CLEVELAND – One of the women accusing Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct while she gave him a massage said she felt threatened by a comment he made following a therapy session.
Appearing on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” Ashley Solis, one of 22 women who have sued Watson over allegations he behaved inappropriately with them, provided graphic details of an encounter with the three-time Pro Bowler.
She also said at the end of a massage, Watson told her: “I know you have a career to protect,” and “I know you don’t want anyone messing with it just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”
Solis, who was the first massage therapist to file a lawsuit, was asked why Watson’s message frightened her.
“Because that sounded like a threat to me,” she said.
During the interview which aired Tuesday night, Solis and another massage therapist, Kyla Hayes, both provided details of their meetings with Watson, who has been accused of sexual assault and harassment during massages he received while playing for the Houston Texans.
Watson has denied any wrongdoing and has maintained any sex with the women was consensual. Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal complaints filed by 10 of the women.
In addition to being violated, Solis and Hayes both were offended by the five-year, $230 million contract Watson received in March from the Browns. Watson's deal is both the richest in NFL history and fully guaranteed.
“It’s just like a big screw you,” Solis said. ”That’s what it feels like. That we don’t care. He can run and throw, and that’s what we care about.”
Added Hayes, “It was sick to me. ... I felt like he’s being rewarded for bad behavior."
Watson declined to be interviewed for the program, citing the league's ongoing investigation into his behavior.
Both women have previously spoken publicly about their interactions with Watson, and the quarterback's lead attorney, Rusty Hardin, said the HBO interviews were “more of the same.”
Hardin acknowledged the interviews could further hurt Watson in the public eye, but he maintains his client hasn't been treated fairly either.
“I believe very strongly that these women’s allegations ought to be listened to, investigated thoroughly, and everybody ought to keep an open mind as to whether they happened," Hardin said. "Similarly, I believe Deshaun's objections and denials should have been listened to until they have evidence and that’s what’s really been denied here.
“Everybody has made up their mind based on the allegation made. ... The guy they described is not the guy we know. And yet, he hasn’t been given the benefit of the doubt and he should have.”
The Browns, who have spent two decades in a futile search for a franchise QB, pursued Watson along with several other teams. They convinced him to waive his no-trade clause and join Cleveland after he initially rebuffed the team.
One of Watson's lawyers, Leah Graham, was asked to explain on the show why, if he was only seeking professional massages, did Watson end up having sex with some of the women.
“Well, in every massage, I will tell you he did go, intending just for a professional massage, and only those three instances where sexual conduct occurred — consensual sexual activity — it occurred after the massage session had ended,” Graham said. “And Mr. Watson has testified and is insistent that that sexual activity was initiated by the plaintiff in every single instance."
During his introductory news conference with the Browns in March, Watson was adamant he has “never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life.”
When she was shown Watson's comments, Hayes began to cry.
“For him to say he’s never done anything to a woman,” she said. “It’s a bold-faced lie.”
Hayes acknowledged she stayed in contact with Watson after his session.
“I wasn’t sure what he was capable of,” she said. “He could have physically assaulted me. He could have bashed my business. So I had to protect myself and my business. That’s the way I saw it. Did I ever see him again after that? No. Did I give him the runaround? Yes.”
Watson is also facing possible discipline from the NFL, which is independently investigating whether he violated its personal-conduct policy. League investigators interviewed Watson in Houston last week.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the owner's meeting in Atlanta that the Watson investigation is “nearing the end” but did not provide a timeframe for when a decision will be announced.
The Browns are eager to find out whether they'll be without Watson for an extended period. The team resumed offseason team activities Tuesday and will have mandatory minicamp next month. Training camp is scheduled for July.
Watson is scheduled to return to Houston to give more depositions in the civil suits. The sides have agreed not to hold any trials from Aug. 1 to March 1, so any trial would happen after the season.
Last week, Watson treated some of his new teammates to a bonding trip to the Bahamas. A team spokesman said he reported for the voluntary offseason program that resumed this week. The Browns will have a media availability Wednesday.
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