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Yeah, Deshaun Watson will be back on Sunday

Unfortunately, his suspension is now over.

With nearly all of the more than two dozen lawsuits filed against Deshaun Watson having been settled, most of the women who accused the Cleveland quarterback of sexual misconduct have no interest in his return to Houston on Sunday and just want to move on with their lives, according to their attorney.

But about 10 of the women who accused Watson of sexual harassment and assault during massages are planning to attend Sunday’s game at NRG Stadium when the Browns take on the Texans and watch him play in his return from an 11-game suspension, said attorney Tony Buzbee.

Some of the women really want to attend the game “to kind of make the statement, ‘Hey we’re still here. We matter. Our voice was heard and this is not something that’s over. (Sexual harassment and assault) happen every day in the United States,’” Buzbee said.

The women declined to comment ahead of Sunday’s game, he said.

But it’s unclear if the spotlight Watson is expected to get this week will mean continued attention on the allegations against him and what his accusers say is trauma they’re still dealing with, or if it’s the first step in shifting the conversation strictly to football and his play on the field, according to experts.

“It can go either way … I think probably for the vast majority of NFL fans, they’re going to forget about the past and start focusing on the future with him,” said David Ring, a California-based attorney who is not connected to the lawsuits and who has represented victims of sexual assault.

[…]

Some organizations that work with victims of sexual violence said the expected media attention on Watson’s return to Houston is likely to trigger traumatic emotions in the women who accused him and with other survivors.

“I think survivors in high-profile cases whom I’ve talked to over the years, you get very mixed reactions. Some of them just want it to be out of the news … Others want (the perpetrator’s name) repeated every time … because bit by bit, they feel like that brings some degree of justice,” said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

Sonia Corrales, deputy CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, said this week’s focus on Watson’s return could be an opportunity for the NFL to highlight its policies to punish violence against women. A 2021 study by the University of Arkansas found the NFL did not follow its own personal conduct policy in punishing players who committed violent acts, including violence against women.

An NFL spokesman did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

“I’m going to suspect that the NFL is going to hold its nose and hope this weekend goes by quickly. I don’t think they’re going to address it,” Ring said.

Corrales said she hopes the attention this week from the media and public also prompts discussion not just on football but on sexual violence and all its forms.

“Sure, you want to concentrate on football, but let’s not minimize. Let’s also say this is important, that we need to talk about the trauma and the impact that sexual violence has on survivors,” Corrales said.

As a reminder, there are two pending lawsuits against Watson, a new one and a holdover from the original batch of 24. I think we can all assume that the NFL will do its best to avoid the subject this weekend, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. If you find yourself at the game, please take the opportunity to let your feelings be known. Reform Austin has more.

Gonzaga looking at the Big XII

The first real conference move by a non-football school is being discussed.

Conference realignment chatter for months has centered mainly around college football.

That hasn’t stopped Gonzaga from being proactive behind the scenes in discussions with at least three power conferences.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported Wednesday that Gonzaga Athletic Director Chris Standiford met with Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark in the Dallas area last week about the possibility of joining the conference. The Zags were in town to face Tennessee in an exhibition game.

The Zags also have been in contact with the Big East and Pac-12.

The Big 12 is regarded by many as the best men’s basketball conference in the nation. The Big 12 has produced the past two national champions. Kansas won the title last season and Baylor captured the 2021 crown with an 86-70 win over Gonzaga.

There is interest in the Zags with the program’s rise to national prominence and its streak of 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances. Gonzaga has made the Sweet 16 in seven consecutive tournaments and lost in the 2017 and 2021 NCAA championship games.

Gonzaga, which joined the West Coast Conference in 1979, has won or shared the conference regular-season title for 10 straight seasons.

“I would say we’ve had contact through intermediaries or otherwise that are measuring interest,” Standiford said last week about Pac-12 and Big East, before the Big 12’s interest was known.

Standiford called those talks “exploratory.”

“We talk to a lot of people because it’s such a dynamic time,” Standiford said. “There’s so many different elements in college sports that everybody’s trying to figure out what the ecosystem is going to look like through these TV contract changes.

“So they’re not substantive conversations about anything other than measuring interest, what do you see the interest being, and a lot of them are value conversations when it comes to Gonzaga. We like to understand what are the things that other people value and make sure that aligns with us and the experience we want for our students. I think it’s a very dynamic time.”

Yormark, hired as Big 12 commissioner in late June, has stated the conference is exploring expansion options and has interest in the Pacific time zone. The conference, which is losing Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, is set to add BYU, Houston, Central Florida and Cincinnati.

“I can’t speak for (other conferences),” Standiford said, “but I can tell you at this point and time we believe we have an amazing product, an amazing opportunity to really innovate and be different in the college landscape, and have it be more than just football.

See here for the latest on the state of the Big XII, and here for more on the PAC 12, which would make a lot more geographic sense for Gonzaga but which isn’t as strong in basketball. The reporting I’ve seen indicates that all of Gonzaga’s sports teams would move along with the men’s hoops team – the Zags’ women’s basketball team has been a regular in the NCAA tournament as well – but I’ve not seen any mention of whether they would revive their football team, which last played in 1941, or not. ESPN has more.

New sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Deshaun Watson

Number 26, that we know of.

A new sexual assault lawsuit has been filed against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, accusing him of pressuring a Houston massage therapist into giving him oral sex.

The lawsuit was filed in Harris County on Thursday afternoon by a woman identified only as Jane Doe. She is represented by Houston attorney Anissah Nguyen.

The lawsuit accuses Watson, who is now the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, of reaching out to the woman through Instagram in December 2020, arranging a meeting in a hotel room and then her pressuring into the sex act. The woman is seeking damage for physical and mental pain and suffering and loss of earnings, among other things, according to the lawsuit.

“Watson used his celebrity to take advantage of a young woman working hard for her success,” the lawsuit said. “Due to his behavior, she has suffered from severe depression and anxiety. Plaintiff is currently seeking counseling.”

[…]

Watson was previously sued by two dozen women, who made similar allegation he assaulted and harassed them. He has denied the allegations and has not been charged with any crimes. Since June, Watson has reached settlements with 23 of 24 the women who accused him of assault. In July, the Houston Texas reached settlements with 30 women preparing to sue the team over their role in the allegations against Watson.

See here for more on the other active lawsuit against Watson. As ESPN notes, there was a lawsuit that was dismissed in addition to the now-two active ones and the 23 settled ones, which is how we get to 26. We had heard about two more potential suits against Watson back in June; it’s possible this is one of those two, but I note that this plaintiff is not represented by Tony Buzbee, so who knows. Based on previous reporting, the possibility exists that even more could be filed. This is a reminder that no matter how much you don’t want to think about Deshaun Watson, we still have to think about Deshaun Watson.

The 24th plaintiff

As you know, 23 of the 24 women who had filed lawsuits against Deshaun Watson for sexual harassment and assault have settled those cases. The one who has not settled now tells us why.

>Deshaun Watson and the NFL agreed to an 11-game suspension and $5 million fine Thursday after 24 massage therapists filed civil suits accusing him of sexual assault in sessions with them while he was with the Houston Texans. Twenty-three of those 24 civil suits have been settled with undisclosed agreements, but there’s one case still pending, and the woman behind that suit spoke out Friday in the form of an essay for The Daily Beast.

“I have rejected all settlement offers, in part because they have not included any sincere acknowledgment of remorse and wrongdoings, nor have they included any promises of rehabilitative treatment,” Lauren Baxley wrote. “Watson still refuses to admit that he harassed and committed indecent assault against me. Any settlement offer he has made has been a dismissal of his evil actions, and I know that unless there is an authoritative intervention, he will continue his destructive behavior.”

The Houston Chronicle typically does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault or harassment. Baxley has publicly identified herself.

Watson has denied the allegations against him and stuck to that talking point even after agreeing to the 11-game suspension.

“I’ve always been able to stand on my innocence and always said I never assaulted or disrespected anyone. But at the same point, I have to continue to push forward with my life and career,” Watson told reporters at Browns training camp Thursday.

[…]

“I will say again: All non-consensual sexual acts are a violence, particularly when the predator far outweighs his victims in physical stature and influential power,” Baxley wrote for The Daily Beast. “And inherent and unspoken threats are just as damaging to the psyche as explicit threats. I will never cease my attempts to educate on this point.”

Baxley’s essay in the Daily Beast is subscription-only, so this is the best I can do. All I can say here is that I wish her all the success in the world. She deserves her chance to get whatever accountability there is to be had.

Watson’s suspension increased to 11 games

This was the result of an agreement between the NFL and Deshaun Watson as represented by the NFLPA.

Deshaun Watson’s suspension has been increased from six to 11 games, the league announced Thursday.

Watson and NFL reached a settlement where the former Texans quarterback must also pay a $5 million fine. The first game he would be eligible to play for the Cleveland Browns would be against his former team on Dec. 4 at NRG Stadium.

Watson, who was the subject of 24 civil lawsuits from women who alleged he sexually assaulted and harassed them, was initially given a six-game suspension by independent arbitrator Sue Robinson.

Robinson said in her 16-page report that Watson’s three violations met the NFL’s definition for sexual assault during massage therapy sessions with four women. Watson was ordered to only seek club-directed or club-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career along with the suspension. She did not recommend a fine.

But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appealed the ruling, seeking a year-long suspension. The two sides settled on the 11 games and the fine.

In its appeal for harsher discipline, the NFL had pointed to Watson’s lack of remorse, a factor Robinson also cited in her ruling. Watson, who has steadfastly denied the accusations against him, settled this summer 23 of the 24 lawsuits filed against him by women who said he harassed or assaulted them in massage appointments.

See here for some background. Note that this is a settlement agreement and not a ruling on the appeal by the NFL of Watson’s initial 6-game suspension. We’ll never know what that might have been, but given that Watson made his ridiculous non-apology the other day, it was clear that there was room for this kind of negotiation. In the end, both sides get certainty, the NFL avoids a lawsuit filed by the NFLPA over its handling of player discipline versus owner discipline (among many other things), and Watson will get to play this year. That’s a win-win in someone’s accounting; I think most of us aren’t winning anything, but I suppose it could have been worse. I’ll wait to see what the women who were harassed by Watson have to say. Sean Pendergast, The 19th, Slate, and a whole bunch of other outlets have more.

Deshaun Watson “apologizes”

As you may infer, I’m not impressed.

Deshaun Watson’s best play in his preseason debut with the Cleveland Browns came long before he took the field in Jacksonville.

Watson apologized Friday “to all the women I have impacted” after being accused by two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.

Potentially facing a year-long suspension, Watson publicly expressed remorse and contrition for the first time since he was accused of sexually harassing or assaulting the women during therapy sessions in 2020 and 2021.

He spoke before the team’s exhibition opener, a 24-13 victory against the Jaguars (0-2) in which Watson was roundly booed during three series of work. Fans in one end zone could be heard chanting vulgarities at Watson during his first drive.

[…]

“Look, I want to say that I’m truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation,” Watson said in the pregame interview. “The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back, but I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character and I am going to keep pushing forward.”

Watson has denied any wrongdoing, and grand juries in two Texas counties declined to indict him on criminal complaints. He settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits.

I hope I don’t have to explain why that “apology” is lame and meaningless. I suspect that Watson is beginning to fear that his suspension will be lengthened, and this is his feeble attempt to mitigate. I can’t imagine it would have any effect, and frankly if this is the best he can do then he better hope it doesn’t have a negative effect. But I suppose you never know. ESPN and Yahoo Sports have more.

