CLEVELAND — WARNING: The below story features graphic and explicit content. Reader discretion is advised.
While Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson waits for the NFL to close out its investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct, his attorney made plenty of headlines of his own on Friday.
During an appearance on Houston SportsRadio 610's Payne & Pendergast Show, Rusty Hardin talked about his client's ongoing civil case in which 23 women are accusing him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions.
The 80-year-old Hardin closed the interview with a long rant about "happy ending" massages.
“I don’t know how many men are out there now that have had a massage that perhaps occasionally there was a happy ending,” Hardin told the hosts. “Maybe there’s nobody in your listening audience that that ever happened to. I do want to point out, if it has happened, it’s not a crime. OK? Unless you are paying somebody extra or so to give you some type of sexual activity, it’s not a crime. And so at the end of the day, that’s another thing that would affect conduct. Doing something or saying something or being a way that makes you uncomfortable is not a crime. So, we’ve had two grand juries find that, and nobody seems to want to listen."
Several hours later, Hardin released a statement to try to clarify what he meant during the interview.
"Deshaun Watson did nothing wrong. And as two grand juries have made clear, Deshaun did nothing illegal. Deshaun has always acknowledged consensual sexual activity with three of the plaintiff massage therapists after massages. And Deshaun has repeatedly sworn under oath that he did not force any of his accusers to have sexual contact.
On a Houston radio show interview today, I mentioned that a massage that has a “happy ending” is not illegal, meaning it is not illegal for someone to have consensual sex with a therapist after a massage unless the sex is for pay.
Deshaun did not pay anyone for sex. I was using the term hypothetically and not describing Deshaun’s case.
I have reiterated to others it’s not OK to do anything that a woman does not agree to do. These women have alleged assault in their pleadings. I was speaking in a hypothetical situation. If there is a consensual sexual encounter after a massage, that is not a crime nor the basis for a civil lawsuit. I was not talking about what Deshaun did or did not do or expected or did not expect.”
Friday's controversy comes as Tony Buzbee, the lawyer representing all 23 of Watson's accusers, said this week that he plans to soon add a 24th case to his slate. The 23rd case filed against Watson came one week after HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" ran a segment interviewing two of his first 22 accusers. The 23rd woman to file a suit against the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback said she didn't originally plan to move forward with her allegations but decided to do so after seeing the HBO segment.
In a copy of the lawsuit obtained by 3News sister station KHOU, the woman claims Watson harassed or assaulted her on multiple occasions at a Houston massage parlor in the summer of 2020, while Watson was still a member of the Houston Texans.
As Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio points out, buried deep in the lawsuit is the following footnote: “Of course, we now know that Deshaun Watson offered each Plaintiff $100,000 to settle their cases, but not all would accept that amount, due to the aggressive nondisclosure agreement that Watson’s team proposed.”
In the meantime, Buzbee told ESPN's John Barr on Friday that he believes that Hardin's comments "may have single-handedly lost" Watson's case. "Because I'm absolutely going to use that comment because I think it speaks volumes to how he, his team, and his client thing about the massage industry," Buzbee added.
3News' Tyler Carey and Ben Axelrod contributed to this report.