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Editor’s note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org

Deshaun Watson denied assaulting, harassing or disrespecting any woman during his introductory press conference with the Browns on Friday. 

“I understand these allegations are serious. I never assaulted any woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman,” Watson said. “I was raised to be genuine and to respect everyone around me. … I’ve never done the things that these people are alleging.”

Watson faces 22 active civil lawsuits that detail graphic accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault that occurred during massage therapy sessions, ranging from the quarterback’s refusing to cover his genitals to “touching [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.” According to Jenny Vrentas of The New York Times, the criminal complaints he previously faced involved similar descriptions, including Watson’s ejaculating on them and either sexual assault or attempted sexual assault.

One of the lawsuits stated that his “behavior is part of a disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women.” According to another filing, Watson told one plaintiff, “I make a lot of massage therapists uncomfortable and it’s really hard for me to find someone who will meet my needs ...”

Sports Illustrated previously obtained text messages between Susan (a pseudonym), a veteran massage therapist SI spoke with, and a woman SI called Mary (also a pseudonym, who spoke to SI about what happened during her 2019 appointment with Watson). The exchange showed that Watson had a reputation for problematic behavior that was well-known across Houston's massage therapist industry. 

As written by Vrentas (then of SI): 

But Mary says Susan told her something different after her appointment with Watson: that Mary was not the first therapist Susan had referred who reported back concerns about Watson’s conduct. In a November 2019 text message about Watson, Susan wrote to Mary, “whether the creepy stuff is his intention or not, he does it every time,” adding the parenthetical, “only 1 therapist hasn’t complained.”

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On March 11, a Harris County, Texas grand jury returned nine “no” bills on nine criminal complaints against Watson. On Thursday, a grand jury in Brazoria County declined to charge Watson on a 10th count.

Although the criminal proceedings have concluded in both counties, the civil depositions, which began on the same day the first grand jury convened, are ongoing. The quarterback reportedly invoked the Fifth Amendment during the first two depositions, but he reportedly answered questions under oath several days after the criminal proceedings concluded in Harris County.

In a surprise move last week, Watson waived his no trade clause for the Browns. The trade was announced before the Brazoria County grand jury considered a criminal complaint but after Watson had answered questions under oath in the deposition for the civil cases.

When general manager Andrew Berry was asked Friday whether they communicated with any of the 22 women who filed civil cases against Watson, Berry said that the organization’s lawyers told them not to reach directly out to the women because it would be considered interfering with the criminal investigation.

In the wake of the trade, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center received more than 1,800 donations in response raising over $88,000 in under one week as of Friday morning. The agency released a statement in response to the trade last Saturday, saying in part, “We understand the story surrounding Deshaun Watson joining the Cleveland Browns team is triggering for far too many of our friends and neighbors. For those who need additional support, please know Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is available to you 24/7/365.

“To the community we say, we see you. We hear your outrage. We feel it too. Every click. Every post and every tweet. Every donation sends a clear message.”

The NFL’s investigation into Watson for violating the league’s personal conduct policy is ongoing, and he could still face suspension. As the civil deposition proceedings continue, here’s a recap of what has happened on and off the field since Watson’s last snap.

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