Nike has suspended its endorsement contract with Deshaun Watson amid allegations of sexual assault and harassment against the Houston Texans quarterback.
“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and have suspended Deshaun Watson,” Nike said in a statement released Wednesday. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
Watson has been accused of sexual assault or harassment in lawsuits filed by 22 women. One of those women, Ashley Solis, said Tuesday during a news conference that she was assaulted and traumatized when she tried to give Watson a massage in March 2020.
The Associated Press usually does not name victims of sexual assault, but Solis has chosen to publicly identify herself.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, has called the allegations “meritless” and questioned the claims against Watson, alleging they were made following a failed attempt to blackmail his client.
The Houston Police Department said last week it was investigating Watson after someone had filed a report with the agency about Watson. Tony Buzbee, who represents the 22 women, said it was not Solis but another of his clients who filed the first report with police.
The NFL has been in contact with Buzbee during its own investigation.
Watson was signed to a deal with Nike in 2017 when he entered the NFL. Last November, he teamed with the company to provide jerseys for Yates High School in Houston. George Floyd graduated from Yates in 1993 and played football for the school.
Watson’s red Nike cleats that he wore in Houston’s 53-32 win over the Atlanta Falcons during Week 5 in 2019 were sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Watson was the first player in NFL history to pass for at least 400 yards and five TDs with five or fewer incompletions in a single game.
Solis said in her statement that since the alleged assault, she suffers from panic attacks, anxiety, depression and is no longer comfortable working as a massage therapist.
“I got into massage therapy to heal people, to heal their minds and bodies, to bring peace to their souls. Deshaun Watson has robbed me of that,” Solis said, adding that her lawsuit was not about seeking money.
But in a statement, Hardin alleged that Buzbee sought “$100,000 in hush money” on behalf of Solis before she filed her lawsuit.
In a recent email to season ticket holders, Texans chairman Cal McNair, whose family owns the team, said they were aware of the lawsuits against Watson and that the team takes “these allegations very seriously.”
“While we await the conclusion of these investigations, we express our strong stance against any form of sexual assault. Our family and the entire Houston Texans organization are deeply troubled by any form of abuse and we condemn this type of behavior,” McNair said.
Watson is one of the league’s top quarterbacks and led the NFL in yards passing last season. He signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension with the Texans last offseason, but he became unhappy with the direction of the team as Houston sunk to 4-12. Watson requested a trade in January.