Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing all 24 women who sued Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for allegations of sexual misconduct during massage therapy appointments, held a press conference on Thursday. It wasn’t a true press conference because no one took any questions, but it was a loud and dramatic stand against the NFL’s investigation and proceedings, which so far have resulted in a six-game suspension for Watson handed down by an independent arbitrator. (The NFL is now appealing that decision to a second independent arbitrator.)
And it closed with a powerful statement from Ashley Solis, the first woman to sue Watson, in which she questioned what message the NFL is sending.
Solis was preceded by Buzbee, who was repeated in his critiques of the NFL. Buzbee said: “We aren’t blind. It is a given that the NFL’s disciplinary process is a juggled mess.” He added that the NFL’s proceedings are ”hard to take seriously,” its record on women’s issue is “sketchy and sad …. inconsistently dismal,” and that the NFL “bungled” the process.
“We never expected much from the NFL’s investigation,” he said. “We never expected much from their thought process, but even when you know you are going to be slapped in the face, that slap still hurts and it still stings. ”
Buzbee said that the NFL only spoke to 10 of his clients, and he would have made more available, but “the NFL wasn’t really interested in talking to them.” In the disciplinary hearings, the league presented four of those 10 cases to its independent arbitrator, retired judge Sue L. Robinson. He said that none of his clients were asked to testify in those hearings, and he had to read about it in the news to even know the hearings were happening at all.
“I have no explanation why the NFL only spoke to 10 of my clients and only presented four of those 10. It really makes you want to scratch your head,” he said, “and wonder what the devil is going on.”
Buzbee continued to rail against the NFL by reading off several quotes from his clients, which said he were in reaction to Monday’s news of a six-game suspension. Per Buzbee, one woman told him: “Six games isn’t a slap on the wrist, it’s a kiss on the cheek.” Another said: “They did not really investigate because they did not care. They investigated to the extent you call it that, to save face. They don’t care if women or people are abused.”
And a third told him: “This decision makes me feel defeated. When I was interviewed with the NFL, it felt more like an interrogation. Asking me the same questions over and over, hoping that I would fumble the story about what I experienced so they could claim what I was saying was untrue. They didn’t seem interested in the truth and it is incredibly disheartening.”
Buzbee didn’t stop at calling out the league. After listing off statistics about how so many instances of sexual assault go unreported, Buzbee brought up ESPN’s senior NFL insider Adam Schefter.
“We all know about this tweet that was sent out, after the no bill, from a so-called insider, not somebody that has ever spoken to me,” Buzbee said, as he walked over to a large poster board set up to one side of the podium. “If there’s more of an insider I don’t know who it is other than me. This is the kind of reaction we have received. These kinds of tweets, this kind of foolishness is exactly why people do not pursue justice.”
Buzbee then flipped the poster board over to reveal Schefter’s tweet, blown up extra-large.
Buzbee said only one of the 24 lawsuits has not settled, and he did not identify which plaintiff’s lawsuit is still active. He did say that it was a woman who was interviewed by the NFL and Houston police but she was not called upon by the Harris County district attorney to testify in front of the grand jury. Only one woman, Solis, was called to speak before the grand jury, Buzbee, said, and he had no idea why.
“She would have given testimony had our elected local DA allowed her to do so,” he said.
After 16 minutes of lighting up the league and Schefter, Buzbee turned the mic over to Solis, who read her own statement.
“What do the actions of the NFL say to little girls who have suffered at the hands of someone perceived to have power?” Solis said. “That it is not a big deal. That they don’t care. Tough shit. That’s what I have taken from their actions.
“So instead, I will let my actions say something different to those same little girls.
“No matter how scary, big or powerful someone may seem, they are just human. And like all humans, we all have the right to have our voices heard.”
Solis said she’d been deeply depressed after coming forward. She said she’d faced death threats and harassment online, but then she started getting letters and emails from people who said they supported her and believed her, which helped Solis remember who she was before she became the first plaintiff.
“The people who I decided to speak out against are just human,” she said, “and I’m no longer scared of them.”
“If anyone has ever tried to abuse their status and overpower you, remind them that they picked the wrong one to try that with,” Solis said. “That is exactly what I am, the wrong one. And I will keep showing my face and keep speaking up for as long as I can. You should be a wrong one too and speak up.”