two new allegations against Watson. Shortly following the NYT report, Watson makes his Twitter account private and declines to make further statements.
An investigator into the case believes Watson was guilty, regardless of the grand jury decision
On June 15, the testimony of Houston detective Kamesha Baker was obtained by Yahoo Sports. In it she details that in her opinion, based on past investigations she’s worked on, Watson did commit multiple crimes.
In her testimony she detailed the difference between consent and coercion when it came to the massage therapists in the Watson case. She explained that the size difference between the quarterback and the women made them fearful, in her opinion, of saying no to the advances he made towards them.
An arbiter rules that Deshaun Watson should be suspended six games
On August 1st, Independent disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson ruled that Watson’s suspension should be six games, giving both the league and Watson’s representation to appeal the decision.
The NFL settles with Watson, increasing his suspension to 11 games and a $5 million fine
While the NFL previously recommended an indefinite suspension for Watson, both parties eventually agreed to an 11-game suspension and a $5 million fine, which was announced on August 18. Watson’s fine will be combined with donations from the NFL and the Cleveland Browns to help organizations working to prevent sexual misconduct and assault.