Opinion: With more allegations, comes more uncertainty for Deshaun Watson's future

The sexual misconduct lawsuits against Deshaun Watson are accumulating quickly now. First there were a handful, then a dozen, now there are 19, including three on Monday alone. Another woman has come forward to tell her harrowing story to Sports Illustrated. So that’s 20 in all.

Twenty women who were giving Watson a massage claim he exposed himself or purposely touched them with his genitals, in two cases forcing them to put their mouths on his penis.

If true, it’s obviously so awful that Watson should not only never play football again, he should spend significant time in prison. Watson and his attorney, it should be noted, have broadly denied the numerous allegations. Every single one of these women, they say, is not telling the truth.

Deshaun Watson's future in the NFL has become murky amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Those defending Watson see this deluge of lawsuits as some kind of tricky conspiracy: 19 women from four different states ganging up with highly-publicized Texas attorney Tony Buzbee to ruin a 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback.

So it is significant that the 20th massage therapist has come forward not to file a civil suit as another one of Buzbee’s clients, but simply to talk to SI. This woman said that about 45 minutes into Watson’s session with her in 2019, he took off a towel covering his waist and threw it onto the floor. He then “was lying face up on the table, naked and totally uncovered,” according to the woman’s account. “I was in shock.”

Watson’s behavior led the woman to believe “his intentions were different” than simply wanting a massage. At one point, she said she interpreted one of his comments as a suggestion to touch his exposed penis.

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SI corroborated the woman’s allegations by reviewing text and social media messages and by interviewing a family member with whom the woman spoke after the massage.  

If all this were happening during the football season, Watson likely already would have been placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. He still might end up there if there’s an indictment by a grand jury or criminal charges are filed.

But since we’re in the middle of the offseason, so far nothing has happened to him. If the Houston Texans wanted to make a statement, they could tell him he’s not welcome at their facilities, even if little is going on there now. Perhaps that is a decision that is coming soon.

The NFL already is investigating; it opened its inquiry into the allegations against Watson nearly two weeks ago. The league didn’t announce this. Buzbee did. He let us all know when he posted a confidential letter from Lisa Friel, NFL special counsel for investigations, in which she asked if his clients would cooperate with the league’s investigation.

“We take allegations of this nature very seriously,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Monday evening. “We’ve initiated a review led by Lisa Friel under our Personal Conduct Policy. We are continuing to closely monitor all developments.”

So are we all. One wonders how many more lawsuits there might be, how many more  women might come forward in the media. Already the sheer volume of accusers is staggering. Has any athlete ever faced so many horrifying allegations at once?

If we want answers, we’ll need patience. We cheer all the time for athletes we think we know. Of course, we don’t know them at all. How many thousands of people think they know Watson because he’s a great football player?

Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t.