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Coming into the 2021 NFL offseason, Deshaun Watson made headlines by requesting a trade away from the Houston Texans. Since then, though, football has been placed on the back burner. Multiple women have accused the quarterback of sexual assault; at this point, it seems possible that Watson won’t be allowed to hit the field this fall.

On Friday, April 9, however, Deshaun Watson’s attorney made an unexpected admission about his client’s behavior. According to Rusty Hardin, the Houston Texans’ quarterback has had “consensual encounters” during some massages.

Deshaun Watson is now facing 22 lawsuits, accusing him of various indiscretions

Under ordinary circumstances, NFL offseason drama centers around contracts and trades. Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, however, is in the midst of a serious legal saga.

As summarized in an April 8 New York Times story, “twenty-two women have accused Watson of assault in civil lawsuits filed in Harris County, Texas.” Although only two of the lawsuits allege sexual assault, they do contain other similarities.

“The civil suits allege that Watson engaged in a pattern of lewd behavior with women hired to provide personal services, coercing them to touch him in a sexual manner, exposing himself to women he had hired for massages, or moving his body in ways that forced them to touch his penis,” the Times write-up explained.

Recently, two of the accusers have identified themselves; as explained in another New York Times piece, judges ruled that most of the other women will have to follow suit, as Watson cannot defend himself against anonymous accusers in civil cases.

As for Watson himself, the quarterback tweeted that he “never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect.” Since that March 16 message, his attorney, Rusty Hardin, has maintained Watson’s innocence.

The Houston Texans quarterback had ‘consensual encounters’ with some of the plaintiffs

As mentioned above, Deshaun Watson hasn’t commented on the accusations since March, preferring to allow Rusty Hardin to represent him. On Friday, March 9, the attorney made a surprising admission about the quarterback’s behavior.

“Deshaun Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, acknowledged during a Friday news conference that there were some ‘consensual encounters’ between the Houston Texans quarterback and some of the 22 women who have filed lawsuits against him, but he said at no point did Watson engage in any acts that were not ‘mutually desired,” ESPN’s Sarah Barshop reported. “Were there sometimes consensual encounters? Yes,’ Hardin said.”

Barshop’s reporting continued as follows:

When asked to clarify his comments about Watson taking part in sex acts with some of the women who have filed lawsuits against him alleging inappropriate behavior and sexual assault, Hardin replied, “In some of these massages, there’s going to be no question. We’ve never run from it.”

Sarah Barshop writing for ESPN

While Hardin didn’t provide too many details, he did emphasize that any actions that took place during a massage were consensual.

“I’m not going to go into what it is or the nature or the numbers or with whom,” he said. “The question always that we have always been emphasizing: Never at any time, under any circumstances … did this young man ever engage in anything that was not mutually desired by the other party.”

What comes next for Deshaun Watson?

At this point, it’s impossible to know precisely what will happen next in Deshaun Watson’s legal saga. If nothing else, though, it’s safe to assume that it won’t be over quickly.

As mentioned above, it seems like at least some of Watson’s accusers will have to reveal their identities. Meanwhile, both the NFL and the Houston Police Department are conducting their own investigations.

The former of those two parties will obviously be of the most interest to football fans. While that investigation could wrap up by time training camp opens, that seems highly unlikely; instead, the NFL will probably place Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list, essentially suspending him with pay.

As of now, though, there aren’t many clear answers. Deshaun Watson is innocent until proven guilty. By the same token, his accusers deserve to have their claims heard and taken seriously; even if there were some “consensual encounters,” that doesn’t invalidate the accusations.

Either way, the Deshaun Watson legal saga is just getting started.