Attorney Rusty Hardin held a press conference on Friday to offer an update on the 22 civil lawsuits filed against Houston Texans quarterback and client Deshaun Watson alleging he committed acts of sexual assault and misconduct.
Per Robert Littal of BSO Entertainment and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Hardin admitted that Watson says massages with women sometimes resulted in consensual sexual encounters:
Hardin says sexual encounters did happen between Watson and some of his massage therapists but it was consensual. Nothing was coerced or forced.— Robert Littal BSO (@BSO) April 9, 2021
Hardin agrees that some of the women Watson reached out for massages via IG ended up with sexual acts happening during the massages. Hardin says the women wanted it to happen and it was consensual— Robert Littal BSO (@BSO) April 9, 2021
Watson continues to deny all the allegations:
Hardin says Watson is dumbfounded by the accusation. Says Watson was in disbelief when he was told he forced a woman to have oral sex...— Robert Littal BSO (@BSO) April 9, 2021
“I forced her?”
Hardin then said Watson started crying.
Following rulings delivered on Friday, it's now assumed that all 22 women will have to reveal their identities in new filings to continue with their cases. Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley unveiled their names during a Tuesday press conference hosted by lawyer Tony Buzbee, who is representing the plaintiffs against Watson. At least eight others are already willing to put their names on lawsuits.
Hardin and Buzbee have agreed that the lawsuits will be consolidated into one case. Hardin also said the plan as of Friday afternoon is to go to trial and not enter settlement talks:
Hardin says he plans on going to trial and not settle.— Robert Littal BSO (@BSO) April 9, 2021
It was previously believed some of the remaining anonymous women could attempt to settle, in part to keep their identities hidden from the public.
Both the Houston Police Department and NFL are investigating allegations made against the 25-year-old signal-caller. Even if Watson earns victories in court or settles, he could be suspended through the NFL's personal conduct policy or made ineligible for at least a portion of the 2021 season via the commissioner's exempt list.