The attorney for 24 women who sued Deshaun Watson said Thursday that his clients reacted with disgust after they learned the Cleveland Browns quarterback was suspended only six games by the NFL’s independent disciplinary officer this week.
Tony Buzbee, the attorney, said in a news conference in Houston that one of his clients said the suspension “wasn’t even a slap on the wrist. It’s a kiss on the cheek.”
Other comments included the following, according to Buzbee:
“This slap on the wrist for him is a slap on the face to us.”
“We do not matter to the NFL.”
“This decision makes me feel defeated.”
The first women to sue Watson last year and allege sexual misconduct also spoke at the news conference and said she has received death threats since going public with her allegations against Watson last year. Ashley Solis said the NFL’s actions sent a message to “little girls who have suffered at the hands of someone perceived to have power.”
She said that message was “that it’s not a big deal, that they don’t care, tough (expletive).”
“That’s what I’ve taken from their actions, so instead I’ll let my actions say something different to those same little girls,” Solis said. “No matter how scary, big or powerful someone may seem, they’re just humans. And like all humans, we all have the right to have our voices heard. So when I step back and look at things for what they are, I recognize that it’s hurt people who hurt people.”
The NFL is appealing the six-game suspension issued by its independent disciplinary officer, Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge. The league sought to serve an indefinite suspension of at least a year and is still looking at the same punishment, a person familiar with the case told USA TODAY Sports. The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. Robinson determined that Watson engaged in sexual assault by the league’s definition with four women, whose cases were presented by the NFL at a three-day hearing when the league presented its case against the quarterback.
Watson, 26, was sued by 24 women who accused him of sexual misconduct in massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021, when he was employed by the Houston Texans. All but one of those 24 lawsuits, including Solis’, have been settled out of court with confidential agreements. The Texans also reached confidential settlements with 30 women with claims related to Watson after being accused of enabling his behavior and not stopping it.
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Watson never was arrested or charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing. He was traded in March to the Cleveland Browns, which gave a record guaranteed contract of $230 million over five years.
Buzbee noted that his firm spent more than $250,000 to pursue these cases and criticized the NFL’s investigation into Watson, which started after Solis filed the first lawsuit in March 2021. He said the league rejected sworn statements that he offered from his clients, who Buzbee said did not testify at the hearing .
“I have no explanation why the NFL only spoke to 10 of my clients and only presented four of those 10,” Buzbee said. “It really makes you want to scratch your head and wonder, `What the devil is going on?’”
He said the NFL “bungled” the matter, including early on its investigation, when his clients felt they were under investigation rather than Watson.
“From the beginning, one of the first questions asked by the NFL investigators of our clients was, “What were you wearing?’” Buzbee said. “That gave us a lot of pause. Some of the interviews spent most of the time on a deep dive on the victim and little to no questions on the conduct that was being alleged.”
Buzbee also criticized the district attorney in Harris County, Texas, for not aggressively pursuing criminal charges against Watson. He said only Solis was brought in to testify in front of the grand jury that considered several of the cases before deciding not to indict Watson.
“The elected D.A. failed these women,” Buzbee said.
Buzbee finished by sending a message to the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday officially selected former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey to handle the appeal.
“Mr. Goodell, what will you do?” Buzbee asked. “It’s never too late to do the right thing. And that’s what these women and those watching are expecting.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org