Deshaun Watson Accused of Sexual Assault in Civil Suit

Deshaun Watson, the star quarterback of the Houston Texans, has been accused of the sexual assault of a massage therapist last March, according to a civil suit filed late Tuesday in Harris County, Texas. Watson denied the accusation in a statement posted to his Twitter account Tuesday night.

In the complaint, a woman accused Watson, 25, of accosting her and pressuring her to have sex with him during a massage at her home in Houston. The woman said Watson had responded to an advertisement for her massage services, and asked if she would be the only person home when he arrived.

According to the complaint, on March 30, 2020, Watson went to the woman’s home and, once on the massage table wearing only a small towel, instructed the woman that he wanted her to focus on his groin. Watson, according to the complaint, “moved his body so he could expose himself more.”

The woman ended the massage abruptly and asked him to leave. She claimed that Watson suggested that he could ruin her reputation if she tried to ruin his by speaking publicly about the encounter.

Watson later sent a text message to the woman to apologize, according to the complaint. She did not respond.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday night, Watson said that he “never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect” and that he looked forward to clearing his name. Watson also said that he had rejected “a baseless six-figure settlement demand” made before the accuser’s lawyer filed the suit.

The accuser, who seeks “minimal compensatory damages” according to the complaint, is represented by Tony Buzbee, a high-profile and flamboyant plaintiffs attorney in Houston. Tuesday, Buzbee wrote on Instagram that the case was not about money but about “stopping behavior that should be stopped.”

Buzbee, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Houston in 2019, did not describe the allegations against Watson in that Instagram post, but separately told a Houston television reporter that “Watson went too far” with a woman who had been giving him a massage.

The Texans said in a statement that they became aware of a lawsuit involving Watson through social media on Tuesday night. “This is the first time we heard of the matter, and we hope to learn more soon.”

“The N.F.L. is aware of the reports and will decline further comment at this time,” Brian McCarthy, an N.F.L. spokesman, said Wednesday.

Watson is one of the league’s best and most recognizable players, who during a 2020 off-season of social and political turmoil called for racial justice in a player-led video that urged the N.F.L. to support players’ protests. In early June last year, about a week after police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, Watson marched with the family of Floyd — who grew up in Houston — to protest police brutality.

The sexual assault allegation comes as Watson faces an uncertain future in Houston. He signed a four-year extension to stretch his contract through 2025 with Houston last September but has requested a trade, vowing never to play for the Texans again. The team went 4-12 in 2020, with Watson throwing for the most yards and touchdown passes of his career, even as the franchise replaced its head coach and general manager and cut ties with popular players.

Texans executives stressed in January that they had no intention of dealing Watson, who, with a no-trade clause, can influence where he next plays. But although David Culley, who was hired as the Texans’ coach this off-season, told reporters in Houston last Thursday that the Texans were “very committed” to Watson, he also said during a March 11 podcast interview that Watson is “our starting quarterback as of right now,” a quotation suggesting his status with the team might change. On Tuesday, the Texans prepared for that possibility, if not likelihood, by agreeing to sign the veteran free-agent quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

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