On the same day that the NFL and its players union reached a settlement agreement for an 11-game suspension and $5 million fine for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, the lawyer representing plaintiffs who filed lawsuits against Watson for sexual harassment and assault dropped a statement that took issue with the actions of the league and commissioner Roger Goodell.
“By settling this matter the way he has, Roger Goodell has proven one of two things: either his recent rhetoric was utter baloney, or his bark is much worse than his bite,” attorney Tony Buzbee wrote. “My belief is that he is nothing more than a paper tiger. The message today to all victims is clear, if you believe you have been sexually assaulted by a powerful person, keep your mouth shut and go away. The NFL has certainly demonstrated that its ownership and the organization doesn’t care.”
Buzbee was referring to comments Goodell made following a disciplinary officer’s recommendation of a six-game suspension for Watson. After the ruling, Goodell made it clear that the league wanted a one-year ban and described Watson’s behavior toward dozens of massage therapists “egregious” and “predatory.”
A New York Times report indicated that he met with 66 massage therapists over the span of 17 months. One therapist said Watson got into the ‘Happy Baby Yoga Pose’ and demanded a massage between his testicles and anus.
Other accusations of sexual misconduct by Watson during massage therapy sessions range from Watson refusing to cover his genitals to the QB “touching [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.” Watson did not face criminal charges after two Texas grand juries declined to indict him in the spring.
After Thursday’s settlement was announced, Watson released a statement apologizing for “any pain this situation has caused” while taking “accountability for the decisions [he] made.”
Buzbee concluded his statement with words of encouragement.
“To all sexual assault survivors, do not allow this recent ‘punishment’ to deter you,” Buzbee wrote. “Keep speaking up and keep speaking out. Your voice matters. You are making a difference. We stand with you.”