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NFL investigators ‘patronizing’ to Deshaun Watson accusers

Dec 27, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) rolls out of the pocket against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) rolls out of the pocket against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Two of Deshaun Watson’s accusers told Sports Illustrated that NFL investigators followed a demeaning line of questioning regarding acts of sexual misconduct allegedly committed by the Houston Texans quarterback.

In a story published Friday, Sports Illustrated revealed what two women, who were among the 22 who have civil lawsuits pending against Watson, thought of the interview process conducted by the NFL. And they weren’t complimentary.

“This woman asked me what I was wearing, which honestly really pissed me off,” said Ashley Solis, who was the first woman to publicly accuse Watson of sexual misconduct during a massage session. “She explained that that’s something that she has to ask — which I don’t believe at all.”

The interviews were conducted by Lisa Friel and Jennifer Gaffney, former prosecutors who are running the league investigation. Another Watson accuser, Lauren Baxley, backed up Solis’ statements in a separate interview.

Baxley said she, too, was asked what she wore during a massage appointment with Watson in June 2020, and she said the investigators were “patronizing” and “victim-blaming.” She also asked why she just didn’t end the session when she felt Watson was out of line.

By contrast, she said, her interview with the Houston Police Department was professional. Houston police are conducting a separate investigation that could lead to criminal charges. Baxley has sued Watson and also filed a complaint with Houston police.

“They (Houston police) let me speak uninterrupted, whereas with Lisa Friel and the (other NFL investigator), they would cut me off, they would question things, they would circle back,” Baxley said, adding she thinks the NFL investigators were “trying to trip me up. They didn’t, but they were really looking for the weaknesses that they thought they could exploit.”

The interviewers are charged with collecting evidence that will help the league determine whether Watson violated the league’s personal conduct rules, which could lead to suspension. Commissioner Roger Goodell can place any player on the exempt list if he finds a violation could have occurred.

A player on the commissioner’s exempt list receives full pay but doesn’t account against the team’s 53-man roster. Those on the list cannot practice or attend games but can work out, receive treatment or attend meetings at the team facility.

So far, 10 women have been interviewed by the NFL, according to the Sports Illustrated report.

The publication said the women consented to an interview because they are disturbed that Watson is still on the Texans’ active roster.

But in training camp, Watson has been anything but active. He has been demoted to fourth-string quarterback and has been working off the side with a trainer as he copes with a calf injury. Veteran Tyrod Taylor is taking first-team reps.

Watson, who turns 26 next month, largely was an observer for the first two weeks of training camp and isn’t expected to accompany the team to Green Bay for Saturday’s preseason opener against the Packers. He has requested a trade, but he signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension that is scheduled to kick in with the 2022 season.

Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents all 22 women, said that after his first three clients were interviewed, he was present and that subsequent interviews had a changed tone.

The NFL told ESPN on Friday that the review of the “serious allegations” against Watson is ongoing.

–Field Level Media