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Quarterback Deshaun Watson Faces Numerous Lawsuits Over Sexual Misconduct Or Assault

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Two more women have joined the growing number of lawsuits against Deshaun Watson, the star quarterback for the Houston Texans. There are now 16 suits against Watson, all filed in the last two weeks, accusing him of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior. The NFL has opened its own investigation. A warning here; we're about to hear graphic details from alleged sexual assaults. We're joined now by Lucio Vasquez of Houston Public Media.

Welcome to the program.

LUCIO VASQUEZ, BYLINE: Hello.

CORNISH: First, can you just walk us through some of the allegations in the latest lawsuit?

VASQUEZ: Yes. So the 16 lawsuits accuse Watson of sexually suggestive comments, exposing himself, inappropriate touching and pleasuring himself in front of several women. In one case that allegedly occurred in December, Watson is accused of forcing that woman to perform oral sex. All of these incidents allegedly happened during multiple massage sessions throughout the past year, and most of the women involved are massage therapists. The most recent alleged incident occurred earlier this month, and Watson has denied all the allegations.

CORNISH: I think all of these suits so far have been filed under a single Houston attorney. What can you tell us about him?

VASQUEZ: Yes, his name is Tony Buzbee. He's previously run for mayor here in Houston, and he's representing all of the women who have come forward so far. He's been accused of being financially motivated to file the lawsuits against the quarterback, although he denies that. He says the main motivation behind the lawsuits is to bring awareness to the situation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TONY BUZBEE: Now, we know that in this case, there is a major power differential. You have a star quarterback who is physically and financially powerful versus single moms who work for themselves, mostly from home. One of the parties is famous, known internationally. The other is unknown, marginalized and easy to criticize and minimize.

VASQUEZ: So that theme of power is a throughline in almost all of the lawsuits. We see several instances where Watson allegedly threatened some of the women's careers, and several of the women said that they felt as though they had no choice but to continue with the massage session since they were afraid of what Watson could do.

CORNISH: Deshaun Watson has denied these allegations. What else has he had to say?

VASQUEZ: Yeah, so he made a statement via Twitter after the first allegation was made public. He denied the allegation, wrote, quote, "I have never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect." After the allegations continued to emerge, however, he hired Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, who has represented other professional athletes before, such as Roger Clemens. Hardin has declined to be interviewed, but he says the allegations are meritless. Just yesterday, he released an affidavit submitted by Watson's marketing manager. In the document, the manager claimed that one of the women accusing Watson of sexual assault tried to blackmail him for $30,000 in January.

CORNISH: All right. What is happening next in this scandal?

VASQUEZ: So the attorney who's representing the women, Tony Buzbee - he says that he's going to be taking these cases to Houston authorities. He hopes to open criminal investigations against Watson. We do know that he said he's talking to more than 20 women as of last Friday, so it's possible more women - or more lawsuits will be filed soon. And the NFL's own investigation is ongoing as well.

CORNISH: That's Lucio Vasquez of Houston Public Media.

Thank you for joining us.

VASQUEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.