Deshaun Watson’s attorneys appeared on a Houston sports radio station on Friday to discuss the 23 civil lawsuits against the Cleveland Browns quarterback, all of them from women alleging varying levels of sexual impropriety they were subjected to during massage appointments with Watson.
Toward the end of the interview, attorney Rusty Hardin made a blithe comment that was equal parts ignorant and rage-inducing, and potentially of interest to NFL investigators.
“I don’t know how many men out there now that have had a massage that perhaps occasionally there was a happy ending. Alright?” Hardin began. “Maybe there’s nobody in your listening audience that ever happened to.
“I 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.”
Hardin has said there was consensual sexual activity between Watson and some of the women. Based on the fact that 23 women have filed lawsuits, not all of the massage therapists Watson had appointments with consented to what happened during their interactions with him.
Hardin is trying to win his client points in the court of public opinion, but at this point, whether or not what Watson did was criminal doesn’t matter. Two grand juries declined to indict him on charges, which means he’s free of criminal inquiry but his innocence is still up for scrutiny in civil court.
Hardin saying “making someone uncomfortable is not a crime” is callous, untrue, and also not the discussion at this point. What matters now is whether Watson engaged in behavior that he can be held liable for in civil court. There’s a far different standard in civil court than criminal court. The NFL’s personal conduct policy also has different standards.
What always matters is consent.
Thinking you’re funny by mentioning a “happy ending” during a radio interview and minimizing, yet again, the women who are making accusations is why rape culture persists.
It is why a culture like the one in the Washington Commanders’ front offices festered for years.
It’s why, despite Watson facing these numerous allegations, the Cleveland Browns acquired him from the Houston Texans, signed him to the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history, and gave flimsy and wholly unsatisfying answers when pressed on why they did so given Watson’s considerable baggage.
It’s why women in all walks of life, from all backgrounds, keep their stories of sexual harassment and assault quiet. Select family and friends might know them, but as women we’ve been shown again and again over decades that work supervisors or human resources officers or the police and the legal system that delivers “justice” for a very narrow population of citizens, will do nothing of consequence.
So mostly we keep them to ourselves.
Hours after the interview, Hardin scrambled to clarify his comments via a statement. It read in part, “On a Houston radio show interview today, I mentioned that a massage that has a ‘happy ending’ is not illegal, meaning it is not illegal for someone to have consensual sex with a therapist after a massage unless the sex is for pay. Deshaun did not pay anyone for sex. I was using the term hypothetically and not describing Deshaun’s case.
“I have reiterated to others it’s not ok to do anything that a woman does not agree to do. These women have alleged assault in their pleadings. I was speaking in a hypothetical situation. If there is a consensual sexual encounter after a massage, that is not a crime nor the basis for a civil lawsuit. I was not talking about what Deshaun did or did not do or expected or did not expect.”
A yikes interview followed by a yikes statement. Watson may be a creep, but whatever he’s paying Hardin in billable hours is too much.
Hardin has now quite done the about-face over the past year. Initially he implied all of the accusers were liars. Now he’s saying there was sexual contact between Watson and at least some of the therapists, but it was consensual, even though nearly two dozen laws indicate not all of them were, not in the women’s eyes.
His statement and clarification are still smearing the women, implying all of them are sex workers and propagating a trope. What’s become clear is that Watson was at least hoping for a sexual encounter with many if not all of the women he made appointments with and had little to no interest in therapeutic massage; if he wanted sex workers he surely could find them, and pay for the anonymity and discretion that would have kept him out of the situation he’s in now.
Some of the women who have accused Watson of wrongdoing worked with him more than once; some accusers said his behavior escalated with each visit until it became unbearable. These women were by and large running their own micro-business, and having a client like Watson could have been a boon, so they tried to tolerate it until they couldn’t anymore.
It’s a familiar predicament for a lot of women.
It’s understandable that a woman excited about potentially having an NFL quarterback as a regular client would give him a second chance even after an initial meeting left her feeling distressed. Maybe she’d misinterpreted his actions the first time and he’d be better the second time. Or maybe she could internalize a little bit of discomfort if it meant she got a deep-pocketed client with numerous teammates who might also need a massage therapist.
Deshaun Watson clearly doesn’t care how he made some of those women feel. Rusty Hardin clearly doesn’t care how Watson made some of those women feel. The Cleveland Browns clearly don’t care.
Trying to wave off incidents like the ones Watson has been accused of are why they continue to happen. Ignoring the concept of consent and a person’s right to say yes or no is why they continue to happen.
It’s why women still are so often afraid of what else will happen to them if they speak their truth. People like Dan Snyder will be protected, lawyers like Rusty Hardin will smear accusers, quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson will get guaranteed contracts.
It’s long past time for it to stop.