As the Deshuan Watson legal battle gets uglier, media can't continue being complicit

Shalise Manza Young
·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·4-min read
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One of the early knocks on attorney Tony Buzbee, who is representing more than 20 women who have filed civil lawsuits against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, was his use of social media, specifically Instagram, to inform the world about the accusations against Watson and the suits.

It seemed ... unseemly. Unprofessional.

But on Monday, Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, took things even lower, and not only showed no regard for many of the alleged victims, he potentially put them in the crosshairs of danger.

Last week, a Texas judge ruled that under state law the women suing Watson could not retain their anonymity if they wanted to move forward. All agreed to press on, attaching their names to their legal claims.

And Hardin, now armed with those names, sent out a statement to media on Monday calling all of the women liars. Because that's what happens all too often: Women who make accusations of sexual assault or misconduct immediately are the ones facing the questions. What did they do to provoke the unwanted behavior? What were they wearing? Blah blah blah. It's why so many women keep their own sexual traumas a secret.

Hardin's official legal response attached at least some of those names to counter-allegations that they bragged about their encounters with Watson, or worked with Watson multiple times despite their claims, or lied about the trauma they say they've suffered since their session with Watson. 

But that's not the really gross and potentially dangerous part.

No, the really gross part, and the thing he did with no regard to their personal safety, was that Hardin emailed all of it — the statement and the legal filing — directly to reporters. Under normal circumstances, a reporter that knows their way around the legal system would have to search for such a filing and likely cough up a couple of dollars to access it.

And many of those reporters did exactly what Hardin was hoping they'd do: posted screenshots of the documents directly to Twitter, where bad actors had immediate access to names of the alleged victims and could harass them (or worse).

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 30: Rusty Hardin watches the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans warm up before a NFL game on November 30, 2014 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Deshaun Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Yes, the women had to surrender their anonymity, and yes, that meant they could have been found.

But as I've been told, most crimes are crimes of opportunity. If you're a Watson fan who is angry that the player who has been careful to present himself to the world as a charitable, smiling guy is facing these accusations, and if you want some sort of revenge — the kind of thing, so we're clear, that Watson would never do for you were the tables turned — it became a hell of a lot easier to reach out to those women when a media corps more concerned with access than substance and proper journalistic behavior dutifully re-shared their names into the ether.

An ethical journalist wouldn't publicize the alleged victims' names until the case had advanced to the discovery phase. Right now, these cases are in the early stages, with the two sides trading accusations and all of it getting increasingly ugly in their posturing.

For the public at large, had they been required to search for the legal documents or fork up some money to get the names, maybe their rage would be confined to tweets from a troll account.

Now, however, the opportunity is there to personally harass these women. Look them up. Threaten them with death or rape, or show up on their doorstep because they've hurt an NFL player you've never met before.

It's what Ashley Solis, the licensed massage therapist who was the first to accuse Watson of sexual misconduct, has dealt with since so bravely going public and putting her name and her face to her claim.

And now more women, who have come forward to say that they were forced into sexual acts or made to feel violated and uncomfortable when they were just doing their job, are likely facing the same heinous abuse.

If one of those women is injured by a Watson superfan, will Watson or Hardin care? If one of those women hurts herself because of an onslaught of hatred and threats, will either of those men be moved at all? 

If one of the women is lying, there are legal ways for her to be penalized for doing so. She should not have to fear an unending stream of abuse or even physical assault because of it.

And if that happens and the women are telling the truth, they've victimized again. For seeking justice.

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