Goodell thinks Watson should get a year’s suspension

Well, it’s in the hands of someone he picked to hear the appeal, so.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the league is seeking a tougher penalty for Deshaun Watson because the quarterback’s actions were “egregious” and “predatory behavior.”

Last week, the NFL formally appealed Watson’s six-game suspension, which was handed down by NFL disciplinary officer Sue. L Robinson earlier this month. At a league meeting called to formally approve the Denver Broncos’ new ownership group Tuesday, Goodell was asked why the NFL appealed Robinson’s decision and was seeking a suspension of at least a year for the Cleveland Browns quarterback.

“We’ve seen the evidence, she was very clear about the evidence, she reinforced the evidence,” Goodell said. “There were multiple violations that were egregious, and it was predatory behavior.”

Last week, the NFL appointed Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, to hear the appeal of Watson’s suspension for violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Goodell said Tuesday he did not know when Harvey would make a ruling.

See here, here, and here for some background. There have been some comments on previous posts about how Watson hasn’t been convicted of anything, he’s just been accused, and so why is he being punished at all. I just want to point out that none of this is happening in a court, it’s all a part of a disciplinary process that the NFL Players Association negotiated with the NFL. The statements of the accusers, as well as evidence they have provided in the form of texts and direct messages and so forth, were all taken into account as part of this process. Beyond that, we are all allowed to use our own judgment of the facts that we have seen. I personally find Watson’s explanations to be wholly unconvincing. Your mileage may vary, but there’s nothing unfair or unjust about how we got here. The main difference from before is that Roger Goodell is no longer the sole arbiter of what happens to a player in this situation.

Anyway. On a side note, Deshaun Watson will make his debut for the Browns in their preseason opener today. The suspension, whatever it winds up being, was only for the regular season, and presumably for the playoffs if it gets extended. Until then, he’s free to be on the field, and he’ll get paid nearly all of his salary for the year regardless. Don’t fret about Deshaun Watson. He’s doing just fine. Sean Pendergast has more.

UPDATE: From Thursday evening:

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson would accept an eight-game suspension and $5 million fine to avoid missing the entire season, a person familiar with his defense told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Watson, who is facing a potential year-long ban for sexual misconduct when he played for the Texans, would agree to a lesser penalty in a settlement, said the person who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The biggest question is whether the NFL would make this compromise.

A settlement has always been possible, but it’s not clear if the sides are in active discussions.

Someone’s feeling the heat.

Buzbee blames the NFL for Watson’s short suspension

Surely you expected that Tony Buzbee would have something to say about all this.

For the first woman to sue former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson —and nearly all those who followed suit — the legal process is over.

They settled their cases alleging sexual assault and harassment. An NFL-hired arbitrator gave the football player a six-week suspension. And two grand juries declined to pursue criminal charges.

Through it all, the NFL and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg failed those women, Houston attorney Tony Buzbee said Thursday.

“We are here today with a message to the NFL,” the lawyer said during a news conference. “Every victim of sexual assault is watching (Commissioner) Roger Goodell and the NFL right now. And this idea that Mr. Goodell is going to hand it off to someone independent, we don’t buy it.”

“Mr. Goodell, what will you do?”

[…]

Despite the disappointing decision with the District Attorney’s Office and the league, [Ashley] Solis said she finally feels like she has power.

She described the past two-and-a-half years as “emotionally and mentally tasking.” As the first person to file a lawsuit and the first to speak publicly, she received countless threats from Watson fans. That vitriol sent her into a depression, but letters she received from numerous victims rejuvenated her, she said.

Solis learned that victims have the ability to speak up. They can make changes happen, she said.

“If anyone has ever tried to abuse their status, and overpower you, remind them that they picked the wrong one to try that with,” she said. “That’s exactly what I am – the wrong one.”

Solis was one of 10 women to speak with NFL investigators, Buzbee said. He added that he would’ve made more of his clients available, but he said the NFL “wasn’t really interested in talking to them.”

“It really makes you want to scratch your head and wonder, ‘What the devil is going on?'” Buzbee said.

Arbitrator Sue L. Robinson made note of the NFL’s failure to interview all 24 women in her 16-page report, distancing her decision by saying, “My credibility determinations are based largely on the credibility of the NFL investigators.”

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy disputed Buzbee’s claims. He provided a statement that said the league interviewed 49 total people and attempted to interview all of the 24 women who filed suit but the remaining 12 “were not made available by their attorney or did not feel comfortable being interviewed.”

The investigation’s outcome made some of the victims to feel invisible, or as if they had been slapped, Buzbee said.

See here for the previous update. Goodell has already delegated the appeal to someone else, as allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. I think that was the correct thing for him to do, but I can see how Buzbee sees it differently. As for the dispute over how many of the women were available to talk with the NFL as part of the process, I’ll wait and see if there’s evidence to support one side’s claims or the other’s.

In the meantime, now we wait on the appeal.

The NFL Players Association announced Friday that it replied to the NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension by NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

“We have filed our reply brief to the NFL’s appeal regarding the Deshaun Watson matter,’’ the NFLPA said in a statement posted on Twitter.

The union, which had two business days to reply, had no further comment.

The matter is now in the hands of appeals officer Peter C. Harvey, the former New Jersey attorney general who was appointed Thursday by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. There’s no set timeframe for a decision, but it must be processed on an expedited basis. The two sides — the NFL and NFLPA — can also try to negotiate a settlement before the ruling.

But the NFLPA is still poised to sue in federal court, possibly pending the outcome of the appeal.

“If the new arbitrator increases Watson’s punishment – once again this sets up a legal battle between the union and league challenging the fairness of the penalties and (Roger) Goodell’s authority to penalize the players for their alleged roles,’’ said attorney Daniel Moskowitz, a sports law litigator in Dallas, who has represented several NFL players in NFL investigations involving the personal conduct policy, violation of league substance abuse and other code of conduct policies.

The NFLPA and Watson’s legal team can also file before the decision by Harvey, who helped develop and implement the league’s personal conduct policy.

So we wait. I don’t think this will take very long for the simple reason that it makes sense for there to be a resolution, at least as far as this process goes, before the season begins. After that, who knows. Sean Pendergast has more.

Further thoughts on the Deshaun Watson suspension

Just a few things I’ve read, to try to understand what happened here. Make of them what you will. Note that I drafted this before the news of the NFL’s appeal.

Pro Football Talk:

How does Watson, who faced 24 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, get suspended only six games when Cardinal receiver DeAndre Hopkins was suspended six games for trace amounts of a PED he claims he didn’t know he ingested and Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended a whole season for making $1,500 in parlay wagers?

On the surface, the answer is easy. These three players were suspended under three completely different policies: Personal Conduct, PED, and gambling.

There’s a more nuanced explanation. The PED policies and gambling policies go directly to the integrity of the game, whether by cheating in it or betting on it. The Personal Conduct Policy relates to off-duty behavior, conduct that has no connection to the league’s core business interests.

Not sure how much that nuance helps, but I suppose it’s worth keeping those distinctions in mind, if only to get the underlying facts straight.

CBS Sports:

There’s a chance that the length of the suspension could still change and that’s because the NFL is allowed to appeal the decision (Watson’s camp could also appeal the decision, but the NFLPA previously announced on Sunday that no appeal would be coming from that end).

If the NFL decides to appeal, it will create a new layer of drama and that’s because the appeal would be heard by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates. As of Monday afternoon though, the league had yet to make a decision about a possible appeal.

“We appreciate Judge Robinson’s diligence and professionalism throughout this process,” the NFL said in a statement. “Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL or the NFLPA on behalf of Watson may appeal the decision within three days. In light of her findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a determination on next steps.”

[…]

Although the new collective bargaining agreement took away Goodell’s power to hand out a punishment, he didn’t really lose very much power since he’s the one who oversees the appeal process.

Here’s the pertinent language in the CBA:

“The Disciplinary Officer’s disciplinary determination will be final and binding subject only to the right of either party to appeal to the Commissioner. The appeal shall be in writing within three business days of the Disciplinary Officer’s decision, and any response to the appeal shall be filed in writing within two business days thereafter. The appeal shall be limited to arguments why, based on the evidentiary record below, the amount of discipline, if any, should be modified. The Commissioner or his designee will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), Club(s) and the parties to this Agreement.”

Based on the language in the CBA, the NFL now has three days to file an appeal in writing. Once the appeal is filed, Goodell (or his designee) will have two days to respond to it.

If the NFL doesn’t appeal, then the case is over and Watson will serve a six-game suspension. It’s possible the league will go this route because it doesn’t want to undermine Robinson’s decision.

In my initial reaction, I said that I’d change “possible” to “highly likely”, and that I could not see the NFL stirring this up when they have a chance to let it go and get on with their business. Clearly, I was wrong about that.

Slate:

Why did Watson skate? It isn’t because Goodell doesn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. Even if only for image maintenance, the NFL wanted a bigger chunk of games. But that does not let the NFL off the hook. It also does not mean all of the fault with the short suspension lies with the arbitrator, whom both management and labor asked to resolve the length of the suspension. At core, Watson will soon be under center for the Browns because the NFL spent years laying two sets of tracks that led straight to this decision and will soon lead the league beyond it. One was a disciplinary system that did not come down hard on violence against women for many years, and which complicated the NFL’s efforts to win a workplace dispute with Watson when it became clear that one of the best, most famous players in the NFL deserved a long, long break away from the game. The other was cultural. The NFL and its giant media industry cultivated an environment where any player as good as Watson can be two things at once—a hero whom fans adore and a commodity that teams crave—and where any inconveniences the real world might impose on those roles are just those: inconveniences. Watson did not get a light punishment because the NFL doesn’t care. He got one because the NFL is a universe where “caring” is not the point.

The contradictory thing about Robinson’s report is that she seems to generally agree with the NFL that Watson behaved horrendously toward his accusers. “Mr. Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL,” she writes at one point. She writes that “it is difficult to give weight” to Watson’s wholesale denial not just of any criminal conduct, but of ever having so much as gotten an erection during one of the massages in question. She finds that by the NFL’s definition of sexual assault in its code of conduct, which is “unwanted sexual contact with another person,” Watson committed sexual assault. But Robinson calls Watson’s acts “non-violent sexual assault.” It is a mind-bending phrase. Can any sort of sexual assault be “non-violent”? Is there a way to breach consent and not be violent? Of course not. It is an inherently violent act, whether it involves blood and bruises or not. But to read Robinson’s decision, the NFL’s past laxness toward overt violence made it difficult for her to square the league’s desired punishment of Watson as a matter of workplace policy. “By ignoring past decisions because none involve ‘similar’ conduct, however, the NFL is not just equating violent conduct with non-violent conduct, but has elevated the importance of the latter without any substantial evidence to support its position,” Robinson says. The NFL decided that it cared about this player violating women, but because it hadn’t acted accordingly in the past, it couldn’t impose the punishment it wanted.

My mind is still trying to unbend from that one.

ESPN:

Basically, Robinson is saying something akin to, You want to argue that this behavior deserves a more severe penalty, fine. Maybe you’re right. But that’s not in your policy, and you can’t just make policy to support one specific case as it’s going on. If the league wants to do what it did post-Rice and adjust its policy to account for the type of behavior Watson is herein found guilty of, it should do that — then everyone would know.

Interesting argument, for sure, but it answers a lot of the questions about the length of the suspension vis-à-vis some others in the past. She goes on to write, “It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unjust to change the penalties for such conduct after the fact.”

