How did NFL player Deshaun Watson avoid criminal charges?
Not one but 22 women, all of whom have identified themselves, filed civil suits last year for sexual harassment and assault, while 10 women filed criminal complaints, against former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Then, a Harris County, Texas, grand jury declined to indict and charge Watson after he invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege not to self-incriminate. And just last week a second Texas grand jury, in Brazoria County, declined to indict Watson (Nine charges were filed in Harris County and one in Brazoria County because of the location of the alleged crimes.)
In speaking to reporters for the first time in the year since the first lawsuits were filed, Watson said:
“It was definitely a very emotional moment for me. I know we’re far from being done of handling what we need to handle on the legal side. But today was a very big day for me. And I thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ for letting the truth be heard. And I thank everyone who was a part of this of seeing and hearing both sides. And that’s what my point and my freak wanted to do — have a fair slate of my side telling my story. And letting the conclusion come down to what happened today, and that’s what the grand jury decided upon.”
In most of the lawsuits, Watson is accused of touching, forcibly kissing and exposing himself to women during therapeutic massage appointments. He was also accused by one of the women of being forced to perform a sexual act, to which Watson’s lawyers conceded that some sexual activity happened during some of the massage appointments but none was coerced, forced or without full consent.
Imagine for a second a 110-pound woman giving a sports massage to a 215-pound NFL player and then imagine the terror the person who is half their weight and maybe one-fiftieth their physical strength feels when he turns his “affections” toward her. It’s a horrific picture, yet evidently not one sufficiently visceral to end Watson’s NFL career.
The NFL world wasn’t lacking for really bad hot takes. The high-profile NFL insider Adam Schefter shared this view on social media: “This is why Deshaun Watson, from the beginning, welcomed a police investigation: He felt he knew that the truth would come out. And today, a grand jury did not charge him on any of the criminal complaints.”
Schefter was immediately excoriated, perhaps the best example of which was, “Thinking about what Schefter’s tweet after the OJ verdict would’ve been.”
Lauren Scardella, a criminal defense lawyer, shared her experience in these types of cases:
“It is not out of the ordinary for high-profile celebrities, including athletes, to avoid criminal charges in the midst of civil suits for sexual assault. The process for criminal charges has different complexities, yet it is important to understand that whether a grand jury chooses to bring charges or not, it has no impact upon the ongoing civil claim.”
Several NFL players have been cleared of criminal charges yet been suspended for their behavior. They include Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliot for domestic violence, and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger for sexual assault through the vehicle of having violated the league’s personal conduct policy. Yet there weren’t 22 civil lawsuits at the time the NFL suspended these players.
With the Houston Texans and Watson deciding last season that they would part ways, the quarterback has since been traded to the Cleveland Browns.
While Watson immediately took to Twitter following the first grand jury’s decision, the notion that he did nothing wrong is logically premised on 22 women who didn’t know one another getting together to formulate similar stories about Watson’s behavior. While this is an intellectual pretzel into which some NFL fans will contort their opinions, it is simply a continuation of a free pass granted for far too long to the league and its wrongdoers.
For a league that always chooses the worst thing to do among a buffet of better choices, Watson will play NFL football again. The Browns need to understand the breadth and depth of the risk they have taken.
Aron Solomon is the head of strategy for Esquire Digital and editor of Today’s Esquire. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.