July 13, 2020:
Lots has been going on for the Washington Redskins, or as they are now known, the Washington Football Team. The name was changed on July 13, 2020 after FedEx and other sponsors threatened to end their sponsorship of the team. However, the name change is the least of the team’s worries.
July 16, 2020:
On July 16, 2020, The Washington Post published a story entitled, 15 women accuse former Redskins employees of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. This article broke the news that 15 former WFT employees, including Emily Applegate, were sexually harassed during their time with the organization. The other 14 women spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of litigation because some signed a non-disclosure agreement with the team.
Once the article was published, team employees accused of inappropriate behavior resigned or were fired from their positions including Larry Michael, Alex Santos, Richard Mann II, Dennis Greene, and Mitch Gershman. This was not a one person problem. There is clearly a toxic work environment here. According to The Washington Post article from July 16, 2020, “the allegations raised by Applegate and others running from 2006 to 2019 span most of Snyder’s tenure as owner and fall into two categories: unwelcome overtures or comments of a sexual nature and exhortations to wear revealing clothing and flirt with clients to close sales deals.”
Larry Michael, the club’s radio voice, was accused of discussing the physical appearance of female employees in a sexual and disparaging way by seven former employees. Michael was also caught on a “hot mic” speaking about the attractiveness of a college aged intern. He was known for his off-color commentary about women. He has remarked that female staff members have a “tight ass” or that a staff was sleeping with all the men on the team. He also told the same woman “she was so cute.” Michael was only reported once to the team regarding his comment about an intern.
Alex Santos, the team’s director of pro personnel, was accused by six former employees and two sports reporters of making inappropriate sexual remarks about their bodies and asking if they were romantically interested in them. Santos told Rhiannon Walker of The Athletic that she had “an ass like a wagon”. Nora Princiotti was another sports reporter for The Ringer who was harassed by Santos.
Richard Mann II, the team’s assistant director of pro personnel, sent an inappropriate text message to a female employee stating that he and his colleagues were debating whether her breasts had been surgically enhanced. In another text message, Mann told another female employee to expect an inappropriate hug. Mann was fired once The Washington Post article was published.
Dennis Greene, the club’s former president of business operations, instructed females to wear sexy low cut blouses and tight skirts and to flirt with suite holders. Greene’s time with the team ended in 2018, when it was revealed that Green had sold access to WFT cheerleaders including attendance at a bikini calendar photo shoot as part of premium suite packages. Greene also commented often about Applegate’s appearance. Dan Snyder reportedly humiliated Greene in front of other executives.
Mitch Gershman, the team’s former chief operating officer, was accused by three employees of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. Gershman left the team in 2015. According to Applegate, she was warned by former colleagues of her new boss Mitch Gershman, and his explosive temper. However, Applegate did not only experience his temper; she was often faced with comments about her body or appearance and he would diminish her work product. He also suggested she wear high heels to work as well as tight fitting dresses. He further went on to inquire about her dating life.
At the time of the inappropriate conduct, the human resources department only had one full-time staffer. This individual was responsible for 220 full-time employees while also performing administrative duties. One of the female employees stated that “There was no HR. And there was never a reporting process, nor was one explained to new employees about how to report something.” In 2019, the WFT hired a new human resources manager.
Soon after starting with the WFT, many veteran female employees would speak with the new female employee warning them about certain people and places to avoid, such as a staircase near the entrance to the team headquarters where someone could see up a woman’s skirt from the locker room and training area below.
There were also many instances of improper behavior during training camp. Some veteran female employees warned younger staffers to avoid The Tobacco Company, a bar and restaurant. During training, camp coaches would personally whisper invites and text invites to the Tobacco Company and their hotel rooms.
There were also instances of sexual misconduct that occurred during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Female employees would experience unwanted sexual advances at places such as Prime 47 (a popular steakhouse and bark frequented by many league officials and journalists). In 2019, Santos approached Rhiannon Walker at Prime 47 asking if she would date Santos if they were single and that she had “worn the f***” out of her jeans. Walker told Santos that she had a girlfriend and he has a wife. Then Santos continued to flirt with Walker and pinched her on the hip in front of other team employees and reporters. Walker stated “it felt like pretty much the worst thing in the world. He didn’t care. He thought it was funny.” Walker later reported the behavior to the WFT.
After Walker came forward, Nora Princiotti stated that she experienced similar conduct from Santos. Princiotti stated “He told me I had a great a** for a white girl.” She went on to state, “the general sentiment was that I should wear less clothing.” Princiotti also came to find out that around Redskins Park she was known as “Princihottie”.
Other women also reported inappropriate conduct by Santos such as receiving a text message that Santos wanted to kiss her in the break room. Another woman reported that Santos told her she had a “nice butt” and asked her to show it to him.
Eric Schaffer, the team’s former general counsel, approached Applegate in 2015 after hearing of the conduct of other male executives and stated that he was willing to serve as a witness or connect her with a lawyer if she wanted to file a legal complaint. Applegate declined. At the time she did not want to lose her job.