Remember, Robinson first decided she was not starting from a six-game baseline but from one of three games or fewer, based on precedent set by other nonviolent sexual assault cases. As “aggravating factors” (that is, reasons to increase the suspension), she cites Watson’s “lack of expressed remorse and his tardy notice to the NFL of the first-filed lawsuit.” As “mitigating factors” (that is, reasons to go easier on him), she cites “he is a first-time offender and had an excellent reputation in his community prior to these events. He cooperated and has paid restitution.”

Very interestingly, she also notes the league could have placed Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list last year and chose not to, which she appears to think means the league didn’t consider his behavior worthy of such punishment until it saw the public reaction to it. She makes that clear in her conclusion when she writes, “The NFL may be a ‘forward-facing’ organization, but it is not necessarily a forward-looking one. Just as the NFL responded to violent conduct after a public outcry, so it seems the NFL is responding to yet another public outcry about Mr. Watson’s conduct.”

Robinson writes that she settled on six games because it is the largest suspension ever imposed for nonviolent sexual conduct but that Watson’s behavior is more egregious than the behavior that led to previous suspensions for nonviolent sexual conduct.

If the NFL had taken domestic violence seriously from the beginning, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

The Ringer:

The ruling fails to grapple with the serial nature of Watson’s actions, which is essential to the nature of what he did. Some of the women who said Watson harassed or abused them refused to work with him again. Some considered changing careers entirely. And after each woman made clear that Watson’s advances were unwanted and wrong, Watson sought out more women.

Twenty-seven women, six games. Robinson was looking at only four of the cases—was each of those four women worth 1.5 games? If Robinson had ruled on all 27 women who came forward with their accounts of Watson’s misconduct, would he be suspended for 40.5 games? Or perhaps it’s an unsolvable equation, because the NFL’s personal conduct policy left no room for the gray areas of sexual violence or the possibility of multiple accusers.

Robinson’s ruling is based on two guiding principles, both of which are immensely flawed. On the one hand, the ruling emphasizes that the six-game suspension is a matter of precedent based on the league’s previous penalties related to sexual misconduct. This is a mistake. No previous player has been named in so many accounts by so many women. I don’t know the correct punishment for 27 cases, or whether it’s different from the amount that would be correct for 10 or 50 or 75. But how can anybody appeal to precedent when the misconduct itself is so clearly unprecedented? There’s no number that would have felt right, but it’s certainly wrong for the number to be determined by a technicality that doesn’t have anything to do with Watson’s case or the women affected.

[…]

In the end, there’s one easy way to tell that this punishment was too light: by looking at Watson, who spent decision day practicing with the Browns and signing autographs for a mob of fans at training camp. Watson has avoided criminal charges and settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him. He has not even remotely expressed public contrition for his actions. At this point, it would be possible for him to say some form of “I’m sorry,” or to speak out against sexual violence without admitting personal guilt. He has chosen not to, and he probably never will. (Robinson specifically mentioned Watson’s “lack of expressed remorse” as a factor in her decision, though clearly it didn’t weigh that heavily.)

I don’t have anything insightful to add to that.

Defector:

You do not need to have a PhD in workplace procedures to gather that a policy crafted in response to a public relations crisis will not work. In this case, the NFL created its anti-violence policy in the late 1990s after future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon was arrested for intimate-partner violence, for which he was found not guilty, followed by exposé after exposé from sports reporters about violence by players toward women, all amid the 1990s wave of tough-on-crime legislation. Like many of the pro-police, pro-prison policies of that era, the NFL’s plan to threaten its players into compliance with vague threats of “suspension” failed, has continued to fail, and probably will always fail because bad policy begets bad policy, no matter how many times you rework it, reframe it, or even renegotiate it. The personal conduct policy has been a failure from the moment it was created, (though this has not stopped other major North American sports leagues from copying it for the sake of public relations). Left to its own devices, the NFL will never get this right.

All the NFL can do is try to find a different person to blame, a new figure onto which it can foist this odious burden of reminding us all that a good enough player will always find a way back onto the field, with just their bank account a little lighter. On Monday, that person was retired judge Sue L. Robinson, who issued her decision to suspend Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for six games after two dozen women sued Watson in civil court, all describing various levels of sexual misconduct by him during massage therapy appointments that included finding ways to touch them with his penis and ejaculating on them. Depending on who delivers your sports news, this was seen as either a humiliation for the NFL or great news for Watson’s new team, the Cleveland Browns. But what those quick takes never quite address is why the NFL and pro sports, time and time again, seem utterly clueless about what to do when a player is accused of violence.

[…]

Robinson ended her decision with the equivalent of a legal tongue-lashing for the NFL, essentially telling them that significant changes to how it handles player discipline must be collectively bargained. (“It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unjust to change the penalties for such conduct after the fact.”) You could say the NFL has a precedent problem. It’s a problem with a solution—negotiate better rules with players during the next round of collective bargaining. The players would, in return, request significant concessions from the league, and that would be fair because that’s how unions protect the rights of workers. The NFL could completely revamp its conduct policy to include community service, therapy, more preventative measures like education, or one of the many tools shown to actually work. It could even ask for harsher punishments, though it’s always worth remembering that that zero-tolerance policies don’t work and harsh punishment does not deter crime. In return, the league could give players truly guaranteed contracts, better healthcare, or agree to stop extending the regular season. All of this would be fair and likely would withstand the scrutiny of a retired judge, like Robinson, if the league chose to go this route.

The NFL will never do it.

Diana Moskovitz has been on the sports-and-crime-and-society beat for a long time, and she’s always a must read on these stories.

And here’s one more from The Ringer, post-appeal by the NFL.

The danger of a short suspension for Watson, then, is twofold: First, the media scrutiny if he were to return in mid-October would be intense. The NFL could weather that. But the second and biggest problem with a short suspension is that the Watson saga is still ongoing. It hasn’t even been two months since Vrentas’s most recent bombshell report: that Watson met with at least 66 women for massages within a 17-month period, and that the Houston Texans helped facilitate appointments and even provided Watson with nondisclosure agreements. One lawsuit is still active. Optically—and a lot of this is optics—it’s bad for the league to have Watson play in October. But even worse, the depth and scope of the story means that there may be more reporting to come, more shoes to drop. The outside investigations are not going away. The women involved in these cases are not going away simply because Watson might return to the field.

The NFL had to appeal for any number of reasons: First, Robinson’s report savages Watson’s behavior but makes clear that the six-game suspension was based on her belief that the NFL can’t make wholesale changes to its suspension lengths without prior notice to the players. The ruling came from an extremely narrow interpretation of the CBA, while the NFL, on the other hand, has a long history of changing rules quickly and without much notice. Also, there’s the matter of Watson not showing any remorse for his actions or admitting any wrongdoing—both factors that were cited to his detriment in Robinson’s report. In fact, reporters on Wednesday said that Watson’s camp still believed six games was too much.

If Watson’s suspension had stayed at six games, it would have kept a broken system broken. Not just because it would mean that virtually no personal conduct policy violation could extend beyond six games, but because it would reward a franchise that went all in on one of the most reckless moves in modern NFL history. It’s important to note here that a handful of teams would have loved to have Watson on their team, which is why the cost to trade for him this spring was so high in picks, and eventually money. The Browns were the ones who guaranteed him a fifth year. The Browns were the team that, just after a grand jury declined to indict Watson, gave him more leverage and the largest fully guaranteed deal in NFL history. Watson’s no-trade clause meant he could pick his destination, and Cleveland did everything it could to ensure it would be his choice.

I don’t know how much any of this helped me make sense of it all, but I feel like I needed to read all this. Hope it helped you a little.

NFL to appeal Watson suspension

Wow. I did not expect that.

The NFL on Wednesday appealed the six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, seeking a tougher penalty for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in the wake of disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson’s ruling Monday.

In a statement, the league said it notified the NFL Players Association that it would appeal and then filed its brief Wednesday afternoon.

The league said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal. Under the CBA, Goodell has the option to consider the appeal himself or can appoint a designee to do so.

A source told ESPN that the league is appealing for an indefinite suspension that would be a minimum of one year (as it had previously sought), a monetary fine (which Watson was not levied initially by Robinson) and treatment that the star QB must undergo.

The union also had the right to appeal Robinson’s ruling, although it issued a statement Sunday night saying it would “stand by her decision” and not appeal, regardless of the result, and called on the league to agree to the same.

The NFLPA has until Friday to file a written response to the NFL’s appeal. Sources told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington on Wednesday that the NFLPA was preparing to sue the NFL in federal court if it appealed Robinson’s decision.

Once the NFLPA files its response, Goodell will decide to hear the appeal himself or appoint a designee — a source told Darlington on Wednesday that he’s yet to formalize a decision on who will do it — and that will be followed by a hearing date.

Any appeal must be limited to arguments from the evidentiary record from the three-day hearing before Robinson in late June and “without reference to evidence or testimony not previously considered.” It will be processed on an “expedited basis,” per the NFL’s personal conduct policy, although NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said there’s no timeline for Goodell or his designee to make a ruling.

Whenever the ruling is made, it will be final and binding to all parties.

[…]

In the days leading up to Robinson’s decision, the NFL and Watson’s side engaged in further settlement talks, sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano, but neither side ever felt they were close to an agreement.

The most Watson’s side indicated it was willing to offer was a suspension in the range of six to eight games, according to sources. The best the league indicated it was willing to offer was a 12-game suspension and a significant fine — in the range of $8 million, sources said. Since no additional fine was levied, Watson is slated to miss six of his $57,500 game checks in 2022 for a total of $345,000 lost off his $1.035 million base salary.

See here for the background. I had assumed that the NFL would let this go, despite how poorly the ruling was received by the public, on the grounds that it was the least messy path and would get them on the road to putting it all behind them, which is usually what they want in any uncomfortable situation. I’m genuinely surprised by this. I figure it gets chaotic from here, between the promised lawsuit from the NFLPA and the decision Commissioner Goodell will have to make about who actually makes the appeal decision; it would probably be best if he picked a delegate for it. We are in uncharted waters, that much is for sure. CBS Sports has more.

Deshaun Watson suspended for six games

Feels light to me. And not just to me.

Months after trading six draft picks and committing a fully guaranteed $230 million to land Deshaun Watson from the Texans, the Browns have lost their star quarterback for the first six games of the 2022 season, CBS Sports NFL Insider Josina Anderson reports. Former federal judge Sue L. Robinson determined Monday that Watson should be suspended for six weeks after hearing testimony regarding the former Pro Bowler’s alleged off-field conduct. The QB this offseason faced civil lawsuits from 24 different women accusing him of sexual assault or misconduct.

Under this suspension, Watson will miss the following games to begin Cleveland’s season: at Panthers, vs. Jets, vs. Steelers, at Falcons, vs. Chargers, vs. Patriots. His first game back will be on Oct. 23 when the Browns visit the Ravens in Week 7.

Watson’s suspension arrives after multiple reports indicated the NFL would seek at least a full-season ban for the QB, who recently reached confidential settlements for 20 of the 24 lawsuits. It marks the league’s harshest discipline imposed on a QB since Michael Vick was banned indefinitely in 2009, before serving a nearly two-year prison sentence.

[…]

Watson has the power to appeal his suspension, but the NFLPA announced in a statement on the eve of this ruling that they would not. They also implored the NFL to also not appeal. Any appeal would ultimately be decided by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, seemingly making it unlikely he could significantly reduce his punishment. (Goodell previously reduced suspensions for Roethlisberger and Vick after in-person meetings, but Watson’s case carries a different magnitude.) The NFLPA could also sue the NFL over unfair discipline in light of certain team owners (i.e. the Commanders’ Daniel Snyder) allegedly receiving more lenient penalties over sexual assault accusations, but in the past, lawsuits over suspensions have only proven to delay, not significantly reduce or overturn, NFL discipline.

See here for the previous update. Here’s the Chron story with some more details (that CBS story was the first one I saw, literally minutes after the news broke).

The NFL, which had pushed for a suspension of at least one year and a fine of $5 million, has three days to appeal. If either side appealed, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates will make the decision, per terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The union then could try to challenge that ruling in federal court.

Watson’s six-game suspension aligns with past punishments levied against former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who both were accused of sexual assault and were not criminally charged.

There were expectations Watson’s suspension could have been longer. The Watson suspension comes months after the MLB announced a two-year suspension for Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, who faced sexual assault and domestic violence allegations that did not lead to criminal charges.

According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Robinson’s decision says Watson’s “pattern of behavior was egregious,” but the behavior was “nonviolent sexual conduct.”

The league had pushed for an indefinite suspension of at least one year and a $5 million fine for the 26-year-old Watson during a three-day hearing before Robinson in June. The NFL Players’ Association argued Watson shouldn’t be punished at all because he was not convicted of any crime.

Robinson’s decision focused on information regarding five of the women who sued Watson, according to the Wall Street Journal. Watson, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, settled all but four of the lawsuits in June that had been levied against him. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said then those settlements would have no impact on the league’s disciplinary process.

I dunno, I feel like Watson’s alleged transgressions were worse, for their cumulative nature if nothing else. I thought that one year was the right amount of suspension, partly because I thought the Trevor Bauer comparison was more accurate, but I could have accepted something like ten or twelve games. I just don’t think six is enough, and I don’t think Deshaun Watson will come away from this thinking anything other than he was exonerated. A look at some other possible points of comparison bolster my opinion on that.

The suspension being limited to six games raises some eyebrows when compared the one-year suspension the league dealt Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley after he was found to have placed $1,500 worth of online parlay wagers when he was away from the team last season.

Six games also is the same punishment given to Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Watson’s former teammate in Houston, for having a trace amount of performance-enhancing drugs in his system.

The comparisons can go on and on, including former Saints coach Sean Payton being suspended for a year when his team allegedly had bounties on opponents’ heads and Payton sent an email to his coaches telling them to make sure you “get you ducks in a row” when talking to NFL investigators.

Comparisons of disciplinary actions can often be facile, as there can be multiple dimensions to each decision, but in this case I don’t think you’ll find many examples of people getting less time off for more egregious activity. It’s possible I could change my view over time, but right now I don’t feel like justice was served. More from the Chron and Sean Pendergast.

UPDATE: Per ESPN, Watson has now also settled all but one of the lawsuits pending against him; there had been four remaining, and three are now resolved. That includes the lawsuit filed by Ashley Solis. All in all, Monday was a pretty good day for Deshaun Watson.

UIL still nixes NIL

Sorry, Texas high school athletes. You’re still not getting paid.

Even if state lawmakers change legislation to allow high school athletes in Texas to profit off their name, image and likeness, the University Interscholastic League may not be ready to give the green light.

“Given what we’ve seen across the country at the NCAA level, given what we’ve seen in some of those states that have allowed it at the high school level, I’m not sure there’s going to be much of an appetite for it,” UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said Sunday at the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention.

Texas is among 26 states that prohibit high school athletes from benefiting from NIL, according to endorsement platform Opendorse. There are 13 states that allow high school athletes to profit: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota and Utah.

Any decision from the UIL’s legislative committee would have to wait until the Texas Legislature makes a change to current laws. Passed last summer, Senate Bill 1385 prohibits any individual or corporate entity to enter into any NIL arrangement with a student athlete “prior to their enrollment in an institution of higher education.”

“Until there is some movement there, there will be no change from the UIL,” Harrison said. “And even if there was movement there, we would have to see in what way it moves, what kind of guardrail they put around it.”

Guess the Quinn Ewers story didn’t move anyone. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, there’s plenty of money being made by other people, all adults, as a result of these athletes’ labor, and it seems logical that the athletes themselves should get a piece of that, as they now can in college. On the other hand, these high school athletes are for the most part still minors, and the potential for financial exploitation is higher. I would like to think there’s a regulatory scheme, with real enforcement powers, that could be put into place to allow at least some NIL payments to these athletes while still protecting their interests and not turning the whole enterprise into a free-for-all, I just have no idea what it might be. We could maybe check out what California is doing with NIL, if the thought of Texas emulating California in any way didn’t make some people’s heads explode. I dunno. I just don’t think that a blanket “No” is a sustainable answer, and the sooner we try to find something that is, the better.

UT and OU swear they’re still in the Big XII until 2025

Maybe they even believe that, though I remain doubtful.

Almost a year later, UT’s and OU’s bombshell decision to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference is still being felt in the latest round of conference realignment.

After an hourlong panel discussion at the Texas High School Coaches Association Convention, [UT Athletic Director Chris] Del Conte and [OU Athletic Director Joe] Castiglione offered no hints on a timeline to exit the Big 12, except to say both schools are committed to remaining in the league until 2025.

“We realize we’ve made a decision and we’re focused on being a great member through the time we said we would,” Castiglione said. “There’s a lot of changing around us. If that facilitates a conversation that needs to take place about an earlier departure, then it does.

“But I said very consistently that, and I know my counterpart Chris Del Conte has said the same thing, as has our presidents, that we informed the Big 12 that we would leave after ’25, but we plan on fulfilling our obligations … And if they want to talk to us about something different then we’ll certainly listen.”

Del Conte offered a similar sentiment.

“We’re going to honor our commitments,” he said. “So, where we’re at, I think those things are all premature. I mean, we’re 45 days out from the start of the season. We’re really focused on the football season this year.”

Incoming Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said at the league’s kickoff event in Arlington last week that “anything is on the table” and that conversations with UT and OU would be forthcoming when he officially begins the job Aug. 1.

Both schools are projected to owe at least $80 million in exit fees if they leave before the expiration of the current media rights deal.

“Any situation like this, I always look for a win-win scenario,” Yormark said. “That being said, it’s important that whatever happens is in the best interest of this conference. But I look forward, at the right time, to have those conversations.”

So the temporarily supersized Big XII is still in play. That’s assuming that the non-UT and OU members aren’t plotting to scoop up some PAC 12 refugees, which may make it easier to wave goodbye to the leavers. I’m totally speculating here. I thought that UT and OU would find their way to the SEC before 2025 before that bombshell dropped – surely, they will very much want to jump the fence as soon as it’s feasible to do so – and I still think that. The mechanics of how they get there may change, but I believe the incentives remain.

For their part, the SEC continues to be coy.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey believes his league got the better deal with the coming additions of Texas and Oklahoma than the Big Ten with its coming additions of UCLA and Southern Cal, based on geography and history.

Sankey, in his opening remarks of the SEC Media Days on Monday, pointed out the UT and OU additions are in “contiguous states.” In other words, league travel only requires crossing a state line, not flying over mountains and deserts.

The Longhorns and Sooners are scheduled to join the SEC by July 2025 but perhaps even a year or two earlier.

“That’s not up to me, that’s about the relationships between Oklahoma and Texas and the Big 12,” Sankey said of when exactly UT and OU are expected to exit the Big 12 and join the SEC. “(Our) focus is on the additions being effective July 1, 2025.”

Again, maybe he believes that. Maybe it’s true, or at least true-ish. You know where I’ve placed my chips.

Texans settle all the lawsuits from Watson accusers

Very efficient of them.

The Texans have settled claims with all 30 women who accused former quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual assault during massage appointments, according to the plaintiff’s attorney and the football team.

The settlement comes weeks after a civil lawsuit was filed on June 27 in Harris County alleging the team was warned about Watson’s inappropriate behavior during massage therapy sessions several months before the franchise’s responded publicly.

“Today all of the women who have made, or intended to make claims against the Houston Texans organization have resolved their claims,” plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee said in a news release, adding the terms of the settlements are confidential.

“I will have no further comment on the allegations or the Texans’ alleged role, other than to say that there is a marked contrast in the way in which the Texans addressed these allegations and the way in which Watson’s team has done so.”

[…]

The team’s ownership group — Janice, Hannah and Cal McNair — issued a statement Friday stating they were “shocked” when allegations first arose.

“Although our organization did not have any knowledge of Deshaun Watson’s alleged misconduct, we have intentionally chosen to resolve this matter amicably,” the statement said. “This is not an admission of any wrongdoing but instead a clear stand against any form of sexual assault and misconduct.

“We hope that today’s resolution will provide some form of closure to the parties involved, our fans and the Houston community at large. As an organization, we will now turn our focus to the future and doing what we can to ensure respect for all.”

The four remaining cases against Watson, Buzbee stated, will continue and, he hopes, tried in the spring.

See here for the background. I don’t know that I buy the team’s expression of shock over Watson’s alleged behavior, but that’s a moot point now. The team reached a settlement with all of the plaintiffs, which is indeed a thing Deshaun Watson could do; he’s most of the way there, but not all the way. We’ll see if anything changes before those remaining suits get to court. Sean Pendergast has more.

The four remaining lawsuits against Deshaun Watson

Whatever happens with the disciplinary hearing, the courts will still have a say in what happens to Deshaun Watson.

Four lawsuits alleging sexual assault by former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson during massage sessions continue in the courts after lawyers garnered settlements for 20 of the accusers, according to court records.

The cases were dismissed on June 29, about two weeks after attorney Tony Buzbee said that settlements with confidential amounts had been finalized in most of the lawsuits against Watson. Court records show that most of the plaintiffs dismissed their claims against Watson with prejudice — which prohibits the case from being refiled.

The accusers whose suits continue to progress through the courts include massage therapists Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley, both of whom have come forward with their identifies. The Houston Chronicle typically does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault or harassment.

Solis, the first in March 2021 to sue Watson, accused the athlete of exposing his genitals and touching her inappropriately during a session in March 2020 at her home. Buzbee credited Solis’ initial complaint as being instrumental in encouraging more women to step forward with their accusations and the start of the NFL’s internal review into Watson’s behavior.

In Baxley’s case, the licensed sports massage therapist said Watson asked her for a massage in June 2020 and the two met for an appointment at a Houston spa. Watson exposed himself to Baxley, despite her repeated demands that he cover himself with a towel, according to court records.

See here and here for some background. The story contains details about the other two cases, with massage therapists who remain unnamed. I’m omitting those details here because they’re gross and upsetting, but go read the Chron story if you want to know them. I don’t know at this point what the court schedule looks like – most likely, we’re months out from anything of substance happening – and there is also the separate lawsuit against the Texans, which may be one of multiples, that adds another dimension to this story. Once the NFL discipline is settled, there may not be much news on this front for awhile, though perhaps I underestimate Tony Buzbee and his ability to draw attention when I say that. In any event, this is where we are right now.

Remaining plaintiffs against Deshaun Watson seek disciplinary hearing documents

No surprise.

The Fox 8 I-Team has learned attorneys representing four women suing Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson have filed a motion in court seeking documents from the NFL’s investigation of the 26-year-old, including transcripts from his recent disciplinary hearing.

Attys. Tony Buzbee and Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey also filed a motion seeking documents from the Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa relating to Deshaun Watson, including surveillance video.

