Editor’s note: This story contains reports of sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org.
On the same day that the NFL and its players’ union reached an 11-game suspension and $5 million settlement agreement for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, the attorney representing the plaintiffs released the lawsuits against Watson allegations of sexual harassment and assault, issued a damning statement about the actions of the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“By settling this matter the way he has done, Roger Goodell has proven one of two things: either his recent rhetoric was utter nonsense, or his bark is far worse than his bite,” said attorney Tony Buzbee wrote. “To my mind, he’s nothing more than a paper tiger. Today’s message to all victims is clear: if you think you have been sexually assaulted by someone powerful, shut up and walk away. The NFL has certainly shown that they and the organization don’t care.”
Buzbee was referring to comments Goodell made after a disciplinary officer’s initial recommendation for a six-game suspension for Watson. Following the verdict, Goodell cited evidence from a League investigation and described Watson’s behavior towards dozens of massage therapists as “outrageous” and “predatory”.
Watson was the subject of an investigation into reports of sexual harassment and assault that went on for well over a year. Detailed graphical accounts of Watson’s sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions range from Watson’s refusal to cover his genitals to QB “Touching.” [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him.” Watson was not charged after two Texas grand juries declined to indict him in the spring.
After the settlement was announced on Thursday, Watson released a statement apologizing for “any pain this situation has caused” while “accepting responsibility for the decisions.” [he] done.” At the same time, he protests his innocence and denies the allegations against him.
Buzbee concluded his statement with words of encouragement to all other sexual assault victims, urging them to keep speaking out and not to be dismayed by Thursday’s news.
“To all sexual assault survivors, don’t be put off by this recent ‘punishment,'” Buzbee wrote. “Keep talking and keep talking. Your vote counts. You make a difference. We stand by you.”
More Deshaun Watson coverage: