NFL opens investigation into allegations against Deshaun Watson

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The NFL began investigating Thursday into the conduct of Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was charged in civil suits of sexually assaulting three female massage therapists. The lawsuits were filed this week in Harris County, Texas.

In a letter to Tony Buzbee, the Houston plaintiffs ‘attorney, who represents all three women, Lisa Friel, a special adviser on the League investigation, requested the prosecutors’ cooperation. Buzbee posted the letter on Instagram but later deleted it. A league spokesman said the matter was being considered in the context of the NFL’s personal conduct policy. This guideline regulates the behavior of players and coaches outside the field.

The Texans said in a statement Thursday that they “continue to take this and all matters that affect anyone within the Houston Texans organization seriously” and that the team will make no further comments until the league’s investigation is over. It often takes the NFL months to complete its investigation, including interviews with prosecutors and NFL staff, as well as law enforcement officers.

Earlier Thursday, Buzbee said on Instagram that a total of nine women had alleged Watson, who had not spoken publicly about the allegations since posting a statement on Twitter Tuesday night after the first complaint was filed against him. Watson said he “never treated a woman with anything other than the utmost respect” and denied “an unsubstantiated six-digit settlement claim” from Buzbee before filing the first lawsuit.

The third complaint, filed on Wednesday evening, reflected descriptions of behavior set out in the other two lawsuits filed against Watson. The 25-year-old Watson pressured the woman to do oral sex during a massage on December 28th in an office building in Houston.

Watson, who contacted the woman via a direct message on Instagram, began aggressively dictating how to massage him, according to the complaint, asking her to work on his hamstrings, inner thighs and “inner glutes”. Watson then directed her to run her hand over his genitals, saying the complaint, and sliding her mouth towards his penis. According to the complaint, the woman was so shaken that she fainted for a few minutes. Watson got dressed and left without apologizing, the complaint said.

Watson hired Rusty Hardin, a prominent defense attorney who is also based in Houston. Hardin has defended other well-known athletes in the area, including Roger Clemens and James Harden. In a telephone interview, Hardin declined to discuss the case, saying only that he was still learning the details.

After the league completes its investigation, Watson may be fined or suspended if it is found he has violated the league’s code of conduct. He could appeal punishments.

In 2014, the league began hiring its own professional investigators, including Friel, a former New York City attorney, to review allegations of bad behavior off the field, particularly those related to sexual assault and domestic violence. Previously, the league usually relied on law enforcement and court orders to decide whether someone should be punished.

Ken Belson contributed to the coverage.

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