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OPINION | PHILIP MARTIN: What's wrong with Watson

by Philip Martin | June 14, 2022 at 3:32 a.m.

Something is wrong with Deshaun Watson.

According to The New York Times, over the course of 17 months, from fall 2019 until spring 2021, he visited at least 66 female massage therapists.

I don’t know a lot about massage therapy, but would think that once you found one you liked, you’d stick with that one. You’d develop a relationship, like you do with a hairstylist or a dry cleaner or a pharmacy or a primary care physician. Isn’t this the way it works? People have standing appointments with their masseuses, right? It’s a personal deal.

Looks like Watson is very picky and/or indecisive, or else he’s pretty hard to get along with. Here’s a further clue: so far 24 of those women have filed suit against Watson, charging that he behaved in sexually inappropriate ways with them. He allegedly asked them for sexual favors.

He says—and his representatives say—he did nothing inappropriate. His lawyer Rusty Hardin insists Watson “vehemently denies” the allegations. When the facts come out, he says, we will see this all in a very different light.

Will we?

Let’s concede there is a chance these women are making up stories about Watson. In the multiverse, everything that possibly could happen is happening. Somewhere out there Bizarro Deshaun Watson is leading an interdisciplinary graduate seminar exploring gender and power throughout society. Anything is possible.

But in this universe there are limits to my credulity. If there were one or two or three or even four cases I might consider the possibility that Watson is a real victim in this case. But 24 women telling essentially the same story, plus the revelation that Watson’s old employer, the Houston Texans of the National Football League, provided him with non-disclosure agreement forms for his massage therapists to sign, makes me doubt he’s behaved honorably with these women.

I guess Hardin was trying to help last week when he said so-called “happy endings” were common practice in the massage industry, though his client never had sexual contact with any of these women. Hardin said there was nothing illegal about these “happy endings” so long as no money changed hands specifically for the, uh, service.

Maybe it’s only prudent of him to defend his client this way. In effect he’s saying Watson didn’t do it, but if he did it’s no big deal. Even if Hardin knows there are lots of serious massage therapists who are impugned by this notion that they’re all essentially loophole-utilizing prostitutes, they are not his never-mind.

As Saul Goodman would say, his client deserves a vigorous defense, and this might be the best available strategy. One person’s sleaze is another person’s last best hope at averting financial calamity and/or prison time.

And it’s important to note that a Texas grand jury has declined to indict Watson on any charges. He said/she said cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute and, absent other evidence, in most cases we probably shouldn’t try. That said, the decision not to prosecute isn’t exculpatory. It’s a bullet dodged, not a point in favor.

I do not pretend to know much about the massage industry, but I do know that some sex workers hold themselves out as masseuses to skirt laws prohibiting contractual sex. Some probably go through the 500 hours of training or whatever else they have to do to be legally licensed. Some solicit clients through social media channels. Sometimes I get a weird email or text and wonder about the sender.

But I also know that some massage therapists are serious professionals who have been trained and certified; in most states—in Arkansas and in Texas, for instance—they’re regulated and licensed. I would imagine a lot of these therapists would be offended if they were asked to provide sexual favors. Watson’s predicament seems to bear that out: 24 women have come forth to allege he treated them like prostitutes.

Would they have filed suit against him if they were in fact prostitutes? Again, maybe one or two of four would. But 24? It’s hard to believe Watson behaved like a perfect gentleman with them. But maybe they’re all golddiggers.

Watson has a lot of money and just signed a five-year $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns. That contract is—unlike most NFL players’ contracts—fully guaranteed. This made the Browns’ owners, the married couple Jimmy and Dee Haslam, unpopular at the NFL league meetings last month. Because now other top-shelf quarterbacks are going to want fully guaranteed contracts like the one Watson got.

(I’m all in favor of fully guaranteed contracts for anyone who can get them. I’m not upset that Watson’s contract reset the market for other players.)

There was some speculation last week that when the 24th accuser came forward, after the deal was signed and announced, that the Browns might be able to void that contract. If the Browns void the contract between Friday morning when I’m writing this column and Tuesday morning when it’s published, I’ll be surprised, but gratified.

When Watson signed his deal, the Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry said he and the organization felt “very confident in Deshaun the person, and we have a lot of faith in him.” Berry works for the Haslams. What else would he say?

The Browns expect that at some point—maybe next season—the NFL will say it’s all right for Watson to play football again. Were I inclined to place a wager, I would lay odds that Watson will play next season, probably after sitting out a six- or eight-game suspension.

He is, after all, a revenue generator. What the organized crime boys call an “earner.” He’s not only a productive player, he’s exciting to watch. If his lawyer finds a way to make these civil cases go away—and there’s always a way to make civil cases go away—we’ll probably see him rushing and passing again before too long.

On the other hand, maybe not.

Because there is something wrong with Deshaun Watson, some pathology that might yet derail his career. It is possible that he can’t control himself, that it’s not just a sense of entitlement or imperfect understanding of the way adults are supposed to conduct themselves in society. He might have been badly hurt at some point, and his actions might be his way of trying to knit himself back together, to rewrite a story of powerlessness and pain.

At the very least, he has trouble reading a room. At the worst, he’s one of those poor souls bound to find a way to destroy himself.


Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at



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