Both motions, notices of intention to take depositions by written questions, were filed Friday in Harris County District Court.

The motion filed seeking the NFL records is asking for all reports, investigation files, records, recorded interviews, written interviews, witness statements and communications as well as the transcripts from the June 28 hearing.

We reached out to the NFL and Watson’s attorneys to discuss the issue but have not yet heard back.

The disciplinary hearing for Watson was held last week and lasted three days. The NFL and Watson’s team both presented their side to a retired federal judge who will determine if Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

The hearing concluded Thursday. Both sides are now to submit briefs to the hearing officer. Officials are hoping she will release a decision before Browns training camp at the end of the month.

See here for the previous update. Obviously, Team Watson will oppose this, as it’s in their interest to keep as much of this under cover as possible. I’ll be curious to see if the NFL takes an official position on the matter and files a brief in response. They’d probably prefer to keep this more or less secret, but I don’t know what legal leg they’d have to stand on for that argument. It would also not be a great look for them, not that they’re all that sensitive about that. On the other hand, if they want to justify their request for a long suspension of Watson, this would add to their ledger. If you want to get a little conspiratorial, they could “suggest” to Team Watson that if Team Watson chose not to appeal the forthcoming suspension, they could be persuaded to file a brief in opposition to these documents’ release. Hey, it’s just a thought. We’ll see how it goes.

Now we wait for the judge in the Deshaun Watson disciplinary case

Gonna be a few weeks, most likely.

Another phase in the NFL’s disciplinary process against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is complete, and another wait begins.

Watson’s hearing before former U.S. District judge Sue L. Robinson concluded on Thursday after three days.

Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players’ Association, will determine whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline. She asked for post-hearing briefs from both Watson’s representatives and the NFL, and a final decision could take weeks.

Watson has been accused in civil lawsuits by 24 women of actions ranging from sexual assault to inappropriate behavior during massage sessions. He has reached a settlement in 20 of the cases.

The NFL has been pushing for an indefinite suspension of at least a year, and Watson’s team has argued there is no basis for punishment, two people with knowledge of the proceedings said to the Associated Press. ESPN reported that both sides engaged in attempts to reach a settlement while the hearing was still happening, but remain unable to agree.

[…]

A person familiar with the case told the Associated Press the league believes it presented evidence to warrant keeping Watson off the field this season. The person said the league’s investigation determined Watson committed multiple violations of the personal conduct policy and he would be required to undergo counseling before returning.

A person familiar with Watson’s defense told the Associated Press they expect a suspension. Asked what would be acceptable, the person said: “our goal is to get him back on the field this year.”

See here and here for some background. In previous stories, I’ve seen mention of the league wanting to have this process finished by the time players start reporting to training camps, which I believe would be July 27 for the Cleveland Browns. That sounds like a reasonable estimate for when we will know the decision.

USC and UCLA to join Big Ten

Wow.

USC and UCLA have been accepted as the newest members of the Big Ten conference with league officials approving their membership Thursday night. The programs have announced their respective departures from the Pac-12 beginning in 2024 with the pair marking a significant acquisition for the Big Ten that will significantly change the college sports landscape.

“Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said. “We are excited that our values align with the league’s member institutions. We also will benefit from the stability and strength of the conference; the athletic caliber of Big Ten institutions; the increased visibility, exposure, and resources the conference will bring our student-athletes and programs; and the ability to expand engagement with our passionate alumni nationwide.”

“After careful consideration and thoughtful deliberation, UCLA has decided to leave the Pac-12 Conference and join the Big Ten Conference at the start of the 2024–25 season,” said UCLA chancellor Gene D. Block and AD Martin Jarmond in a combined statement. “… Each school faces its own unique challenges and circumstances, and we believe this is the best move for UCLA at this time. For us, this move offers greater certainty in rapidly changing times and ensures that we remain a leader in college athletics for generations to come. As the oldest NCAA Division I athletic conference in the United States and with a footprint that will now extend from the Pacific to the Atlantic, Big Ten membership offers Bruins exciting new competitive opportunities and a broader national media platform for our student-athletes to compete and showcase their talents.”

Big Ten presidents and athletic directors first met Wednesday night to discuss adding USC and UCLA to the league, sources told CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander. A subsequent vote was held Thursday night to officially welcome the programs into the league beginning Aug. 2, 2024.

“As the national leader in academics and athletics for over 126 years, the Big Ten Conference has historically evaluated its membership with the collective goal to forward the academic and athletic mission for student-athletes under the umbrella of higher education,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said. “The unanimous vote today signifies the deep respect and welcoming culture our entire conference has for the University of Southern California, under the leadership of President Carol Folt, and the University of California, Los Angeles, under the leadership of Chancellor Gene Block.”

I did not see that one coming. The ACC and the Big XII had lost members to other conferences before, including the University of Colorado to the PAC12, but this is earth-shaking, at least on the scale of UT and Oklahoma jumping to the SEC. The PAC12 will now have to negotiate a new TV contract without its two flagship schools, who were motivated to seek greener pastures in the first place because the PAC12’s TV contract wasn’t all that lucrative.

History and tradition have long been dead as reasons for conferences to exist and stay together, but I would have thought geography might have been a limiting factor. Not so much now, as the Big Ten literally spans coast to coast, with members in such heartland states as California, Maryland, and New Jersey. At this point, I wonder when we’ll get to a place where the “conference” idea is wholly discarded in favor of divisions, like in the NFL. I also wonder what effect this will eventually have on non-football schools that have become national powers in basketball, like Gonzaga.

A bit of local perspective from the LA Times:

“This is the most volatile and uncertain era in the history of American collegiate athletics,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a statement. “USC must ensure it is best positioned and prepared for whatever happens next, and it is our responsibility to always evaluate potential opportunities and be willing to make changes when needed. Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports.”

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond told The Times, “College athletics is changing, and UCLA has always led in times of change. For the sake of our student-athletes, and for preserving the legacy of Bruin excellence, we cannot afford to stand still.”

This new, changing world Bohn and Jarmond referred to is one in which college athletes for the first time can earn money from the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) — a right the NCAA and its member schools long denied to players in the name of the ideals of amateurism.

With so much unknown about where athlete compensation is headed beyond NIL, USC and UCLA leaders felt they had to address the long-term financial viability of their programs.

“As the oldest NCAA Division I athletic conference in the United States and with a footprint that will now extend from the Pacific to the Atlantic, Big Ten membership offers Bruins exciting new competitive opportunities and a broader national media platform for our student-athletes to compete and showcase their talents,” UCLA chancellor Gene Block and Jarmond said in a joint letter. “Specifically, this move will enhance name, image and likeness opportunities through greater exposure.”

[…]

In moving to the Big Ten, USC and UCLA also solve another issue that’s long plagued the Pac-12: Kickoff times. Both schools were often relegated to the late window on Saturday nights, neither often finishing before half the country was asleep.

“For our fans, Big Ten membership equates to better television time slots for our road games, but the same number of home games either at the Rose Bowl, in Pauley Pavilion or other UCLA venues,” Block and Jarmond wrote.

As members of the Big Ten, late kickoffs are almost assuredly a relic of the past. The most glaring problem for the Pac-12, however, has long been what happened after kickoff.

We spend a week or two each year on the west coast visiting family. That makes for some great sports-watching opportunities, because the games start as early as 9 AM and then go all day. If USC and UCLA fans don’t mind some early morning kickoffs and never having an evening home game going forward, then I guess this will work out fine for them. ESPN, Slate, and The Ringer have more.

NFL pushing for “indefinite” suspension of Deshaun Watson

That sounds like it counts as “at least one year”.

The NFL and Deshaun Watson’s legal team presented their arguments before a disciplinary officer for a second day Wednesday, with both sides holding firm as the hearing is scheduled to continue in Delaware on Thursday.

The league is insisting on an indefinite suspension and Watson’s side is arguing there’s no basis for a punishment that significant, two people in attendance told The Associated Press. Both people spoke on condition of anonymity because the hearing isn’t public.

Former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players’ Association, is tasked with determining whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline.

If either the union or league appeals Robinson’s decision, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee “will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute,” per terms of Article 46 in the collective bargaining agreement.

See here for the previous entry. I guess I had expected the hearing to be just one day and that we’d have something definitive by now, but in retrospect that was unrealistic. I support a long suspension for Watson but am not sure yet how I feel about it being “indefinite”. It would depend on what the terms are for it ending, I suppose. We’ll see what the landscape looks like after the hearing is over and we can get reactions from the parties involved. What do you think?

Texans get sued for allegedly “turning a blind eye” to Deshaun Watson’s sexual harassment

We kind of knew this was coming.

Attorney Tony Buzbee has filed the first lawsuit against the Texans, saying the franchise enabled former quarterback Deshaun Watson, who last week settled 20 of 24 civil lawsuits filed by women who say he sexually assaulted and harassed them during massage therapy sessions.

The lawsuit says the owner of Genuine Touch, a massage therapy company that partnered with the Texans, reported Watson’s habit of “seeking out an unusually high number of massages from strangers on Instagram” to the Texans as early as June 2020, but the franchise “did nothing about it.”

Buzbee announced plans earlier in June to add the Texans as defendants in some of the lawsuits, and, last week, Buzbee said his focus shifted toward tagging the Texans onto the four remaining suits to argue that they facilitated Watson’s massage sessions at a local hotel, effectively enabling the massages away from team facilities, and provided non-disclosure agreements for those sessions.

“We are aware of the lawsuit filed against us today,” the Texans said in a statement Monday. “Since March 2021, we have fully supported and complied with law enforcement and the various investigations. We will continue to take the necessary steps to address the allegations against our organization.”

Watson pursued at least 66 different massage therapy sessions despite having a full Texans training staff available to him, plus the services of Genuine Touch, a specified massage therapy entity, the lawsuit says. Genuine Touch provided massage therapy to Texans players at the team’s facilities, the lawsuit says. Sometimes the therapy was available seven days a week.

Watson “refused to have massages done at the Texans stadium and instead preferred to reach out to strangers on Instagram for massages,” the lawsuit says, which adds “the Texans were well aware of Watson’s preference.”

The lawsuit says individuals within the Texans organization “knew or should have known of Watson’s conduct” and “turned a blind eye” on Watson’s behavior and “protected and shielded” their franchise quarterback in an attempt to also protect the organization itself.

Watson used Texans resources for his massage therapy sessions, the lawsuit says, which include a room the Texans set up for Watson at the Houstonian Hotel, massage tables the franchise provided him for private massage sessions and the NDA that [Brent Naccara, a former Secret Service agent who is the Texans’ director of security] provided him.

Roland Ramirez, Houston’s director of athletic training and physical therapy, told the Houston Police Department that he and Jack Easterby, the Texans’ executive vice president of football operations, helped secure Watson a membership at the Houstonian. Watson wasn’t old enough to secure a membership, Ramirez said, and Ramirez said he tagged his name to the membership as a third party.

Watson confirmed in his depositions that the Texans provided him the Houstonian membership he used to book rooms for massages, and the lawsuit notes the Houstonian has a physical therapy and massage staff that would’ve been an alternative to the women Watson pursued on Instagram.

The lawsuit says Ramirez received “several complaints” from the Houstonian’s general manager, Steve Fronterhouse, about “Watson and the number of women coming to Watson’s room there.”

Ramirez also told HPD that he found it “strange” when Watson asked him if he could borrow a massage table in August 2020.

