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It has been about a month since massage therapists began filing civil lawsuits alleging various levels of sexual assault or harassment against Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson. There are 22 of them now.
Since then, neither Watson nor his sizable legal team have settled on a defense that explains away the situation. At least, none that have been shared publicly, which includes a lengthy news conference Friday from attorney Rusty Hardin.
Watson may, indeed, be innocent of all 22 counts. It all could be a misunderstanding. Each plaintiff could be a money-seeking liar. Who knows? Anything is possible, but neither Hardin nor three other attorneys working on Watson’s defense explained how.
The Watson defense boiled down to three basic points:
1. He always had a reputation as a good guy.
2. Yes, some of the many, many massage sessions with the many, many massage therapists Watson hired, often off of Instagram, included sexual activity, but those were consensual acts. Meanwhile, the women who suggest Watson sought sex during their session were mistaken and he wasn’t pushing for it, demanding it or inappropriately forcing it even though he sometimes had sex during other sessions.
3. The plaintiffs' lawyer is a clown and a jerk.
If Hardin is going to win this one then it will require some incredible legal needle threading, because Nos. 1 and 3 don’t matter and No. 2 doesn’t make any sense.
Maybe Hardin has that in him.
“You know what, maybe all these things aren’t true,” Hardin said. “Let’s wait.”
Fair enough. In a court of law, that’s even the requirement. In the court of public opinion though, where Watson backers desperately seek a believable narrative, waiting for something better is about all that's left.
Watson is essentially backed up to his own goal line based on what is not just alleged, but what is acknowledged by his own attorneys.
Hardin said Friday that the QB regularly received two or three massages a week. And there were lots of massage therapists (22 plaintiffs, 18 more who said Watson acted appropriately, plus even “more” Hardin said he didn’t bother to have come forward).
And Hardin again acknowledged that some of these sessions included sexual acts. So Watson was hiring lots of women, many of whom weren’t even massage therapists, let alone licensed. And some of those sessions included sexual acts. But it was consensual … according to Watson.
“On some occasions some sexual activity would have taken place,” Hardin said. “I am not going to go into what it is or the nature or the numbers or with whom. But the question we’ve always been emphasizing … never at any time, under any circumstances ... did this young man ever engage in anything that wasn’t mutually desired by the other party.”
Hardin acknowledged the Watson legal team hasn't been able to fully investigate each claim or plaintiff but it totally believes Watson because … well just consider Watson's reaction when he was told that Jane Doe No. 3 filed suit alleging he forced her to engage in oral sex.
“When I told him, he was in disbelief,” Hardin said. “He asked me two or three times, ‘I forced her?’ And then he just started crying. That’s his reaction. And that’s the thing for you all to remember. We don’t cry about things we did.”
We don’t? What? There are prison yards full of tears all over America.
Anyway, we know for sure that some of these sessions evolved into sex (consensual or not). Yet the vast majority of the plaintiffs say they did not engage in any sex act with Watson.
They sued him for acting inappropriately in an effort to begin a sex act, everything from asking for unusual areas (“inner glutes”) to be massaged, insisting on being naked, flipping over when it wasn’t necessary and having an erection to even more potentially criminal acts such as moving his penis so it touched them and even pre-ejaculating on them. And that goes beyond verbal requests and suggestive language.
None of that is true, per Hardin. Watson never made an inappropriate first move.
Apparently in those other sessions where there was sex, it was the massage therapist who started the process with Watson, who was just minding his own business, or they came to a mutual agreement to engage in sexual activity. Or something like that.
It was sexual sometimes, but not the other times. And Watson’s perspective and recollection is 100-percent accurate 100-percent of the time and the 22 women are all wrong about everything every time, even though a number of them made contemporaneous reports about what he did.
Possible? Sure. But do you want to make that argument?
Or is it more plausible that Watson was a guy who liked hiring massage therapist and then having sex with them? Sometimes his actions went beyond the appropriate threshold, either by a little or a whole lot. After all, in at least one lawsuit Watson sent an apologetic text afterward.
In a civil case, the jury needs to be only 51-percent convinced of one side of the story and essentially it is 22 women saying Watson did this and Watson saying he sort of sometimes did it but not in the way all the women recall it.
That’s where we are right now, about one month into this. Neither Watson's likability or the plaintiffs' attorney's unlikability matter.
Deshaun Watson’s defense matters, but if this is all there is, if Rusty Hardin doesn’t have a better explanation, then this is going to be one difficult fight ahead.
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