Editors’ 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.
Tony Buzbee, who represents the plaintiffs who filed civil lawsuits against Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, posed a single question to the NFL during a press conference Thursday.
“Mr. Goodell, what will you do?”
The press conference comes in the wake of the league’s announcement Wednesday it is appealing disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson’s ruling of a six-game suspension for the quarterback. It has been confirmed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell won’t handle the appeal but rather a designee.
“Every victim of sexual assault is watching [Roger] Goodell and the NFL right now. And this idea that Mr. Goodell is going to hand it off to someone else independent, we don’t buy it,” Buzbee said. “Mr. Goodell, what will you do? It’s never too late to do the right thing, and that’s what these women and those watching are expecting.”
The players association has two business days to file its response to the appeal, and it must be in writing. The NFL also detailed in its statement how, under the personal conduct policy, “the appeal will be: (i) processed on an expedited basis; (ii) limited to consideration of the terms of discipline imposed; and (iii) based upon a review of the existing record without reference to evidence or testimony not previously considered. No additional evidence or testimony shall be presented to or accepted by the Commissioner or his designee.”
Additionally, “any factual findings and evidentiary determinations of the Disciplinary Officer will be binding to the parties on appeal, and the decision of the Commissioner or his designee, which may overturn, reduce, modify or increase the discipline previously issued, will be final and binding on all parties.”
More than two dozen women have detailed graphic accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault that occurred during massage therapy sessions. The accounts range from Watson allegedly 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.”
Twenty-five women filed civil lawsuits against Watson starting in March 2021, and only one dropped her case due to privacy concerns in April ’21. He has now reportedly settled all civil lawsuits but one.
Ashley Solis, the first plaintiff to file against Watson, detailed how she has received death threats throughout this process but also received letters of support. She said, “So if anyone has ever tried to abuse their status and overpower you, remind them that they picked the wrong one to try that with. That is exactly what I am—the wrong one. And I will keep showing my face and keep speaking up for as long as I can. You should be a wrong one too and speak up.”
Both Solis and Buzbee were critical of how the league handled the investigation. She addressed how “what the actions of the NFL states [is] that little girls who have suffered at the hands of someone perceived to have power that is not a big deal.” Meanwhile, the lawyer said the following about the disciplinary process. He did make 10 women available to the league, but “the NFL wasn’t interested in talking to them. NFL rejected those submissions. Our clients didn’t testify at the three-day hearing. We don’t know what was presented or how the presentation was made. No explanation.”
He later added, “It really makes you want to scratch your head and wonder, ‘What the hell is going on?’”
In Robinson’s 16-page report, she stated “the NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report.” Additionally, the former federal judge found that the Browns’ quarterback engaged in conduct that created “a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person, and conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL.”
Robinson differentiated between what was violent and nonviolent conduct, coming to the conclusion Watson’s behavior “does not fall into the category of violent conduct that would require the minimum six-game suspension” that the NFL had established as “by far the most commonly-imposed discipline for domestic or gendered violence and sexual acts.”
The quarterback has denied all allegations against him, and two Texas grand juries declined to indict him on criminal charges earlier this spring. A clause built into his five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million mandates he will lose only $55,556 for every game in which he’s suspended this season. This adds up to almost $350,000 if the ruling stands.
More Deshaun Watson Coverage:
- Watson Plaintiff: ‘I’m Not a Sex Worker. I Am a Massage Therapist.’
- Houston PD Detective Testified She Believes Watson Committed Crimes, per Report
- The Browns Will Never Live Down the Watson Trade
- What You Haven’t Heard—But Need to Know—About the Deshaun Watson Cases
- After the Browns Signed Deshaun Watson, a Blast Radius of ’Emotions and Anger’
- When Deshaun Watson Says He ’Never Disrespected’ a Woman, Do the Cleveland Browns Believe Him?