The Washington Commanders created a “toxic work culture” for more than two decades, “ignoring and downplaying sexual misconduct” by men at the top levels of the organization, according to a report published Thursday by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Commanders owner Dan Snyder was involved in the misconduct, according to the report, which included the following allegations: He inappropriately touched a former employee at a dinner, had staffers produce a video “of sexually suggestive footage of cheerleaders,” per a former video production employee; and, per a former cheerleader and marketing employee, ordered that women who were auditioning to be cheerleaders walk on the field “while he and his friends gawked from his suite through binoculars.”
Snyder also interfered in an investigation that the NFL eventually took over that stemmed from former employees alleging in 2020 rampant sexual harassment by team executives, the report said, as well as interfering with the House committee’s investigation by “intimidating witnesses and blocking the production of documents.” Snyder also was evasive and misleading and said more than 100 times when testifying to the committee that he did not recall things, the report said.
The NFL is not shielded from criticism in the report, which says the league “misled the public about its handling of the Wilkinson Investigation,” “continues to minimize workplace misconduct across the league,” “has not protected workers from sexual harassment and abuse,” and “has not sought true accountability for those responsible.”
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy released the following statement on Thursday to NFL.com:
“The NFL is committed to ensuring that all employees of the NFL and the 32 clubs work in a professional and supportive environment that is free from discrimination, harassment, or other forms of illegal or unprofessional conduct. The NFL and the 32 clubs have implemented substantial and effective programs to advance this commitment at all of our facilities,” McCarthy said.
“The investigation into the Commanders’ workplace that was conducted by Beth Wilkinson’s firm was independent and thorough. No individual who wished to speak to the Wilkinson firm was prevented from doing so by non-disclosure agreements. And many of the more than 150 witnesses who participated in the Wilkinson investigation did so on the condition that their identities would be kept confidential. Far from impeding the investigation, the common interest agreement enabled the NFL efficiently to assume oversight of the matter and avoided the potential for substantial delay and inconvenience to witnesses.
“Following the completion of Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation, the NFL issued a public release and imposed a record-setting fine on the club and its ownership. The club also implemented a series of recommendations by the Wilkinson firm and an independent firm has monitored the implementation of those recommendations through regular reviews of the Commanders’ workplace. All of these reviews, which were shared with the Committee, have concluded that the Commanders have made significant improvements in workplace culture and policies.
“Over the past 13 months, the NFL has cooperated extensively with the Committee’s investigation, producing nearly a half million pages of documents, responding to dozens of written inquiries, and voluntarily participating in a two-and-a-half hour public hearing during which Commissioner Goodell answered 128 questions.”
John Brownlee and Stuart Nash, attorneys for the Commanders, released the following statement on Thursday:
“These Congressional investigators demonstrated, almost immediately, that they were not interested in the truth, and were only interested in chasing headlines by pursuing one side of the story. Today’s report is the predictable culmination of that one-sided approach,” the statement read.
“There are no new revelations here. The Committee persists in criticizing Mr. Snyder for declining to voluntarily appear at the Committee’s hearing last spring, notwithstanding Mr. Snyder’s agreement to sit, at a date chosen by the Committee, for an unprecedented 11-hours of questioning under oath. The only two members of Congress who witnessed any part of that deposition, one Democrat and one Republican, both made public statements in the wake of the deposition characterizing Mr. Snyder’s answers as truthful, cooperative, and candid. As is typical of the Committee, they have refused, despite our repeated requests to release the full transcript of Mr. Snyder’s deposition.
“The Committee disingenuously attempts to blame Mr. Snyder for preventing witnesses from coming forward, when it had the full power to subpoena any witness to testify, notwithstanding any NDA. The Committee’s failure to do so is revealing – it is far more interested in blaming Mr. Snyder than actually investigating the underlying allegations.
“And, ironically for an “investigative” body, supposedly engaged in an “investigation,” the investigators actually criticize the team and Mr. Snyder for providing evidence to the Committee — such as e-mails former team employees sent from their workplace accounts — that reveal the actual causes of the formerly dysfunctional workplace environment at the team.
“Today’s report does not advance public knowledge of the Washington Commanders workplace in any way. The team is proud of the progress it has made in recent years in establishing a welcoming and inclusive workplace, and it looks forward to future success, both on and off the field.”
Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represented more than 40 ex-Commanders employees, said in a statement Thursday that the “committee’s work resulted in important legislation limiting the use of non-disclosure agreements, which will help prevent this type of widespread harassment from happening in other American workplaces.”
The House committee opened its investigation after the NFL did not release a written report of attorney Beth Wilkinson’s review of the team’s workplace culture in the summer of 2021 that resulted in a $10 million fine and Snyder stepping away from day-to-day operations of the team. That was prompted by several former employees saying they were sexually harassed while working for the team.
Republicans have said they would immediately drop the case once they take over control of the House early next year.
Snyder and his wife, Tanya, recently hired Bank of America Securities to explore selling part or all of the team he has owned since 1999. The Commanders are worth an estimated $5.6 billion, according to Forbes — a sevenfold increase over the then-record $800 million Snyder paid for the team in 1999.
Image & Story Credit: nfl.com