The much-anticipated report by The Washington Post on a workplace scandal involving the Washington Redskins has been published. The story details a hostile workplace environment. It also raises questions about how the NFL might respond.
A key question: Will the NFL try to oust Daniel Snyder from the league?
Most of the report details troubling instances of male Redskins executives allegedly engaged in harassment of women who worked for, or reported on, the team.
For instance, the report references multiple allegations against ex-pro personnel director Alex Santos. He allegedly “made inappropriate remarks about their bodies and asking them if they were romantically interested in him.” According to The Post, Rhiannon Walker, a reporter for The Athletic, informed the team that Santos had “pinched her” and opined that she had “an ass like a wagon.” This allegation would be disturbing in any time but is even more outrageous given that it occurred in 2019—during the #metoo era.
While Snyder oversaw what is depicted as a workplace out-of-control, The Post makes clear that he is not accused of engaging in mistreatment of women.
That’s not to say he is praised.
The report cites suspicions that Snyder knew about the mistreatment and declined to pursue any corrective measures of consequence. He also is accused of ridiculing a male employee, ex-business operations president Dennis Greene, for having been a male cheerleader in college.
Further, The Post cites an account by a former who asserted that Snyder “had ordered [Greene] to do cartwheels for their entertainment.” An owner ordering an employee to perform cartwheels, presumably against the employee’s wishes, could be regarded as a type of abusive conduct. However, it is of a different nature than the type of misconduct detailed elsewhere in the report.
Snyder issued a statement on Friday. “The behavior described in yesterday’s Washington Post article has no place in our franchise or society,” the statement said. “This story has strengthened my commitment to setting a new culture and standard for our team.”
Although he was not accused of engaging in any abusive conduct, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban could be seen as analogous pro sports owner implicated in wrongdoing. In 2018, an investigation found that Cuban had failed to adequately supervise former CEO Terdema Ussery, who was accused of sexual harassment. Cuban did not face a formal penalty but agreed to make a $10 million donation to domestic violence and women’s empowerment organizations.
The Redskins have retained Washington lawyer Beth Wilkinson to conduct a review of the team and its culture in light of the Post’s investigation and story. Maintaining credibility will be essential for Snyder to present his case to the league and the public.
“It is a critical first step to retain a third-party investigator when there are allegations of sexual harassment against top executives – which the Redskins have done here,” Sue Ann Van Dermyden, an attorney whom the Sacramento Kings hired to investigate coach Luke Walton for alleged sexual misconduct, said. “It is imperative that the investigators are truly independent and not influenced by anyone at the team with an interest in the outcome.”
The NFL has the power to investigate on its own, though it will likely refrain from immediate action. The league’s personal conduct policy governs owners and requires them to refrain from “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.” That said, the NFL is a private entity. It doesn’t have subpoena power, nor can it compel disclosure of records or witness statements (though can punish Redskins officials who fail to cooperate in a league investigation).
The league in a statement called the alleged conduct “serious, disturbing and contrary to the NFL’s values.” Further, the NFL said it would meet with Wilkinson’s team after their investigation and “take any action based on the findings.”
Snyder will have at least a first shot at redemption before facing any league action.
“You have to give the owner the opportunity to do what Mark Cuban did. He has to clean that house. He has to do all the things to show he’s managing a club worthy of his membership in the league,” said Donna Lopiano, former CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation and current now president of Sports Management Resources, which helps sports organizations solve integrity, growth and development challenges.
Also, The Post report depicts Snyder in a less damaging light than the Sports Illustrated report uncovering misconduct by former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Richardson himself allegedly partook in physical and sexual misconduct against women who worked for the team. He also allegedly made racially insensitive comments. The NFL fined Richardson $2.75 million. Though the league has denied doing so, it is thought to have pressured Richardson into selling the team, too.
This is not the first workplace controversy for Snyder or the Redskins. There was a recent scandal involving Redskins cheerleaders. While on a trip to Costa Rica in 2013, they were allegedly required to accompany sponsors and pose topless. The allegation, which was detailed in a New York Times story from 2018, did not lead to known sanction against Snyder.
But 2020 is a different time in America than 2018. Social protests, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, have led to less tolerance for misbehavior and controversial attitudes. The fact that 15 different women allege misconduct also makes it harder for the NFL to believe that Snyder either didn’t know or shouldn’t have known.
Also, The Post stresses that several women who worked for the Redskins will only speak anonymously due to fear of breaching nondisclosure agreements and being sued. It’s worth noting that the NFL could mollify those concerns by indemnifying employees for any litigation brought by the Redskins.
In addition, if those nondisclosure contracts are governed by Virginia law (the team is headquartered in Virginia), they might not be enforceable. An NDA cannot be more restrictive than necessary. Meanwhile, a new Virginia statute, § 40.1-28.01, limits their usage in situations where they would conceal sexual assault (the allegations detailed by The Post generally appear more along the lines of harassment than assault).
Ultimately, however, the responsibility for the workplace’s culture lies with its owner.
“Is it proper to place the blame on the desk of the owner? The answer is absolutely yes. Will the other owners act in concert to do it? Let’s be realistic. These owners have been tribal. Look at Colin Kaepernick,” Lopiano said.
(This story has been updated with statements from Redskins owner Dan Snyder and former Raiders executive Amy Trask.)
With assistance from Mike Freeman.