Nike suspends deal with NFL quarterback Watson amid assault allegations

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Nike has suspended its endorsement deal with Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson amid sexual assault allegations against the NFL star, the apparel manufacturer said Wednesday.

"We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and have suspended Deshaun Watson," Nike said in a statement. "We will continue to closely monitor the situation."

Watson is facing civil lawsuits from 22 women, all filed in the last month, alleging sexual misconduct ranging from assault to obscene sexual gestures during professional massage therapy sessions he had booked.

Allegations against Watson include forcing a masseuse to perform a sex act and touching others with his genitals.

Watson has strongly denied wrongdoing, and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, has said his investigators had found "strong evidence" indicating one accuser's story was false.

However, the Houston Police Department has confirmed that Watson was being investigated for an unspecified offense following the filing of a formal complaint against the Texans star.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Tuesday that the league was investigating the claims against 25-year-old Watson, one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL and highly coveted this year as he agitates for a move away from the Texans.

"The allegations are deeply disturbing and we take these issues very seriously," McCarthy said in a statement released to US media. "Immediately following news of the first allegations last month, and as has been reported, we initiated an investigation under the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.

"We are continuing to closely monitor all developments in the matter."

Even if Watson is not convicted of a crime, the NFL could suspend him if it finds he has violated the league's code of conduct.

Nike's action on Wednesday came after two of Watson's accusers, 22-year-old Ashley Solis, and Lauren Baxley, revealed their identities publicly.

"I got into massage therapy to heal people,” Solis, the first woman to sue Watson, said at a press conference on Tuesday. "To heal their minds and bodies. To bring peace to their souls. Deshaun Watson has robbed me of that. He took that away from me, he tainted a profession in which I take enormous pride."

Solis said she suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and depression and was in counseling as the result of Watson's actions.

After Tuesday's press conference, Hardin's law firm said in a statement that the law firm of Tony Buzbee, which is representing the plaintiffs, had "sought $100,000 in hush money on behalf of Ms. Solis to quietly settle the allegations the month before he filed the first lawsuit."