A copy of the lawsuit is embedded in the story; there are also some allegations of gross behavior by Watson that I’ve skipped over. Beware if you want to read the whole thing. Tony Buzbee had talked about adding the Texans as a co-defendant in some of the lawsuits. This is a separate filing, which may partially be the result of many of those suits now being settled and thus unavailable as vehicles for action. Other topics covered in the story include the testimony from the HPD detective who thought Watson had committed crimes, and the huge number of massage therapists that Watson contacted during the time in question. There’s still a lot to be examined and discovered here, it would seem.

We’ll know later today how big a suspension the NFL will seek against Watson. I wonder now if perhaps the team will face some discipline as well. That would be up to the discretion of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and I’d wager it would come down to how bad the Texans look in all this, and thus how bad they make the league look. It’s too early to say on that, but we know that the more we learn about this whole thing, the worse it looks, so let’s keep an eye on it. Defector and Sean Pendergast have more.

NFL to seek at least a one year suspension for Deshaun Watson

That would count as significant.

The NFL is poised to argue for an indefinite suspension of at least one year for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson at a hearing scheduled to begin Tuesday in front of the sport’s new disciplinary officer, according to a person familiar with the case.

The league will contend that Watson, who was accused of sexual misconduct in two dozen civil lawsuits filed by women, violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and should be suspended without pay for at least the entirety of the 2022 season, that person said. Watson would have to apply for reinstatement under the league’s proposed penalty.

The NFL Players Association is expected to argue to former U.S. district judge Sue L. Robinson, the disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and the NFLPA, for far less severe discipline against Watson, perhaps seeking no suspension at all.

Robinson will make the initial disciplinary ruling, under the revised personal conduct policy put in place with the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union completed in 2020.

If Robinson rules that Watson violated the conduct policy and imposes disciplinary measures, the league or the union could appeal the penalty to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person designated by him. If Robinson rules that Watson did not violate the policy, the case would be closed, with no possibility of an appeal.

Under the previous version of the conduct policy, Goodell was empowered to both make the initial disciplinary ruling and resolve any appeal. This is the first case under the new system.

It’s not clear how long the hearing will last or when Robinson will make an initial ruling. The NFL aims to have the entire case, including the resolution of any appeal, resolved before the opening of training camp, a person with knowledge of the matter previously said. The Browns, who completed a trade with the Houston Texans for Watson this offseason, have their first full practice involving veteran players scheduled for July 27.

See here for some background, which covers the reasons for why the NFL is asking for such a long suspension, and why the NFLPA disagrees so completely. I’m as pro-labor as you’ll find in these matters, but I’m fine with Watson being made to sit for a year or more – let’s not forget, he’ll mostly be paid for all that time thanks to the terms of the contract he signed with Cleveland – if only because of the magnitude of the offenses. If there’s some mitigating factor that we the public don’t currently know, then fine. Maybe the terms of the 20 settled lawsuits are available to Judge Robinson. Maybe the NFLPA’s argument that the NFL has let owners like Daniel Snyder totally skate on egregious sexual misconduct charges, as Defector’s Ray Ratto notes, will carry some weight. Whatever the case, we’ll know exactly what the NFL is asking for tomorrow, and we’ll have the judge’s answer in a couple of weeks. ESPN and Sean Pendergast, who notes that Watson appears to have been trying to negotiate a settlement with the NFL over his forthcoming sentence, have more.

Watson settles 20 of the lawsuits against him

Interesting.

A lawyer for several women who accused Deshaun Watson of inappropriate sexual behavior during massage sessions has said that 20 settlement agreements with the former Texans athlete have been reached.

Tony Buzbee, lawyer for women in 24 cases, said Tuesday that the accusers accepted confidential settlements in connection to the lawsuits, most of which were filed in 2021 and onward.

Buzbee cited Ashley Solis’ complaint as instrumental in the legal battle. He noted that her case is among those that have not reached a settlement.

“The truth is, without her courage and willingness to come forward, the NFL wouldn’t currently be contemplating discipline; there would be no examination of how teams might knowingly or unknowingly enable certain behavior; sports teams wouldn’t be reviewing their personnel screening processes; and this important story wouldn’t have dominated the sports headlines for more than a year,” Buzbee said.

The terms of the settlements were not disclosed. Records in the Harris County District Clerk’s Office did not immediately reflect the settlements.

It should be noted that Watson nearly came to a settlement agreement with all then-22 plaintiffs last November, as part of an effort to enable a trade to Miami. As such, the possibility of a settlement with most if not all of his accusers was always there. The timing is notable, though if this batch of agreements was finished in an attempt to mitigate the forthcoming suspension Watson will receive from the NFL, it seems that won’t matter. Per ESPN, an NFL spokesperson has said “today’s development has no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.” Which is to say, whatever discipline Watson was in line to get on Monday, he’s still in line to get it. But at least from his perspective he’s maybe reducing the risk of further exposure. Maybe. Sean Pendergast has more.

“Significant” suspension expected for Deshaun Watson

I should think so.

The NFL will argue that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should receive a “significant” suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, multiple people familiar with the case said Friday.

The league “probably” will seek a suspension of one full season for Watson, a person on Watson’s side of the case said Friday. A person familiar with the league’s view of the case cautioned to be “careful” about specifying a precise length at this point for the suspension the NFL will seek. But that person also said: “Significant would be the proper term.”

[…]

Under a process that was revised in the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA completed in 2020, the initial ruling on a prospective suspension or fine will be made by Robinson, now an attorney in Wilmington, Del., after retiring from the bench in 2017.

The case would be finished, with no appeals possible, if Robinson rules that there was no violation of the personal conduct policy. If she rules that there was a violation of the policy and imposes a penalty, either side could appeal to Goodell. The NFLPA pushed for revisions to the personal conduct policy in the CBA after clashes, some of which spilled into courtrooms after litigation filed by the union and players, in previous disciplinary cases. Previously, Goodell was responsible for making both the initial disciplinary ruling and resolving appeals.

It’s not clear whether Robinson will hold what amounts to a quasi-trial before making her decision. She declined to comment this week, referring questions to the league and union.

The NFL’s investigation has been conducted by Lisa Friel, the former chief of the sex crimes prosecution unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who is the league’s special counsel for investigations.

Friel interviewed at least 11 of the women accusing Watson who are represented by attorney Tony Buzbee, according to a person familiar with the investigation, along with other women. She reviewed relevant available documents. The NFL’s representatives interviewed Watson over several days in Houston.

[…]

The league has made a presentation on the case to the NFLPA and Watson’s representatives, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. That led those on Watson’s side of the case to conclude that the NFL will seek a substantial penalty.

It’s not clear whether Major League Baseball’s two-season suspension of pitcher Trevor Bauer under its domestic violence policy will serve as a precedent for the NFL’s proposed suspension of Watson, another person familiar with the league’s view said in recent weeks. But the NFL is aware that the length of the Bauer suspension could affect the public’s expectations and reaction in the Watson case, that person said.

Outside NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler has become involved in the case. A person familiar with the NFL’s view said the league is wary that Kessler will argue for no disciplinary action at all.

Kessler declined to comment Friday, referring questions to the NFLPA. The NFLPA could cite the lack of criminal charges, although the NFL’s policy allows discipline to be imposed without such charges.

The NFLPA’s defense of Watson will raise the issue that owners Daniel Snyder of the Washington Commanders, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys were not suspended by the league for incidents involving them and their teams. That was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the case after first being reported by Pro Football Talk.

I think one year is the minimum. The charges against Watson are considerably greater than those against Bauer, and as such I wouldn’t mind seeing him get two years as his punishment. Maybe Robinson or Friel found Watson’s accusers to be not fully credible, or maybe the NFLPA’s argument about the lack of punishment for these miscreant owners will hold some sway, I don’t know. I just don’t have any sympathy for either Watson or the Browns. Whatever the case, the expectation is that there will be an answer by the start of NFL training camp, which is to say by late July.

Rice to join AAC in 2023

As expected given prior developments.

Nearly eight months after accepting an invitation to join the American Athletic Conference, Rice on Wednesday announced it has finalized an agreement to officially enter the league in 2023.

Rice — along with UTSA, North Texas, UAB, Florida Atlantic and Charlotte — will jump from Conference USA to the AAC on July 1, 2023.

Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard said the announcement “brings Rice athletics a step closer to its very bright future.”

Left out of the Big 12 following the breakup of the Southwest Conference in the mid-1990s, Rice spent eight years in the Western Athletic Conference and eventually joined C-USA in 2005.

The AAC’s agreements with the six new schools — which were spread out over the last five days — ends the latest round of conference realignment that began last summer with Texas and Oklahoma accepting invitations to join the Southeastern Conference. That set off a wave of moves, with the Big 12 adding the University of Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida from the AAC and independent BYU, and the AAC quickly adding six C-USA schools to form a 14-team football league.

On Friday, the AAC said it reached agreements on $18 million exit fees with its three departing schools — who will join the Big 12 on the same date — to pave the way for Rice to finally set a concrete date to join its new league.

As part of the departure, Rice will forfeit two years of revenue distribution, an amount estimated at $3 million, according to an industry source familiar with the payouts.

The move to the AAC outweighs any short-term loss of revenue, with Rice expected to benefit from an increase in visibility (the AAC has a multimedia rights deal with ESPN) and boost financially. Football-playing schools in the AAC received anywhere from $5.33 million to $9.44 million in revenue distribution, according to tax documents for the 2020-21 fiscal year. C-USA schools receive $500,000.

The AAC’s press release is here. By “prior developments” I mean UH and other officially joining the Big XII in 2023. It just made sense for the AAC to fill out its roster with its new players at the same time. The question still remains about when UT and OU will leave the Big XII for the SEC, but they’re on their own timetable. It’s not a big deal for the most part if those two overlap with the new Big XII members for a season. I hope this conference is more durable and sustainable than previous ones were (I will admit for a fondness for the old and too-short-lived WAC 16, which honestly would have been an awesome conference if certain members hadn’t broken off to form the Mountain West) and that Rice does its part to improve its teams and facilities. It’s been a rough few years for Owl fans. I hope this is the start of something better.

Too much Deshaun Watson news

The lawsuit counter ticks up again.

The official number of lawsuits pending against Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will indeed increase to 26.

Attorney Tony Buzbee tells Josh Voight of WEWS in Cleveland that two more women will be suing Watson.

Buzbee said that one of the plaintiffs came to him via a referral from a lawyer in Atlanta. The other plaintiff saw last month’s feature regarding the allegations on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

So how many more will there be? Last week, Jenny Vrentas of the New York Times reported that Watson got massages from at least 66 women in a 17-month period. The 24th lawsuit against Watson, filed last week, contends that Watson received more than 100 massages from “random strangers” he found on Instagram.

Seems to me we can’t answer that question just yet. Not until we know what the total number of women who could plausibly sue him is. And that number, no one (except maybe Watson himself) has any idea what it is.

Speaking of which, Watson could certainly do more to make this all stop, if he wanted to.

“I just want to clear my name,” Watson said, explaining that he wants to let the facts come out in a court of law. This means that, for now, he intends to keep fighting these cases. All of them. The 24 already filed. The two more to come. And any others that may eventually be filed.

The process will take time. None of the cases will go to trial until after March 1, 2023. And, without settlements, 26 trials will take a lot of time. The cases likely will linger into 2024. Depending on the final number of cases filed, the trials might not end until 2025.

Watson also was asked about the contention (not a report, but a contention) from one of the lawsuits that he offered $100,000 to each of the plaintiffs last year.

