Editor’s note: This story contains accounts of 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 or at https://www.rainn.org.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell revealed on 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.
According to The MMQB’s Albert Breer on Monday, it’s expected that the league will make its decision on whether the quarterback will face a suspension or not before the 2022 season begins. The NFL has already spoken to at least half the women who filed lawsuits against Watson, per Breer.
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.”
Two plaintiffs, Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes, gave their first national TV interviews with HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, which aires on Tuesday evening. In the interview with Soledad O’Brien, both detail 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.”
Watson denied assaulting, harassing or disrespecting any woman during his introductory press conference with the Browns.
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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. Hayes said in the interview about the contract, “I felt like he’s being rewarded for bad behavior.”
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center saw more than 2,300 donations come in wake of his signing, totaling more than $125,000. They received more than 1,000 donations within the first 24 hours of the trade.
The quarterback 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” bills 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.
As far as the possible league punishment, NFL investigators Lisa Friel and Jennifer Gaffney questioned Watson last week, and once the investigation is concluded, they will report their findings to former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson, who will determine whether Watson will be disciplined. He could face a suspension, fines or a combination of the two.
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