N.F.L. Opens Investigation Into Accusations Against Deshaun Watson


The N.F.L. on Thursday began investigating the conduct of the Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been accused in civil lawsuits of sexually assaulting three female massage therapists. The lawsuits were filed this week in Harris County, Texas.

In a letter addressed to Tony Buzbee, the Houston plaintiffs’ lawyer representing all three women, Lisa Friel, a special counsel for investigations at the league, requested the cooperation of the accusers. Buzbee posted the letter to Instagram. A league spokesman said the matter was under review in relation to the N.F.L.’s personal conduct policy. That policy governs off-field behavior involving players and coaches.

The Texans said in a statement Thursday that they would “continue to take this and all matters involving anyone within the Houston Texans organization seriously” and that the team would not comment further until the league’s investigation had ended. The N.F.L. often takes months to complete its investigations, which include interviews with accusers and N.F.L. employees, as well as law enforcement officials.

Earlier on Thursday, Buzbee said on Instagram that a total of nine women had come forward with accusations against Watson, who has not spoken publicly about the allegations since he posted a statement to Twitter on Tuesday night, after the first complaint against him had been filed. Watson said that he had “never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect” and that he had rejected “a baseless six-figure settlement demand” made by Buzbee before the first suit was filed.

The third complaint, filed Wednesday night, echoed descriptions of behavior detailed in the two other suits filed against Watson. It said that Watson, 25, had pressured the woman to perform oral sex during a massage on Dec. 28 at an office building in Houston.

Watson, who contacted the woman through a direct message on Instagram, started to aggressively dictate how she should massage him, the complaint said, and told her to work on his hamstrings, inner thighs and “inner glutes.” Watson then instructed her to move her hand across his genitals, the complaint said, and pushed her mouth toward his penis. According to the complaint, the woman was so shaken that she blacked out for a few minutes. Watson got dressed and left without apologizing, the complaint said.

Watson has hired Rusty Hardin, a prominent defense lawyer also based in Houston. Hardin has defended other well-known athletes in the area, including Roger Clemens and James Harden. In a phone interview, Hardin declined to discuss the case and said only that he was still learning the details.

After the league finishes its investigation, Watson could be fined or suspended if he is found to have violated the league’s personal conduct policy. He could appeal any penalties.

In 2014, the league began hiring its own professional investigators, including Friel, a former prosecutor in New York City, to review allegations of bad behavior off the field, particularly related to sexual assault and domestic violence. Before then, the league typically relied on law enforcement agencies and resolutions in the courts to decide whether to penalize anyone.

Ken Belson contributed reporting.


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