Deshaun Watson’s lawyers appeared a Houston sports radio station on Friday to discuss the 23 civil lawsuits brought against the Cleveland Browns quarterback, all by women alleging varying degrees of sexual impropriety, which they were exposed to during massage appointments with Watson.
Toward the end of the interview, attorney Rusty Hardin made a jaunty remark that was equal parts ignorant and angry, and potentially of interest to NFL investigators.
“I don’t know how many men out there have had a massage that might have had an occasional happy ending by now. Hardin began. “Maybe there isn’t anyone in your audience that this has ever happened to.
“I want to point out: if it happened, it’s not a crime. OK? If you don’t pay someone extra to give you some kind of sexual activity, it’s not a crime. … Doing something or saying something or being in a way you are uncomfortable with is not a crime.”
Hardin said there was consensual sexual activity between Watson and some of the women. Due to the fact that 23 women have filed lawsuits, not all of the massage therapists that Watson had appointments with agreed with what happened during their interactions with him.
Hardin tries to get his clients points in the court of public opinion, but at this point it doesn’t matter whether what Watson did was criminal or not. Two grand juries declined to indict him, meaning he is free from criminal investigation but his innocence has yet to be tested in a civil court.
Hardin’s statement that “making someone uncomfortable is not a crime” is callous, untrue, and neither is the discussion here. What matters now is whether Watson has engaged in conduct for which he may be held liable in a civil court. Quite different standards apply in civil courts than in criminal courts. The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy also has different standards.
What counts is approval.
Making fun of yourself by mentioning a “happy ending” during a radio interview and downplaying the women making allegations is why rape culture persists.
That’s why a culture like that in the front offices of the Washington Commanders festered for years.
Because of this, despite Watson facing these numerous allegations, the Cleveland Browns acquired him from the Houston Texans, signed him to the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history, and when asked, gave flimsy and utterly unsatisfactory answers as to why they did so in the face of Watson’s have done considerable baggage.
That’s why women of all walks of life and from all backgrounds keep quiet about their stories of sexual harassment and assault. Select family members and friends may know them, but as women we have been shown time and time again for decades that work supervisors or human resources officers or the police and the legal system that provides “justice” to a very limited segment of the population is not enough to matter.
So we mostly keep them to ourselves.
Hours after the interview, Hardin struggled to clarify his comments about a statement. It read in part: “In an interview with a Houston radio show today, I mentioned that a massage with a ‘happy ending’ is not illegal, meaning that it is not illegal for someone to have consensual sex with a therapist after a massage has, unless the sex is for payment. Deshaun didn’t pay anyone for sex. I used the term hypothetically and did not describe Deshaun’s case.
“I’ve repeated to others that it’s not okay to do something that a woman doesn’t agree to. These women have alleged assault in their briefs. I spoke in a hypothetical situation. If a consensual sexual encounter occurs after a massage, then it is neither a felony nor the basis of a civil action. I haven’t talked about what Deshaun did or didn’t do or expected or didn’t expect.
A whoop interview followed by a whoop statement. Watson may be a nutcase, but whatever he pays Hardin in billable hours is too much.
Hardin has done quite a reversal in the past year. First, he implied that all the accusers were liars. Now he says there was sexual contact between Watson and at least some of the therapists, but it was consensual, although nearly two dozen lawsuits suggest that wasn’t the case for all, not in the women’s eyes.
His statement and clarification still slanders the women by implying that they are all sex workers and propagates a trope. What has become clear is that Watson was hoping for at least one sexual encounter with many, if not all, of the women he dated and had little to no interest in therapeutic massage; If he wanted sex workers, he could certainly find them and pay for the anonymity and discretion that would have kept him out of the situation he is in now.
Some of the women who have accused Watson of misconduct have worked with him on more than one occasion; Some prosecutors said his behavior escalated with each visit until it became intolerable. These women basically ran their own micro-business, and to have a client like Watson could have been a blessing, so they tried to endure it until they couldn’t anymore.
For many women it is a familiar situation.
It’s understandable that a woman excited about potentially having an NFL quarterback as a regular would give him a second chance, even after a first meeting left her desperate. Maybe she had misinterpreted his actions the first time and he would be better the second time. Or maybe she could internalize a little unease if it meant getting a deep-pocketed client with numerous teammates who might also need a massage therapist.
Deshaun Watson obviously doesn’t care how he made some of these women feel. Rusty Hardin obviously doesn’t care how Watson made some of these women feel. The Cleveland Browns obviously don’t care.
Trying to avert incidents like the ones Watson is accused of is why they continue to happen. Ignoring the concept of consent and a person’s right to say yes or no is why they keep happening.
That’s why women are still so afraid of what might happen to them if they tell their truth. People like Dan Snyder will be protected, attorneys like Rusty Hardin will frame accusers, quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson will get guaranteed contracts.
It’s high time to stop doing that.