Timeline of the Deshaun Watson case: From the accusations to the suspension
The long, complex Deshaun Watson case has been going on since March 2021, when Tony Buzbee announced he would be filing a lawsuit against him.
The Cleveland Browns quarterback, Deshaun Watson, has now been given an 11-game suspension and $5 million fine plus mandatory counselling. After judge Sue Robinson gave Watson a six-game suspension, the NFL appealed the punishment, which led to the above decision. To understand how it came to this, you can see the timeline of the whole case, from the announcement of a lawsuit on Instagram to the eventual punishment against Watson.
March 16-22, 2021: Lawsuits filed against Watson
This whole saga began when well-known lawyer and politician Tony Buzbee announced on Instagram that he would be filing a lawsuit against Watson for some kind of sexual misconduct against women. At this point, the details were not known.
Watson hired a high-profile attorney, Rusty Hardin (the same attorney who defended Adrian Peterson’s child abuse case in 2014).
Within a few days of his Instagram post, Buzbee filed seven lawsuits against Watson, launching an NFL investigation into the matter. This is not the same as a formal law enforcement investigation, but Buzbee said that his clients would comply with the investigation.
A few days after that, Buzbee filed another seven lawsuits against Watson, bringing it to 14 total cases. The lawsuits implied sexual misconduct with several massage therapists.
March 23-31, 2021: Accusations of blackmail, destroying evidence, and defendants of Watson come forward
On March 23, 2021, Hardin accused one of the women of blackmail. That woman had accused Watson of pressuring her into performing oral sex on him back in December 2020. Hardin claimed that Watson’s marketing manager, Bryan Burney, was asked by the woman to pay her for her silence and that what happened between she and Watson was consensual. Burney denied ever paying her the money.
On March 29, 2021, the total lawsuits against Watson was at 19. One of said suits alleged that he was deleting past Instagram conversations in an attempt to hide something as well as attempting settle with some of the women. Watson’s lawyer denied all accusations.
On March 31, the total lawsuits had gone up to 21. At that time, Hardin released statements from 18 different massage therapists who said that their experiences were not consistent with the accusations against Watson.
April 2, 2021: Police investigate Watson
A police report was filed against Watson and the Houston police launched an investigation. Details were not released about the nature of the report. Hardin welcomed the investigation, saying they would be pleased to learn the identity of an accuser. Buzbee said that he was not involved in the police investigation at all.
April 5-15, 2021: More lawsuits filed, plaintiffs identify themselves
On April 5, Buzbee filed the 22nd case against Watson, which detailed the gross sexual acts Watson allegedly forced this woman to do, including massaging his anus and groin, touching his erect penis, and threatening to withhold payment if she didn’t sign a non-disclosure.
Ashley Solis and Laura Baxley, two of the women accusing Watson, decided to publicly identify themselves on April 6. Both women’s accusations were similar in nature.
Hardin accused Buzbee of asking Watson for a $100,000 settlement on Solis’ behalf before she made her claims against him.
On April 7, Watson lost endorsements from Nike, Reliant Energy, H-E-B, and Beats by Dre.
There were still 20 women who remained anonymous and Hardin continued to accuse Buzbee of withholding their identities in order to impede investigation efforts. On April 8, Hardin filed a motion for the court to mandate that one of the plaintiffs identify herself. The next day, April 9, a judge ruled that 13 of the plaintiffs must identify themselves and refile their cases with their real names attached.
By April 14, twenty of the women revealed their identity in court filings, one decided to remain anonymous and not pursue the case, and a new woman filed a lawsuit against Watson with similar accusations as the others.
On April 15, 22 of the women had agreed to reveal their identities and pursue the cases against Watson.
April 16, 2021: Hardin responds to the 22 lawsuits
All lawsuits against Watson had to do with sexual assault and misconduct. Hardin, his lawyer, denied all of them and questioned the credibility of the accusers. In his seven-page legal response, he said that several plaintiffs had bragged about working on Watson, lied about their trauma, and talked about trying to get money out of the quarterback.
An open records request revealed that the NFL was investigating Watson for a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy and the Houston police were investigating at least two criminal complaints against him.
April 29, 2021: Roger Goodell speaks
On April 29, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly spoke about the Deshaun Watson case for the first time ahead of the NFL Draft. He said that the NFL was taking the allegations seriously and that they were “very concerning”.