“There was a process that was going on back in November with another organization,” Watson said, without specifically addressing whether settlement offers were made to resolve the cases so that he could be traded to Miami. However, his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, already has said publicly that the Dolphins wanted the cases to be resolved before a trade would happen, and that an effort was made to do so.

Watson was asked whether he stands by his statement from March that he has “no regrets” about what happened.

“I think that question kind of triggered a lot of people,” Watson said, explaining that he was saying he never assaulted, disrespected, or harassed anyone. He acknowledged that he does regret the impact of the existence of the various cases has had on “many” people.

And what of the report from the New York Times that Watson received massages from at least 66 women in a 17-month period? Is that number accurate?

“I don’t think so,” Watson said, before deferring to his lawyers.

I don’t know what happened between Deshaun Watson and all these women. I do know that it’s impossible to believe that nothing untoward happened.

At some point, the NFL needs to decide what it believes.

Last month, Deshaun Watson‘s lawyer said they expect to hear something from the NFL in June. As of tomorrow, June is already halfway over. And there’s no indication that the league is ready to do anything.

Then again, there rarely is any such indication of what the league will do, until the league does it. If the league will be trying to suspend Watson without pay to start the 2022 season, time is of the essence.

Remember, it’s a three-step process. First, the league office proposes discipline. Second, the Disciplinary Office (retired judge Sue L. Robinson) evaluates the case, conducts a hearing (if she deems it necessary), and makes a decision. Third, unless Judge Robinson decides to impose no discipline at all (which would end the process), the Commissioner handles the appeal. His decision is final.

It will take time for the second and third steps. At the latest, it needs to be resolved before Week One. Ideally, the Browns will have an answer before the start of training camp. (Then again, the Browns can’t complain about the current uncertainty; they made this bed.)

With two more lawsuits to be filed, pushing the total to 26, and with no indication as to what the final tally will be, it’s making more and more sense for the NFL to press pause on Watson’s career via paid leave, letting him focus on putting these 26 cases (and counting) behind him for good.

That is a thing the league could do. I’m sure the league would like to see these stories end.

I will say again: The longer this goes on, the worse it looks.

A Houston police detective testified this week that she believed Deshaun Watson committed crimes after investigating 10 criminal complaints against him, according to a pretrial deposition transcript obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

The detective, Kamesha Baker, said she expressed her opinion to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. But she wasn’t called to testify before the grand jury in Harris County, Texas, and doesn’t know why the grand jury didn’t indict the Cleveland Browns quarterback on criminal charges. She said she believed Watson committed criminal indecent assault, sexual assault and prostitution in cases where money was exchanged and there was consensual sex.

“Did you feel confident that you had the evidence needed to pursue those charges?” Baker was asked in the deposition.

“Yes,” Baker said.

“And was there any doubt in your mind as the investigating officer that a crime had occurred?”

“No,” Baker said.

Baker testified in a pretrial deposition for the civil litigation against Watson in Houston, where he has been sued by 24 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021. Eight of those women also filed complaints with Houston police about Watson’s conduct, in addition to two other women who filed police complaints who have not sued Watson in civil court.

That one of the detectives involved believed this is perhaps not surprising. It doesn’t mean it’s true. The point is, there is still a lot we the public don’t know about these cases. And like I said, the more we find out, the worse it all looks. Sean Pendergast has more.

UH will officially join the Big XII in 2023

No use waiting around.

The University of Houston will start play in the Big 12 in 2023 after the school came to an agreement on exit fees with the American Athletic Conference.

The Cougars will pay the AAC $18 million spread over 14 years to leave early and join the Power 5. The school will pay the first $10 million by 2024 with the rest to come in the following 12 years.

The Cougars, Cincinnati and Central Florida, are leaving the AAC and joining the Big 12 along with BYU, which as an indepentend already had announced plans to join in 2023.

The conference shift came after Texas and Oklahoma announced last summer they would leave the Big 12 and move to the SEC. Texas and Oklahoma still say they won’t move until 2025, so the Big 12 could have 14 teams for two seasons unless the schools negotiate an early departure.

The exit of the three schools from the AAC will also impact when Rice will leave Conference-USA to join the AAC along with UTSA, North Texas, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic and UAB.

UTSA announced its intent to join the AAC in 2023, while Rice said it hoped to release more information soon.

See here for some background. We noted this possibility in April. As for the exit fees, UH will be able to afford it.

While the Big XII may temporarily swell to 14 members in 2023 – which will make its name no less accurate than it is now, with ten members – I think there’s a strong chance that UT and OU will make their way to the SEC at the same time. UT is already scheduling games with Texas A&M, so really it’s all just paperwork and contract details at this point. By the same token, I’d expect Rice and its fellow C-USA refugees to be fully in the AAC in 2023. It was always the most likely scenario – every other conference reshuffling happened ahead of the originally announced timelines, because once that cat is out of the bag the incentives are very much in favor of moving things along. I’d expect the rest of those dominoes to fall in the coming weeks. CultureMap has more.

Texans to be added as defendants to some Watson lawsuits

On and on we go.

Attorney Tony Buzbee said Wednesday that he plans to add the Texans as defendants in some of the 24 civil lawsuits women have filed against Deshaun Watson.

Buzbee said the franchise facilitated the former quarterback’s massage sessions at a local hotel, enabled his pursuit of massages away from team facilities by providing equipment and a non-disclosure agreement and “knew or certainly should have known” about his alleged sexual misconduct.

Buzbee said he decided to add the Texans to some of the lawsuits after a deposition with Houston Police Department detective K. Dawn Baker, who helped present the special victim unit’s criminal case against Watson to the Harris County district attorney’s office. Court records show that Baker was interviewed at 1 p.m. on Tuesday at Buzbee’s office. Two grand juries — one in Harris County and one in Brazoria County — declined to indict Watson on criminal charges.

“What has become clear is that the Houston Texans organization and their contracting ‘massage therapy company’ facilitated Deshaun Watson’s conduct,” Buzbee said in a statement. “In many of these cases, the Texans provided the opportunity for this conduct to occur. We believe the Texans organization was well aware of Watson’s issues but failed to act. They knew or certainly should have known.”

Buzbee said the Texans provided rooms for Watson at The Houstonian Hotel for his massages. Three women who filed suit against Watson said massages occurred at the hotel. In one lawsuit, Watson informed one of the women he had a private suite where the session could take place.

Watson acknowledged the Texans arranged for him to have “a place” at the hotel, according to a deposition obtained in a New York Times report that said the franchise enabled their star quarterback’s behavior. Watson said his access to the property wasn’t under his name, according to the Times, and a woman who gave Watson a massage at the hotel said the room was registered to a member of the Texans’ training staff.

Buzbee said the Texans also provided massage tables, although the franchise had its own training resources, which supported Watson’s pursuit of massage therapy away from the team’s facilities. Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, has attributed the quarterback’s frequent pursuit of independent appointments to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Times, Brent Naccara, a former Secret Service agent who is the Texans’ director of security, also gave Watson an NDA form after one of the women posted text messages, Watson’s phone number and his Cash App receipts on Instagram in early November 2020 along with the message, “I could really expose you.”

See here for the background. We’re still waiting for the NFL to decide what to do about Watson, and it seems to me that question needs to be expanded to include what to do about the Texans. I really wish I lived in a world where nobody acted like Deshaun Watson, and nobody acted to make life easier for people like Deshaun Watson. Sean Pendergast has more.

The NYT takes a closer look at the Deshaun Watson situation

It’s even worse than it looks.

It is time, Watson and his representatives say, for everyone to move on.

Yet a New York Times examination of records, including depositions and evidence for civil lawsuits as well as interviews of some of the women, showed that Watson engaged in more questionable behavior than previously known.

The Times’ review also showed that Watson’s conduct was enabled — knowingly or not — by the team he played for at the time, the Houston Texans, which provided the venue Watson used for some of the appointments. A team representative also furnished him with a nondisclosure agreement after a woman who is now suing him threatened online to expose his behavior.

Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lawyer, said his client “continues to vehemently deny” the allegations in the lawsuits. He declined to respond in detail to the Times’ questions, but said in a statement, “We can say when the real facts are known this issue will appear in a different light.”

The Texans did not respond to specific questions about Watson’s use of team resources. They said in a statement that they first learned of the allegations against him in March 2021, have cooperated with investigators and “will continue to do so.”

Watson has said publicly that he hired about 40 different therapists across his five seasons in Houston, but the Times’ reporting found that he booked appointments with at least 66 different women in just the 17 months from fall 2019 through spring 2021. A few of these additional women, speaking publicly for the first time, described experiences that undercut Watson’s insistence that he was only seeking professional massage therapy.

One woman, who did not sue Watson or complain to police, told the Times that he was persistent in his requests for sexual acts during their massage, including “begging” her to put her mouth on his penis.

“I specifically had to say, ‘No, I can’t do that,’” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her family’s privacy. “And that’s when I went into asking him, ‘What is it like being famous? Like, what’s going on? You’re about to mess up everything.’”

[…]

Since the first wave of suits were filed against Watson last year, the main allegations against him have become familiar. Women complained that Watson turned massages sexual without their consent, including purposely touching them with his penis and coercing sexual acts.

It’s not clear when he began looking for so many different women to give him massages. Hardin has said his client needed to book appointments “ad hoc” when the coronavirus pandemic began, though Watson began working with numerous women before then.

Not all of the women who gave Watson massages between October 2019 and March 2021 have detailed their interactions with him. Some who have shared their experiences say they had no problems with him. Others describe troubling — and similar — behaviors.

The 66 women are:

— The 24 who have sued him, including two who filed suits within the last week. In the most recent suit, the woman said Watson masturbated during the massage.

— A woman who sued but then withdrew the complaint because of “privacy and security concerns.”

— Two women who filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not sue him.

— At least 15 therapists who issued statements of support for Watson at the request of his lawyers and gave him massages during that period.

— At least four therapists from Genuine Touch, the massage therapy group contracted with the Texans.

— Five women identified by the plaintiffs’ lawyers during the investigation for their civil suits.

— At least 15 other women whose appointments with Watson were confirmed through interviews and records reviewed by the Times.

A deeper look at the lawsuits, including a review of private messages entered as evidence, shows the lengthy efforts by Watson to book massages and the methods he used to assure women that he could be trusted.

It’s a long story and worth your time to read. Here’s a brief Twitter thread from the story’s author, if you need more of a preview. Remember that the NFL still has not said what its investigation has revealed or what its discipline for Watson will be, and please note as Sean Pendergast pointed out, there could still be more criminal charges against Watson, as the most recent accusers were not part of the original grand jury hearings. Every day this story gets worse, and we’re not finished with it yet. Defector has more.

Get ready to start raking in the cash, UH

Money, money, money.

As the athletic director at Texas, Chris Del Conte is the CEO of one of the richest college athletic departments in the nation. He also knows what it’s like to have to make every penny count.

At TCU, Del Conte oversaw the school’s transition from the Mountain West to the Big 12 in 2012. As a member of the Mountain West, part of the so-called Group of Five, TCU never received more than $2 million in annual payout. So, when the Horned Frogs joined the Power Five, a change of address to the high-rent district of college athletes, you can imagine the shock of a few extra zeroes in the bank statement.

And that was before TCU became a fully vested member in its fourth year in the Big 12.

“Not right away, but there was for sure,” Del Conte said of the impact of an increased revenue flow for the Fort Worth private school. “The economics changed completely. There’s a big jump.”

