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Deshaun Watson’s admission of sexual activity with three of the 22 plaintiffs could become a major problem

Mike Florio puts his lawyer hat on to unpack the NFL's process for punishing players who violated its personal conduct policy with the league's investigation into Deshaun Watson "nearing the end."

In 22 of the massage sessions that resulted in civil lawsuits being filed against Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, Watson admits -- through his lawyers -- that three of the massages resulted in consensual sex.

“What little sexual activity did occur was consensual,” attorney Rusty Hardin recently told Gabe Feldman during a podcast appearance. “And there are only three occasions in our cases that any type of sexual activity occurred.”

On Tuesday, Hardin’s office separately distributed a video from Hardin that, among other things, reiterated the admission that consensual sex occurred with three of the 22 massage therapists

“As we’ve said, as Deshaun has insisted under oath, each of those three occasions were consensual and instituted by the women,” Hardin said. “But in the other . . . 19 cases there was no sexual activity. And Deshaun has already given nine depositions -- 11 now -- and sworn under oath that there was no sexual activity except those three incidents, and they were consensual.”

Another member of Watson’s legal team, Leah Graham, made a similar admission during a conversation with HBO’s Soledad O’Brien.

“Well, in every massage, I will tell you he did go, intending just for a professional massage, and only those three instances where sexual conduct occurred -- consensual sexual activity -- it occurred after the massage session had ended,” Graham said. “And Mr. Watson has testified and is insistent that that sexual activity was initiated by the plaintiff in every single instance.”

The lawyers presumably have made these admissions regarding sexual activity because they have no choice but to make that admission. However, it’s hardly a strength of the case. In reality, it’s a potentially significant weakness.

Broaden the lens. Watson was getting massages from a broad array of female therapists. Between the 22 who have sued him and the 18 who later vouched for him, that’s FORTY. For a guy who has access to any and all massage services that he would need or require.

The fact that he admits, through his lawyers, that three of the 22 massages that resulted in lawsuits ended with consensual sex underscores the potentially persuasive argument that he was looking not only for massages, but for something more.

Yes, he insists the three instances of sex were consensual. Yes, he claims the massage therapists initiated it. But if Watson is finding massage therapists on social media and after 13.6 percent of those massages actually engaging in post-massage sexual activity, is it unreasonable to conclude that he entered the massage with the thought in mind that maybe, just maybe, it will turn sexual? That maybe, just maybe, there’s something he can do to nudge things that way?

The bulk of the cases against Watson arise from allegations that he tried to nudge things that way. The fact that, in three cases, sexual activity occurred necessarily adds credibility to the allegation that, in the other 19 cases, he at least attempted to move the massage in that direction.

Several weeks ago, the presiding judge allowed the 22 plaintiffs to seek evidence regarding whether Watson engaged in sexual activity with the 19 massage therapists who provided statements of support for Watson. This ruling -- and our fair and even-handed treatment of it -- actually triggered an angry response from Watson’s camp.

Why would it make Watson’s lawyers mad? Because they know that if Watson can be painted as someone who had a habit of lining up massages on social media with strangers and hoping that he’d get something more than a massage, it meshes with the claims made by those who claim to have been traumatized by his affirmative effort to get something more than a massage.