NFL Senior Advisor on Deshaun Watson: ‘I Feel Like He’s Playing Us’ – Sports Illustrated

Editors’ note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at

After a lengthy investigation, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to a settlement that would suspend Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for 11 games to start the season, along with a $5 million fine.

Because Watson signed a five-year, $230 million contract with Cleveland, in which he will earn just $1.035 million this season, Watson will lose just under $6 million total this year between his pay for those 11 games and the fine.

One NFL advisor isn’t happy with the way the Watson investigation played out. Rita Smith, an NFL senior advisor on domestic violence and sexual assault cases, believes Watson is presenting himself the way he wants to, without doing work to better himself.

“I feel like he’s playing us,” Smith told’s Mary Kay Cabot. “He’s saying exactly what he thinks he needs to say to get on the field again. He’s not thinking strategically at all about ‘Did I cause harm to other people?’ He’s not questioning any of his behaviors at all. He’s absolutely certain from that last statement ‘I’ve done nothing wrong. This is all about people trying to get at me, and I just want to go play ball.’”

Over two dozen women gave graphic details of Watson’s sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions while he was with the Texans. Watson initially faced 24 civil lawsuits, but he reportedly settled 20 in June and another three in August. Lauren Baxley remains the lone plaintiff that hasn’t reportedly agreed to a settlement.

Smith believes that Watson’s time away from the NFL in 2021 should’ve been a moment of “real self-reflection” over his reported behavior towards these women. However, Smith doesn’t think that is how he spent that time off.

“Instead, (he and his team are) throwing all kinds of shade on them about ‘They’re liars and they’re cleat chasers,’” she said. “The kind of trolling that happens to victims who make accusations against sports figures is horrid. They get death threats. For those women to have stood up and said, ‘This is inappropriate behavior, and you need to stop,’ the courage that it took for them to do that is amazing and I have a great deal of respect for them.”

Two Texas grand juries chose not to indict Watson on criminal charges, and Watson has denied any wrongdoing throughout.

While Smith said she has no respect for Watson at the moment, she does believe the quarterback can move forward in a positive way if he surrounds himself with the right people.

“He’s put around himself people who will carry him forward no matter what decision he makes and that’s dangerous,” Smith said. “It’s dangerous for Deshaun Watson as well. He can change, but not if there are people around him saying, ‘Yeah, she’s just after your money’ and ‘You paid all that money and it still didn’t make any difference.’ He needs to rid himself of those people, because they’re not serving him well.”

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