Rough Week Likely Ahead For Deshaun Watson In Court Of Public Opinion As Alleged Victims Speak Out

It was by all accounts a great weekend for Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns.

The team’s $230 million quarterback flew two dozen or so of his teammates to Paradise Island in the Bahamas, where they spent three days at the renown Atlantis Resort. The trip, fully paid for by Watson, included golfing, some light football work, dinners out together and other activities meant to bond the group before OTAs begin next week.

And, of course, while the players were working and playing in the Bahamas, the club’s front office finalized a deal to add Jadeveon Clowney to the defense, giving premier pass rusher Myles Garrett a dangerous running mate to chase quarterbacks in the coming season.

So, yeah, great weekend.

But this week might take on a different tone.

This week might be something of a public relations problem for Watson and the Browns. Because on Tuesday, HBO’s Real Sports With Bryan Gumbel will air what it is claiming are the first ever national sit down interviews with “several women who have accused Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct.

“In the report,” HBO says in its public relations release, “[the accusers] detail the alleged abuse they suffered and share their reactions to Watson’s record-breaking $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.”

And this is where you should know Watson has said, “I never assaulted, I never disrespected and I never harassed any woman in my life”

And two Grand Jury investigations returned two separate decisions to not indict Watson criminally.

But the NFL is conducting a broad investigation of its own and one league source several months ago told OutKick Watson was headed toward a suspension for violating the league Personal Conduct Policy.

And everyone understands that Personal Conduct Policy, which requires no actual arrest, conviction or lawsuit settlement, to recommend punishment requires everyone associated with the league to “refrain from conduct that is detrimental to the integrity of the public confidence in the NFL.

So the policy is very much meant to limit bad publicity for the league. And the looming HBO interviews initially promise to bring just that to Watson’s doorstep.

There’s nothing any attorney can do to stop it. In fact, Rusty Hardin, who represents Watson and has so far done outstanding work in fighting the 24 allegations by massage therapists of sexual misconduct during appointments, is obviously equipped for battle on legal matters.

In depositions.

In court filings.

In Grand Jury investigations.

But Hardin is without recourse in the court of public opinion. In fact, he’s basically waved the white flag on that one.

“My approach all along was that we were not going to win the battle of public opinion,’’ Hardin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “And my goal has always been to have these cases examined by law enforcement and I strongly believed that trained investigators would ultimately conclude that there was nothing to them from a criminal standpoint and that’s where my focus has always been.”

But, again, the NFL investigation and subsequent decision don’t have to take into account either criminal or civil standards for passing down a penalty.

NFL investigators Lisa Friel and Jennifer Gaffney spent three days questioning Watson last week prior to his departure for the Bahamas. They are almost certain to require more meetings with the quarterback.

Then they’ll turn their findings over to former U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson, who will determine whether or not to discipline Watson based on the Personal Conduct Policy standard.

Should Watson be sanctioned, he can appeal and at that point NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell can become involved. He can overturn, modify or keep the punishment as handed down. Goodell, who wanted little to do with such matters following the Ray Rice fiasco, now also has the option of designating someone of his choosing to handle the appeals process.

And through it all, one can be 100 percent certain the NFL will be working in its best interest, which is to find a solution that takes into account Watson’s side of the story, sure, but also the stories of the 22 massage therapists who have filed civil suits — 20 alleging sexual harassment and two claiming sexual assault.

So, yes, the court of public opinion matters. And court will be in session this week on HBO.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

3 Comments

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    • Same here. It seems like the justice system is being made a mockery of. It’s like they can’t even make a case in the courts, so they’ll just trash him in the media instead. That’s not how that should work in America. If you try to accuse someone of crimes before a court and the court says “nope” TWICE when presented with all your evidence, then it’s over. Instead you resort a TV takedown where you can cherry pick facts in a controlled attack with no judge, jury, of defense to respond? Nice. Let’s just say any sympathy I may have had for the accusers is evaporating rapidly.

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