Editor’s note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault and is seeking help, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org.
Two plaintiffs, Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes, gave their first national TV interviews on HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel on Tuesday evening. In the interview with Soledad O’Brien, each detailed their experiences with Deshaun Watson and commented on the quarterback’s new contract.
The Browns traded for Watson in March and signed him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million. Solis said in the interview that “it’s just like a big ‘screw you.’ That’s what it feels like. That we don’t care. He can run and throw, and that’s what we care about.”
Hayes said she “felt like he’s being rewarded for bad behavior.”
One notable person did not watch the episode—Browns coach Kevin Stefanski.
“I read about it,” he said. “I would tell you we did a lot of work on that. As we’ve talked about, we’ve done a lot of work on Deshaun the person, and there’s legal proceedings ongoing, there’s an investigation ongoing so I won’t comment much further than that.”
Watson is facing 22 active civil lawsuits filed by massage therapists, each detailing graphic accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault that occurred during massage therapy sessions. The accounts range from Watson refusing to cover his genitals to the quarterback “touching [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.” During his introductory press conference with the Browns, Watson denied assaulting, harassing or disrespecting any woman.
General manager Andrew Berry said during the March press conference that the background research of Watson and his cases was a ”five-month odyssey.” The franchise used private investigators and third-party legal advisers to learn more about the cases, and “were advised against reaching out directly to the 22 women, out of concern.”
Stefanski said at the time, “I have confidence in the work we put in.”
The quarterback also previously faced multiple criminal complaints; however, he is not facing charges following two separate grand jury hearings. A Harris County grand jury returned nine “no” decisions on nine criminal complaints against Watson on March 11. A Harris County prosecutor said that the decision concluded criminal proceedings against him in that county, and Watson was traded shortly afterward. On March 24, a grand jury in Brazoria County declined to charge Watson on a 10th count.
Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lead attorney, released a video statement before the interview aired, saying in part, “Nobody really wanted to deal much with the fact that two different grand juries found there were no criminal events. The grand jury decides probable cause—is there any basis for believing there was a crime committed, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor. And both of those grand juries found no probable cause to believe any crime at all was committed.
“That should have been given great sway because originally there were allegations, he used force against these women. Turns out only three of the 22 lawsuits involve any allegation of force, and then when subjected to investigation by law enforcement and presentation to a grand jury, it was found no force was used. There was no indication of a crime involving any type of force.”
As far as the league investigation, commissioner Roger Goodell revealed Tuesday that the league is “nearing the end of the investigation” into Watson. However, no timeline was provided on when a ruling would be issued by the disciplinary officer.
More Deshaun Watson Coverage:
- Watson Plaintiff: ‘I’m Not a Sex Worker. I Am a Massage Therapist.’
- Watson Plaintiff Thinks ‘He’s Being Rewarded for Bad Behavior’ With New Contract
- When and for How Long Will Deshaun Watson Be Suspended?
- How Deshaun Watson and 22 Women Got Here
- After the Browns Signed Deshaun Watson, a Blast Radius of ’Emotions and Anger’