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Sports Illustrated

Watson Plaintiff: QB’s Denial of Claims Is a ‘Bold-Faced Lie’

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic accounts of alleged sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

In Tuesday night’s episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, one of Deshaun Watson’s attorneys, Leah Graham, answered questions regarding the quarterback, including why people should believe him.

Reporter Soledad O’Brien asked Graham, “For Deshaun Watson to be innocent, 22 women would have to be lying. Why would the public believe one man versus 22 different women?”

The attorney responded, “It’s 22 women. It’s one lawyer. There’s only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’s deposition, Mr. Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.”

The Browns quarterback is facing 22 active civil lawsuits filed by massage therapists, each detailing graphic accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault that occurred during massage therapy sessions. The accounts range from Watson allegedly refusing to cover his genitals to the quarterback “touching [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.” 

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

O’Brien pointed out that Watson previously stated that he had “no regrets,” and the reporter asked if it was still true.

“As he testified in his depositions last week, yes, he has no regrets because he did nothing wrong,” Graham said. “He did nothing wrong in these massages. And although—to your first question, ‘How can he be innocent?’ I think the real question is, ‘What evidence is there of any guilt?’”

Two plaintiffs, Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes, gave their first national TV interviews with HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel on Tuesday evening, and in the interview with O’Brien, both detailed their accounts with Watson. 

Hayes said, in part, “He wanted me to kinda make a V motion in his pelvic area. So go across his stomach to his thighs, back to his stomach. I just kept massaging and did what he asked until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it. He was moving his penis back and forth as my hands moved as well.”

She said at one point, his penis allegedly touched her hand intentionally, and “at some point, he did ejaculate. That was mortifying and embarrassing and disgusting.”

Solis commented about the moment when she “got really scared” near the end of the massage session. 

“He just said, ‘I know you have a career to protect.’ And ‘I know you don’t want anyone messing with it just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.’ To me, that’s when that’s when I got really scared.

“That sounded like a threat to me,” Solis said. 

The quarterback has denied this exchange occurring, per HBO. 

Hayes became emotional as clips of Watson’s introductory press conference remarks were played. The quarterback denied assaulting, harassing or disrespecting any woman during this presser, which Hayes said, “for him to say he never did anything to a woman, it’s a bold-faced lie.”

Although the civil lawsuits are still ongoing, Cleveland traded for Watson in March and signed him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million. Solis said in the interview that “it’s just like a big screw you. That’s what it feels like. That we don’t care. He can run and throw, and that’s what we care about.” 

Hayes said she “felt like he’s being rewarded for bad behavior.”

The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center saw more than 2,300 donations come in the wake of his signing, totaling more than $125,000. They received more than 1,000 donations within the first 24 hours of the trade.

Watson previously faced multiple criminal complaints; however, he is not facing charges following two separate grand jury hearings. On March 11, a Harris County grand jury returned nine “no” decisions on nine criminal complaints against Watson. A Harris County prosecutor said that the decision concluded criminal proceedings against him in that county, and Watson was traded shortly afterward. A grand jury in Brazoria County declined to charge Watson on a 10th count on March 24.

Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, released a video statement prior to the interview airing, saying in part, “Nobody really wanted to deal much with the fact that two different grand juries found there were no criminal events. The grand jury decides probable cause—is there any basis for believing there was a crime committed, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor. And both of those grand juries found no probable cause to believe any crime at all was committed.

“That should have been given great sway because originally there were allegations, he used force against these women. Turns out only three of the 22 lawsuits involve any allegation of force, and then when subjected to investigation by law enforcement and presentation to a grand jury, it was found no force was used. There was no indication of a crime involving any type of force.”

As far as the league investigation, commissioner Roger Goodell revealed Tuesday that the league is “nearing the end of the investigation” into the actions of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. However, no timeline was provided on when a ruling would be issued by the disciplinary officer.