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Massage therapists tell AP: Deshaun Watson case renews stigma

With FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns NFL football team, in the background, massage therapist Michelle Krause checks her phone during a break at the American Massage Therapist Association national convention at the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland, Ohio, Aug. 25, 2022. Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is accused of sexual misconduct with a massage therapist and faces a fine and 11-game suspension. (AP Photo / Teresa Walker)

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Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson on the field during an NFL preseason game in Cleveland, Aug. 27, 2022. – AP Photo / David Richard

AP pro football writer Teresa Walker reported on an overlooked angle in the saga of NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was fined and suspended for 11 games after he was accused of sexual misconduct with a massage therapist. Walker examined the impact Watson’s case and the wave of coverage surrounding it has had on the massage therapy profession, which has long battled stigmas and misconceptions.

Walker embraced the challenge of covering a long-scheduled national convention of massage therapists, coincidentally held just a block from the stadium where Watson’s Cleveland Browns will play. AP was the only major news outlet covering the convention, but therapists and association officials alike were hesitant to speak with her — the aspersions that are often cast on the industry were the last thing many attendees wanted to discuss.

Walker,however,regularly gets massage treatments and has a best friend who is a therapist in her hometown. She used that personal experience to get therapists to open up on the effects of the Watson case,which comes in the wake of the pandemic and the 2021 murders at Atlanta-area massage businesses.

With an assist from Deputy Sports Editor Oscar Dixon and Top Stories editor Mary Sedor,Walker captured telling detail and color in a very balanced story. She also made video and photos for the story,collaborating with colleagues in multiple formats.

The resulting package played widely with across North America,from Fox Sports to the Toronto Star, and scored impressive reader engagement.

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In photo at left, Mary Czech, of Whitmore Lake, Mich., poses at the American Massage Therapist Association national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, Aug. 24, 2022. Therapists at the conference were focusing on education, vetting potential customers and setting boundaries they can enforce. Czech said she has always had a plan of escape during her 20 years as a therapist, in case a client engages in inappropriate behavior. At right, Amber Rasmussen, of Rapid City, S.D., poses at the convention, Aug. 24, 2022. Regarding accusations against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct with a massage therapist, Rasmussen said, “It mind-boggles me that something like that can happen.” The AMTA believes the NFL sanctions against Watson are not strong enough. – AP Photo / Teresa Walker
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