As Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson continues to flood in the court of public opinion, two of his lawyers submitted to an extended radio interview on Friday morning regarding the case.
Rusty Hardin and Leah Graham appeared on Sports Radio 610 in Houston. They answered many questions about the 23 civil cases pending against Watson. Each of the lawsuits alleviates sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.
Hardin and Graham said plenty of things that are worthy of consideration and analysis. Near the end of the interview, Hardin had this to say about the possibility that Watson was getting massages from so many different therapists with an expectation, a hope, and/or a desire that he would take a sexual turn. Indeed, Watson and his lawyers have admitted that consensus activities occurred with three of the plaintiffs who have sued him.
“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. “Maybe there’s nobody in your listening audience that that ever 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. . . . Doing something or saying something or being a way that makes you uncomfortable is not a crime.”
But we’re not talking about criminal conduct at this stage of the process. The question is whether a civil violation occurred — something that isn’t a crime but that constitutes behavior that would permit the plaintiff to receive fair compensation.
An equally important question for Watson is whether his behavior violates the Personal Conduct Policy. If he arranged massages hoping for a “happy ending” and in so doing connected himself in a way that made multiple massage therapists uncomfortable, that potentially amounts to “conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person” and /or “conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL personnel.”
Hardin, Graham, and the rest of Watson’s legal team are paid to advocate for him. That’s what they’re doing. They’re not paid to say, “Look, Deshaun likes getting massages from strangers and having them possibly turn sexual. Sometimes, the massage therapist initiates it. Sometimes, he has to make the first move. Sometimes, the massage therapist may not be interested in doing that. Sometimes, the massage therapist may end up feeling uncomfortable or offended.”
Common sense suggests, based on the 23 claims pending against Watson, that he was doing precisely that. Does anyone believe these massages were therapeutic? He’s a professional athlete. He would want to find one person who consistently gives him the kind of massage that allows him to get the most out of his abilities, not a revolving door of people with varying levels of skill and experience who may or may not enhance his on-field performance — and who potentially could with one wrong move odd it.
He has every right to defend himself against these 23 cases, and to insist that he did nothing wrong before, during, and after the trials. As Hardin says more and more about the situation, however, he’s coming dangerously close to admitting that Watson indeed had a habit of seeking and/or getting “happy endings.” Should anyone be surprised that the therapists who objected to these advances, once they realized that they had rights that could be pursued in court, decided to do so?
Hardin and Graham keep trying to blame attorney Tony Buzbee for basically soliciting plaintiffs with claims against Watson. So what if he did? Turn on the TV and try to watch 20 minutes without seeing a commercial in which a lawyer or a law firm tries to solicit specific types of people with specific types of claims against specific defendants, from asbestos to talcum powder to weed eater to truck accidents to workplace injuries to any type of civil claim a person can make, and from which their lawyers will make money.
Ultimately, the 23 pending cases will go to court and be resolved by a jury unless they are settled. Ultimately, the NFL will make a decision on whether Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy. If Watson’s defense in the Court of Roger Goodell is, “Did I get a few happy endings? Safe. Was I trying to get even more than that? You bet. But, hey, that’s not a crime,” Watson has little chance at avoiding a lengthy suspension.