A similar increase in revenue awaits the University of Houston, which along with BYU, Cincinnati and Central Florida, could join the Big 12 as early as 2023.

Upon entry, UH won’t see anywhere close to the $42.6 million the Big 12 announced Friday on the final day of its spring meetings, but the not-yet-announced revenue distribution for the incoming schools will be a considerably more than the current setup in the American Athletic Conference.

UH received $8.52 million as part of its annual revenue payout from the AAC, according to tax documents for the 2020-21 fiscal year. That was the second-highest total among AAC schools behind Cincinnati ($9.44 million), according to the Orlando Sentinel. UH’s revenue payout was nearly double the $4.43 million in 2021 and $4.354 million in 2020.

Once UH joins the Big 12, it can expect a similar framework for revenue payouts as TCU and West Virginia, the last two teams to join the league in 2012. The two schools received staggered shares for three years, receiving 50 percent in Year 1, 67 percent in Year 2 and 84 percent in Year 3 before becoming fully vested in the fourth year.

[…]

What could the revenue payout look like for UH? Based on this year’s Big 12 payout of $42.6 million — much of that coming from TV revenue — and again the following two years, which would represent UH’s first in the league. That would translate into at least $20 million in Year 1 and at least $26 million in Year 2. After that is unknown as the Big 12’s TV deal with ESPN and Fox is set to expire in 2025, which coincides with Texas and Oklahoma leaving for the Southeastern Conference.

Last summer, Bowlsby told Texas lawmakers that the remaining eight schools could lose 50 percent, or about $14 million per year, in TV revenue upon Texas and Oklahoma’s departure.

So that’s more than double the revenue early on, with the possibility of a significant drop that would put them close to where they are now. That’s a lot hinging on that next TV contract. I suspect the Big XII will be fine – we’re unlikely to run low on demand for college football and basketball on the tube – but it does suggest a bit of caution before going all in on whatever expensive new toys are out there. Good luck figuring it out, y’all.

Complaint #24 filed against Deshaun Watson

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

24th civil lawsuit was filed against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on Monday, as Houston-based attorney Tony Buzbee referenced last week. The lawsuit details another woman’s account of Watson’s alleged predatory behavior during massage therapy sessions, which “mortified” the woman and resulted in her leaving her field.The woman chose to come forward after reading that Watson said he has no regrets and has done nothing wrong, the lawsuit says.

Watson, who was traded to the Cleveland Browns in March, has maintained his innocence and said during his initial press conference with his new team that he “never assaulted,” “never disrespected,” and “never harassed any woman in my life.”

The latest suit follows a 23rd that was filed Tuesday by a woman who also claimed Watson sexually assaulted her during three sessions in 2020 and claimed the owner of a Houston-area spa facilitated the massages for Watson, knew he was attempting to have sex with the therapists and that Watson paid the owner at least $5,000 for the work.

Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin said that it was two of his lawyers who met with the woman, and they “vehemently deny there was any coercion or intimidation involved” in a meeting he described was “so congenial,” the woman joined the attorneys for dinner afterward.

Hardin also claimed that “happy endings” in massage therapy sessions are not a crime in a radio interview with Sports Radio 610 Friday, comments that were referenced in the most recent lawsuit.

[…]

Hardin told 610 hosts Seth Payne and Sean Pendergast that “doing something or saying something or being a way that makes you uncomfortable is not a crime, and so we’ve had two grand juries find that and nobody seems to want to listen.”

“I don’t know how many men are out there now that have had a massage that perhaps occasionally there was a happy ending,” Hardin said. “All right? Maybe there’s nobody in your listening audience that that never happened to. I do want to point out if it has happened, it’s not a crime. OK? Unless you are paying somebody extra or so to give you some type of sexual activity, it’s not a crime.”

Hardin issued a statement after the radio show appearance that clarified his defense that “Deshaun did not pay anyone for sex” and that he “was using the term hypothetically and not describing Deshaun’s case.”

“I have reiterated to others it’s not ok to do anything that a woman does not agree to do,” Hardin said in the statement. “These women have alleged assault in their pleadings. I was speaking in a hypothetical situation. If there is a consensual sexual encounter after a massage, that is not a crime nor the basis for a civil lawsuit. I was not talking about what Deshaun did or did not do or expected or did not expect.”

See here for the previous entry. Maybe ease up a bit on the media appearances, Rusty. As Sean Pendergast notes, those comments are part of this 24th suit against Watson. It’s impossible to read either of those stories and not just feel gross about the whole rancid situation. We’re still waiting to hear what action the NFL will take, by the way. I won’t be surprised if these latest complaints have given them some pause.

On a side note, this paywalled story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran in the print edition of the Chron on Tuesday. It connects the Watson situation with the Brian Flores lawsuit against the NFL, for which the Texans are also named as defendants. Worth a read if you have access to either of those sources.

UPDATE: Just saw this big NYT piece about Watson and the many massage therapists. I’ll get to it tomorrow. And there’s more from Sean Pendergast that you need to read, too.

23rd lawsuit filed against Deshaun Watson

That may not be the end as well.

A 23rd lawsuit has been filed against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The latest suit, filed Tuesday by a massage therapist, says Watson sexually assaulted her during three sessions in 2020. The lawsuit also claims the owner of a Houston-area spa facilitated the massages for Watson, knew he was attempting to have sex with the therapists and that Watson paid the owner at least $5,000 for the work.

The lawsuit also claims one of Watson’s attorneys found the woman’s contact information in Watson’s cell phone, took her to dinner in “an effort to intimidate her” with “an apparent attempt to determine” if she was filing a lawsuit, and attempted to convince her to say “nice and positive things about Watson,” which the woman refused.

Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin said that it was two of his lawyers who met with the woman, and they “vehemently deny there was any coercion or intimidation involved” in a meeting he described was “so congenial,” the woman joined the attorneys for dinner afterward.

The attorneys met with the woman to see if she was one of Houston-based attorney Tony Buzbee’s anonymous plaintiffs, Hardin said, since Buzbee, who represents the women, refused to identify his clients at the time.

[…

The woman changed her mind about filing a lawsuit after watching the HBO “Real Sports” episode that aired May 24 and delved into the previous lawsuits filed against Watson. The woman had initially “agonized” over whether to bring a lawsuit against Watson, the lawsuit says. She had no intention of doing so initially, but her name still “found its way into the public sphere” once the lawsuits began to emerge. The Chronicle does not identify victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission.

Even after sharing her story in a July 2021 interview on an online stream, she “had no intention of filing a lawsuit,” the lawsuit says, because she “did not want to put herself and her family through the turmoil” and “did not want to subject herself to further abuse and ugliness” that she’d seen the other women experience after filing their lawsuits.

Buzbee, who represents the other 22 women who have filed suit, confirmed that the latest case has been referred to him and said “our team will be filing another lawsuit, similar to the others already filed, this week.”

See here for some background. It’s not surprising that the appearance by some of the plaintiffs on “Real Sports” has brought more complainants out. It helps knowing that you’re not alone.

A copy of lawsuit #23 is embedded in the story, and note the comment at the end about #24 being in the works. An announcement from the NFL about a what kind of discipline Watson will face from the league is still expected soon. Sean Pendergast has more.

Watson accusers get their say

You can see them saying it.

The $230 million contract the Cleveland Browns gave to former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was a “big screw you” to the 22 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.

After Houston traded Watson in March, Cleveland gave him a fully guaranteed $230 million contract. The way the new contract was structured, all but $1 million of Watson’s 2022 salary was put into bonuses so he would not lose that money if he were to be suspended by the NFL.

“It’s just like a big ‘screw you,’” Ashley Solis told HBO’s Soledad O’Brien as part of a “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” episode that was to air at 9 p.m. CT on Tuesday . “That’s what it feels like. That we don’t care. He can run and throw, and that’s what we care about.”

Said Ashley Hayes, another accuser interviewed on the show: “It was sick to me. I felt like he’s being rewarded for bad behavior.”

Watson is facing 22 civil suits that accuse him of sexual assault and harassment during massage appointments. Two Houston-area grand juries have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges.

The NFL is still investigating and has made no ruling on a possible suspension for 2022. Watson did not play with the Texans in 2021.

There’s an embedded video in the story if you want a preview. As Sean Pendergast notes, we may be getting close to an NFL decision about whatever discipline they will impose on Watson. He was in Texas last week to meet with NFL officials, with the general impression being that the league is wrapping up its investigation. (Watson has other reasons to come back to Texas as well.) We’ll know soon enough. More from Pendergast about the HBOMax show here.

The “That’s right, you’re not from Texas” legal gambit

Tony Buzbee, y’all.

The legal trouble that Deshaun Watson is facing in Houston already is threatening to get in the way of his new job in Cleveland.

Lawyers for the 22 women who are suing Watson last week filed a notice of their intention to take his pretrial deposition testimony on five different days in early May at the Houston office of Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin. But Hardin is fighting it, noting that the NFL quarterback recently changed jobs after being traded by the Houston Texans to the Cleveland Browns.

“Mr. Watson recently moved out of state and currently lives in Ohio,” said a document submitted by Hardin’s firm in court Friday. “He also has a full-time job that requires his presence in Ohio Monday through Friday. As a result, Mr. Watson is not available for depositions in Texas on the dates unilaterally noticed by Plaintiffs. Counsel for Mr. Watson offered multiple dates for Mr. Watson’s deposition that were rejected by Plaintiffs’ counsel.”

Hardin has filed a motion to quash those depositions, leading to a court hearing set for next week in Houston, where Judge Rabeea Collier could decide the matter.

If the implication of this is unclear, Pro Football Talk explains it for you.

First, Watson’s presence is “required” only for the offseason program. Second, it should be fairly easy to schedule the depositions for the window of six weeks or so between the end of the offseason program and the start of training camp.

Third, Buzbee knows well what he’s doing. He’s trying to exert even more settlement pressure on Watson by making the process as big of a pain in the butt as possible. And, yes, it would be much better for Watson if he simply settled the cases. But Buzbee knows this, which will serve only to make the price of settlement higher.

In other words, come to the table for a settlement agreement, or I’m going to keep trying to drag you back to Houston as often as possible for depositions and whatnot, which will be annoying to you and your new team and really wouldn’t you rather just settle already? We’ll see if it works.

Big XII may get temporarily bigger

The dominoes fall when they fall.

Next week, the Big 12 plans to discuss the future of the conference regarding its expansion, per Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger.

Houston, Cincinnati and UCF are expected to join the Big 12 in the 2023–24 academic year, potentially joining the conference before Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC by the ’25 academic year.

Per The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, the American Athletic Conference still has to sign off on the three schools exit. The process so far has been amicable.

“No agreement has been reached to permit the three (UCF, Houston, Cincinnati) to leave early,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told Auerbach. “Our negotiations are continuing.”

Though their joining was already expected, the negotiations are expected to be finalized in the next week, according to Dellenger. BYU will also be joining the Big 12 in all sports, not just football.

There is a possibility that there will be 14 teams in the Big 12 during the 2023 and ’24 seasons. Conference officials will be meeting next week to discuss how a larger team pool could work, examining all possibilities including divisions and whether there should be eight or nine league games.

See here and here for some background. An early exit from the AAC by UH, UCF, and Cincinnati might hasten the arrival of its new members as well. Thing might be slightly less complicated if UT and OU are able to officially join the SEC in time for the 2023 season – which I have always thought would happen – but that’s a different domino. I feel like now that this one is in motion, the rest may follow, but we’ll see.