House Oversight Committee Holds Roundtable with Former Washington Football Team Employees
On February 3, 2022 the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy held a hybrid roundtable with six former Washington Football Team (WFT) employees to discuss issues of alleged misconduct within the WFT (now the Washington Commanders) and the National Football League’s (NFL) alleged failure to take steps to prevent sexual harassment and verbal abuse within the team under team owner, Dan Snyder.
Holding a public roundtable or hearing involving any major sports organization is an unusual event for any Congressional committee, and usually involves matters of significant public interest. For example, a Senate hearing was held during September, 2021 when gymnasts Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols, and Aly Raisman presented testimony generally condemning the FBI’s handling of the investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar, USA Gymnastics’ team doctor. Before that, in September 2018, a House Subcommittee hearing reviewed the then current landscape in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow states to offer legal sports betting.
The February 3 roundtable was an opportunity for Committee members to hear firsthand accounts of former WFT employees as a step towards potential legislative solutions to better protect those workers from harassment and discrimination.
In a January 27 Press Release of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the Committee reported on its reasons for conducting the roundtable. Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney was quoted, “For more that twenty years, employees of the WFT were subjected to sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and other misconduct. It is becoming increasingly clear that not only did the team fail to protect employees, but the NFL went to great lengths to prevent the truth about this toxic work environment from coming to light. The NFL’s decision to cover up these abuses raises serious questions about its commitment to setting workplace standards that keep employees safe… No organization is above the law, I am committed to getting to the bottom of these abuses and ensuring that every American – no matter where they work – is safe from employee harassment and discrimination.”
In July 2020, the WFT hired an attorney/investigator to conduct an internal investigation into employee complaints that had been reported on by the Washington Post. The NFL later took over supervision of the investigation following some allegations of improper conduct by Snyder. Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, has said the NFL would “be cooperative” with Congress but would not disclose documents related to its investigator’s work, citing the confidentiality promised those who spoke to investigators.
During the February 3 roundtable, the ex-WFT employees levied new harassment claims against team owner Snyder. One former employee told Committee members that Snyder had sexually harassed her at a team dinner and shortly thereafter as he pressed her toward his limousine. Others told the lawmakers about their experiences working for the team, each detailing the toxic culture and allegations of sexual harassment by multiple team executives. Those appearing at the roundtable also made clear their concerns about the NFL’s failure to share information on its investigator’s investigation. They called upon Congress to compel the NFL to make the report public and to hold Snyder and the NFL accountable. Earlier, the NFL had levied a $10 million fine against the team and directed Snyder to step down from day-to-day operations. Following the roundtable, Snyder issued a statement calling the new allegations raised against him “outright lies.”
Chairwoman Maloney’s Committee has broad latitude to probe governmental agencies as well as private matters it deems in the public interest. Maloney has the authority to hold hearings, issue subpoenas, and to require the production of documents.
The Committee’s Press Release concluded with the following: “The NFL has one of the most prominent platforms in America and the lack of transparency about its handling of decades-long allegations of harassment and discrimination within one of its teams sets a dangerous precedent for other workplaces. To ensure real accountability, the NFL must end its cover-up, honor its commitment to cooperate with Congress and release its investigative findings.”
While it is not clear, what actions, if any, the Committee will take after the roundtable, Committee member Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi did make clear some of the objectives resulting from the roundtable discussion, asserting: “…to stop workplace harassment in the future – the NFL and WFT must release the findings of its own investigation. This is the beginning, not the end, of holding the rich and powerful accountable and protecting women across America from workplace sexual harassment. Recognizing the NFL’s power and popularity, Roger Goodell said that we should hold the NFL to a higher standard. And starting with today’s roundtable, we will.”
Within a few days of the former employees’ and the Committee’s call for a release of the investigative report at the roundtable, the Washington Post further reported that “Daniel Snyder could block release of the probe details under a deal with the NFL.” Reportedly, in a document known as a “Common Interest Agreement,” the NFL and the team “share common legal interests” and vowed that neither side would disclose information about the probe without the approval of the other. The NFL had previously indicated it would not share the report due to confidentiality promised those interviewed. A legal battle may follow. Stay tuned…