The attorney of the 22 women who are suing Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson released a statement Monday saying two of his clients spoke on the record for an upcoming episode of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."
The episode will debut at 10 p.m. Tuesday, the same day Watson will participate in his first organized team activity practice with the Browns since they acquired him March 18 in a historic trade with the Houston Texans and gave him a five-year contract worth a record-setting $230 million fully guaranteed.
Two dozen women have accused Watson of sexual misconduct or sexual assault during massage appointments, and attorney Tony Buzbee represents 22 of them who have active civil lawsuits filed against Watson, who has repeatedly denied all wrongdoing and whose attorney, Rusty Hardin, detailed in a podcast that posted Monday why he believes his client is innocent and shouldn't be suspended by the NFL.
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"HBO approached us and asked if our clients would be willing to speak on the record for the Real Sports program," Buzbee said in the statement sent to the Beacon Journal. "As was the case with speaking with law enforcement and the NFL, we left the decision whether to speak publicly up to the clients themselves. Two chose to do so. These women are the most brave and courageous I’ve ever met. This firm is extremely proud to represent them.
"During the filming process, I was impressed with HBO’s diligence and insistence on fairness. Despite our requests, HBO refused to provide us before-hand the questions they intended to ask. And, I can tell you, hard questions were in fact asked — not only to our clients but to me as well. This firm has been trying and winning civil cases for twenty-five years; we are extremely confident in these cases.
"As each witness testifies in the pre-trial discovery process, the evidence against Deshaun Watson continues to mount. The walls, as they say, are closing in. We look forward to trying these cases in court as soon as practicable. We are very confident that, in the end, justice will be done."
HBO confirmed for the Beacon Journal that two of Watson's accusers will appear in the episode.
When the network announced the episode Friday, the news release gave the impression more than two accusers would be featured.
The initial announcement reads as follows: "Several women who have accused Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct sit down for their first ever national TV interview. In the report, they detail the alleged abuse they suffered and share their reactions to Watson’s record-breaking $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns. Soledad O’Brien reports. Producer: Max Gershberg."
Although two women spoke on the record instead of several, it's a safe bet the NFL will be closely monitoring the HBO program.
Two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on 10 criminal complaints in March, yet the league could still suspend him under its personal conduct policy.
On an episode of "Between the Lines: A Podcast About Sports and the Law" hosted by Gabe Feldman, Hardin said he believes the decisions of the grand juries means Watson should not be suspended under the personal conduct policy.
"I've always assumed, all the publicity and everything," Hardin told Feldman, "it's going to be very hard for the NFL to have the courage to do what I think should be done, which is no finding.
"The grand jury returned no bills. ... A no bill means they cannot find probable cause that there is any evidence of a criminal conduct, and every type of allegation that the plaintiffs have made that would be potentially criminal conduct was rejected. One grand jury rejected nine, and another grand jury rejected No. 10.
"Our view as to whether there's any violation of the [NFL's] code of conduct is actually already decided by the grand jury."
On the podcast, Hardin maintained his stance that any sexual activity Watson had during the massages was consensual.
"Deshaun in his depositions has said — and I believe him — that there was only sexual activity in three of the 22 lawsuits," Hardin said, "and in none of the sexual activities was it forced.
"That's what he very believably insists on, and I think the evidence is going to show that."
Hardin did not return a voicemail from the Beacon Journal early Monday afternoon seeking comment about whether he or Watson were interviewed by HBO.
But a spokesperson for Hardin told the Beacon Journal by phone Watson declined to be interviewed by HBO because of the NFL's ongoing investigation. One of the attorneys in Hardin's law firm, Leah Graham, conducted a brief interview with the network Monday, the spokesperson said.
Watson was interviewed by NFL officials last week in Houston before hosting more than 20 teammates for bonding time and workouts in the Bahamas through the weekend.
Hardin said on the podcast Watson and his attorneys met with the league for three days. Hardin also reiterated to Feldman two points he made last week: the NFL wants another meeting with his client, and the attorney believes the league has a desire to make a decision this summer on whether it will suspend Watson.
"[The NFL officials have] indicated they want to continue to do some more questioning," Hardin said on Feldman's podcast. " ... I don't have a deadline. I'd suspect that the NFL wants to conclude their investigation sometime this summer. But whether that is June or whether that's August or July, I have no idea."
Obviously, the potential exists for what is said on HBO to give rise to further questions.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Two of Browns QB Deshaun Watson's accusers to appear on HBO