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.