Judge Sue Robinson issued her decision against Deshaun Watson on Monday with a written decision that mentions a certain piece of evidence nine times over 16 pages.
It’s about his towel habit.
The Cleveland Browns quarterback liked to use a towel to drape himself in for massage sessions instead of a larger sheet and sometimes even brought his own small or medium towel, according to court records.
Why is this important?
Robinson, the NFL’s independent disciplinary officer, issued a six-game suspension to Watson on Monday after being sued by 24 women who accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021. Her ruling noted the napkin evidence nine times, helping her conclude that Watson had a “sexual purpose” in those encounters.
Professional massage therapists usually provide larger sheets to drape clients over to avoid unwanted exposure of their clients’ private parts. In these cases, the women generally said that Watson exposed his genitals to them during massage sessions and made them touch his genitals – a conduct facilitated by his insistence on using a smaller towel instead of a sheet, according to Robinson’s decision.
“Watson reached out to women whose professional qualifications were unknown and unimportant to him,” Robinson said in her ruling. “He insisted on using a towel, increasing the likelihood of exposure. He insisted that therapists focus on areas of his body that often triggered erections. occasions.
“I find this circumstantial evidence sufficient to support the NFL’s assertion not only that contact occurred, but that Mr. Watson was aware that contact was likely to occur, and that Mr. Watson had a sexual purpose – not only a therapeutic purpose – by making these arrangements with these particular therapists.
The NFL had been investigating the evidence against Watson since last year and tried to convince Robinson that he violated the league’s personal conduct policy and should be suspended for it.
The towel evidence helped Robinson come to this conclusion and determine that he had engaged in sexual assault against four women whose testimony was highlighted by the NFL in its case against him.
After a three-day hearing in June, Robinson, a retired federal judge, used a three-part test to determine whether he had committed sexual assault as defined by the NFL: Did he intend to provoke contact with his penis? Did he do it for a sexual purpose? And did he know that such contact was undesirable for these women?
The towel evidence helped show his intent and purpose, according to his ruling, which also found that Watson knew such sexualized contact with these women was not desired by them. Robinson noted that Watson’s intent in these encounters “must be inferred from circumstantial evidence in the absence of admission.”
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“There is no doubt that Mr. Watson preferred a towel to the sheet traditionally used for draping, and there should be no doubt that a towel of medium or small size is more likely to slip off a body than a sheet, leaving a client exposed,” wrote Robinson, who was co-appointed to her role by the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
Robinson ruled that the ‘totality of evidence’, including his use of towels and his focus points for massages, supports his conclusion that it is more likely than not that Watson had erections and that his penis was erect. got in touch with the therapists, as they claimed.
Of the 24 women who prosecuted Watson, Robinson’s decision notes that NFL investigators were only able to interview 12, and that of those 12, the NFL relied for its findings on the testimony of four, as well as other evidence and interviews with third parties. According to the women’s attorney, Tony Buzbee, all but one of those 24 trials ended in a confidential settlement.
Watson, 26, has denied any wrongdoing and has never been arrested or charged with a crime. He didn’t dispute his preference for towels.
He testified to this in a pre-trial deposition on May 13.
“That’s the towel I’m going to use,” Watson told a massage therapist in March 2020, according to the deposition transcript obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
This was in the case of massage therapist Ashley Solis, who said Watson exposed himself to her and made her genitals touch her without her consent.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, previously told USA TODAY Sports that this was a personal preference for Watson and not evidence of adverse intent. “He always made it clear that for comfort reasons he wanted as little drape as possible that still covered him,” Hardin said in June.
‘Why did you bring a towel?’
Watson was also asked about this during May’s deposition.
“Why did you bring a towel?” the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Maria Holmes, asked him.
“Because it was – we spoke on the phone and I told him I was bringing a towel,” he replied. “We communicated with that and that’s how it is.”
His towel habit became known as his “towel trick” in some circles and was mentioned in pretrial deposition testimony by a Houston police detective who investigated complaints about his behavior. Watson.
In another case, Watson testified in a deposition that he drove about 25 miles south of Houston to get a massage at a woman’s mother’s house, where he brought a towel and a nondisclosure agreement to sign by the wife.
“You’re sitting there in your car, in Manvel, (Texas), with your briefcase and your NDA waiting for her, aren’t you?” Buzbee asked him.
“I guess if you make it look like that, yes sir,” Watson replied.
That case and the Solis case were among four cases highlighted by the NFL in this disciplinary proceeding with Robinson, according to clues in its decision.
A massage and spa industry expert told USA TODAY Sports that most massage therapists use one-size-fits-all sheets for draping, often covering the top sheet with a blanket.
“Those who use towels usually use beach towels, bath sheets or large bath towels,” said the expert, Felicia Brown, who is not involved in the Watson cases. “Hand towels and washcloths are generally not used to drape groin areas because they do not provide adequate coverage, warmth, or boundary for a massage.”
She said the draping is designed to provide warmth, privacy and modesty for their clients, sanitation for equipment, and a physical boundary between therapist and client.
“It’s quite rare that clients bring their own towel or sheet for a massage, and a massage therapist is unlikely to feel comfortable with a male client,” she said.
In her ruling, Robinson noted that Watson had requested that therapists use a towel to cover her private parts rather than the more typically used sheet.
“Mr. Watson often provided his own towels, which were variously described as ‘medium/small’ towels or ‘Gatorade’ towels,” Robinson wrote.
The NFL previously requested an indefinite suspension of at least one season and may appeal Robinson’s decision to extend it beyond six games.
Follow journalist Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org