May 21, 2021: Texans owner’s attorney attempts to mediate
At this point, Watson was still the quarterback for the Houston Texans. The team had not made many comments about the case - just that they would stay in contact with the NFL during the investigation. On May 21, Texans owner Cal McNair’s personal attorney attempted to broker a mediation between Watson’s legal team and the 22 women suing Watson.
July - August, 2021: Criminal complaints, FBI discussion
Towards the end of July, eight of the 22 women accusing Watson decided to file police complaints against him as well, plus two more women not involved in the civil lawsuits. Watson reported to the Texans training camp, but requested a trade.
In mid-August, the NFL interviewed ten of the women accusing Watson as part of the ongoing investigation. In the meantime, Watson was allowed to participate in all Texans activities.
Watson met with the FBI to speak to investigators regarding the criminal investigations, but did not yet meet with the NFL, so as not to interfere with the police investigation.
October-November 2021: Watson trade talks start
In the regular season, Watson was inactive for the first six games, when the trade conversations began in October. The Texans had reportedly discussed a trade with the Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles.
By the trade deadline on November 2, no trade had been made for Watson, so he remained on the Texans team. While the investigation was still ongoing, Watson remained inactive on the team.
March 2022: Watson cleared of criminal charges, gets traded to the Browns, grand jury declines to indict him
The 2021 NFL regular season came and went with no movement on the Watson case, though he never played a game with the Texans. On March 11, Watson was cleared of criminal charges by a grand jury. The 22 civil lawsuits were still ongoing, despite no criminal charges.
On March 18, 2022, the Texans traded away Watson to the Cleveland Browns. Two days later, the team released a statement regarding his case:
On March 24, the Brazoria County grand jury declined to file charges against Watson.
May - June, 2022: More women come forward, Texans held accountable
On May31, a 23rd civil lawsuit was filed against Watson for sexual assault and sexual misconduct by a woman named Nia Smith.
On June 6, a 24th lawsuit was filed by another woman for the same thing.
It was reported by the New York Times that Watson had booked 66 massage therapists in a period of 17 months between 2019 and 2021. In the report, some of the therapists recounted what happened to them. Many of them said they were asked to sign NDAs, which Watson received from a member of the Texans staff. Watson himself said that the Texans had arranged for the massages to take place at a specific spa. The Times said that the Texans and the hotel spa “enabled” Watson’s behavior.
After the NYT report, the Texans were added as defendants in the lawsuits against Watson. Buzbee said the team helped facilitate Watson’s actions.
“In many cases the Texans provided an opportunity for this conduct to occur,” Buzbee’s statement said. “We believe the Texans organization was well aware of Watson’s issues, but failed to act. They knew or certainly should’ve known.”
The Texans said they didn’t know anything until they heard about the allegations in March 2021.
Watson, meanwhile, continued to deny the allegations, saying he “never assaulted, disrespected, or harassed anyone” and that he didn’t believe the report that he had used 66 different massage therapists in 17 months.
June 21 - July 15, 2022: Texans are sued for negligence, Watson and Texans settles with several women
On June 21, Watson settled 20 of the 24 civil lawsuits. Ashley Solis and three others continued theirs.
On June 27, one of the accusers filed a lawsuit against the Houston Texans, accusing them of negligence.
By July 15, the Texans reached a settlement with 30 of the women making claims against Watson. The terms of the settlement and amounts paid to the women were not released and the Texans maintained that they never knew anything was going on.
August 1, 2022: Decision is reached regarding Watson’s fate in NFL
Disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, appointed by the NFL and NFL Player’s Association deliberated for several weeks before finally coming to a decision in the Watson case. The final verdict was a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
August 3-18, 2022:
The NFL announced that they would appeal the decision and seek a longer suspension and hefty fine for Watson. Roger Goodell appointed former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal. While waiting on the decision after the appeal, Watson was free to start training camp with the Browns. He played in the preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars on August 12.
On August 18, the NFL agreed to an 11-game suspension, $5 million fine, and mandatory counselling for Deshaun Watson. His first game back will be on December 4 against his former team, the Houston Texans. Watson still maintains that he did nothing wrong and denies all allegations.