Innocent or not, Deshaun Watson is a stark reminder we don't really know our favorite athletes

Shalise Manza Young
·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·4 min read
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It was an incredible gesture when Deshaun Watson donated his first NFL game check to three workers at the Houston Texans' training facility who had been impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

It's wonderful that he gave enough money to feed 10,000 residents in and around his Georgia hometown.

Lovely that he helped feed frontline workers during the pandemic and police officers during the devastating deep freeze in Texas last month.

Impressive that on the field he's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL despite playing for arguably the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL.

But no matter how big of a fan you may be of an athlete, you have to remember: Especially in this social media age, they let us see and know what they want us to know. We don't really know them. You know what you see when they're performing, and you see what they want you to see on Instagram or Snapchat.

As a beat writer who covered the New England Patriots for nine years and a human being in general, it was easy to believe that the players I'd see and talk to for a few hours a week over the course of half a year were good guys. The vast majority of them are with reporters, and are when we can't see them, at home with their significant others, kids and family.

And then one day came a hard reminder. Aaron Hernandez, who entered the NFL with an off-field record that could generously be described as questionable but seemed to delight in playing with the small children of teammates and staff during Patriots training camp, and happily discussed the "blessing" of becoming a father himself, was arrested for killing an associate and later charged with killing two other men in a separate incident a year earlier.

We don't really know these guys.

We don't know if Deshaun Watson is innocent or guilty of all the allegations in the now 19 civil suits filed against him. What we do know is star athletes let see what they want us to see. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
We don't know if Deshaun Watson is innocent or guilty of all the allegations in the now 19 civil suits filed against him. What we do know is star athletes let us see what they want us to see. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

That's what I keep coming back to with Watson, who is now facing civil suits from 19 women, all of them massage therapists, and all of them telling a similar story. A 20th woman, who is not part of the suits against Watson, told Sports Illustrated's Jenny Vrentas her experiences in a story that published on Monday.

The women's stories have a lot in common: Watson allegedly reached out to them for a massage, insisted that they be alone, laid face-up on the treatment table covered by a towel that he usually removed at some point, made sexual advances toward them, and suggested they touch his penis. In at least one case, Watson is accused of forcing a woman to perform oral sex on him.

All kinds of conspiracy theories have been floated, from discrediting the multiple alleged victims as gold diggers or liars to questioning attorney Tony Buzbee's methods to saying it's a coordinated attack by the Texans, who don't want to trade their star quarterback despite him repeatedly saying he wants out. 

All of them seemed more plausible when it was just one or two suits. Nineteen lawsuits and 20 accusers from women in multiple states make it a lot harder to believe this is all some kind of elaborate, targeted scheme to bring down Watson. Additionally, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center has written that between 2 and 10 percent of sexual assault accusations are false claims, though the definition of what constitutes a false claim varies from state to state.

The victim who spoke to Sports Illustrated — the magazine called her Mary — said she came to have Watson as a client through a second massage therapist who had sent clients to her in the past. But after their encounter, Watson, not realizing he'd already booked with her, reached out to Mary directly.

Knowing that Watson could be an important client, she responded that she would work with him again if he was respectful. He never followed up. SI reviewed those messages, with Watson communicating through his verified Instagram account.

The things Watson has been accused of do not rise to the level of Hernandez's crimes, though sexual assault and impropriety are their own pernicious scourge, with victims being believed and receiving justice far too infrequently.

The point is that no amount of good deeds done publicly that led to him widely being considered a "good guy" can erase misdeeds Watson may have committed in private. Feeding people does not balance out possible sexual assault. 

We may get a better idea of what happened someday, but we might not.

The fact remains, however, that while you might want everything to be untrue because Watson seems like such a nice guy, or is a really good football player and has helped you win your fantasy league, it doesn't mean it is. 

Right now, we know exactly as much about Deshaun Watson as he wants us to know.

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