There were no allegations by the women that Snyder or Bruce Allen, the former team General Manager, acted inappropriately towards them according to The Washington Post article.
July 16, 2020:
The team hired attorney Beth Wilkinson from the firm of Wilkinson Walsh LLP to investigate the claims. Wilkinson was tasked with completing an independent review of the team’s culture, policies and allegations of workplace misconduct.
August 17, 2020:
Jason Wright is hired as the WFT President. The first black team president in League history. Wright promises transparency and sticking to business.
December 22, 2020:
A report reveals that in 2009, Snyder settled a sexual misconduct suit for $1.6 million. The WFT and and an outside law firm investigated the incident on Snyder’s plane which occurred while returning from the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas. Both investigations could not substantiate the woman’s claims. Snyder settled the suit to avoid any negative press. The woman who made the accusation was fired for lying to the team’s lawyers. Both Snyder and the team never acknowledged any wrongdoing.
February 10, 2021:
It was reported that the WFT reached a settlement with former cheerleaders who were filmed without their knowledge during a swimsuit calendar photoshoot in 2008 and 2010. Also, the team announced the cheerleading program and band was put on hold until the rebranding of the team was complete.
March 23, 2021:
Team President, Jason Wright, stated that the team will have a new name in 2022 and will replace the cheerleaders with a co-ed dance team. The band will reappear during the 2021 season.
March 31, 2021:
Snyder buys 40.5% of the shares owned by his three minority investors. Snyder and his family now have complete control of the team after the NFL owners voted to approve this purchase.
June 29, 2021:
Tanya Snyder, Dan Snyder’s wife, is named co-CEO of the WFT.
July 1, 2021:
The NFL announces that it has fined the WFT $10 million as a result of an investigation into the team’s workplace culture. Tanya Snyder will take over the day-to-day duties for the team and Dan Snyder will focus on other matters. Dan Snyder said in a statement, ” I have learned a lot in the past few months about how my club operated, and the kind of workplace that we had. It is now clear that the culture was not what it should be, but I did not realized the extent of the problems. or my role in allowing that culture to develop and continue. I know that as the owner, I am ultimately responsible for the workplace.” It was reported that Beth Wilkinson orally submitted her report and recommendations to the NFL.
According to Lisa Friel, the NFL’s Special Counsel for Investigation, “the culture at the club was very toxic and it fell far short of the NFL’s values and we hold ownership to a high standard which is why today’s announcement is not only about accountability for the past but also ensuring the improvements already underway as the club continues in the future.” During the investigation, Wilkinson spoke with over 150 people. Commissioner Goodell stated , “for many years the workplace environment at the Washington Football Team. both generally and particularly for women was highly unprofessional.” Also according to the report, the league concluded that the team’s “ownership and senior management paid little or no attention to these issues. In some instances, senior executives engaged in appropriate conduct themselves, including use of demeaning language and public embarrassment. This set the tone for the organization and led to key executives believing that disrespectful behavior and more serious misconduct was acceptable in the work place.”
In her report, Wilkinson made 10 recommendations to the WFT, (1) develop a formal protocol for reporting allegations of harassment and misconduct; (2) develop a disciplinary action plan; (3) conduct anonymous workplace culture and sexual harassment surveys; (4) hire a third party to provide regular training for all employees on bullying, sexual harassment, and other workplace conduct issues; (5) increase the number of women and minority employees throughout the organization; (6) implement a clear organization structure with clear lines of authority; (7) expand and empower the organization’s in-house human resources and legal departments; (8) create a formal onboarding process for new hires and a program for regular performance reviews and exit interviews for departing employees; (9) assign an HR employee to the cheerleading squad or coed dance team; (10) retain an independent consultant to conduct an annual assessment of employment policies. The WFT must report once it has implemented each step to the league office. The league office must also receive a report of any complaints and all the results of the surveys.
Wilkinson’s report was not released to the public.
October 8, 2021:
After the Washington Football Team investigation results were announced, it was reported that the NFL was made aware of 650,000 emails that raised issues beyond the WFT investigation. NFL executives are reviewing all of these emails. In these emails, it was discovered that Jon Gruden, coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, used a racial trope to describe NFLPA Chief DeMaurice Smith in a 2011 email. Mark Davis, the Raiders owner, said the content of the email is “disturbing and not what the Raiders stand for.”
October 12, 2021:
Gruden resigns as Raiders head coach after more emails are leaked revealing homophobic and misogynistic language. Many of Gruden’s emails were sent to former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen, which is why they were discovered during the WFT investigation.
October 21, 2021:
Two House Democrats, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, send a letter to Roger Goodell asking that the league produce “all documents and communications obtained in connection with the investigation into the WFT, its management, its owners, and any other matter relating to or resulting from the WFT investigation” by November 4th. The two also asked Goodell why there was no written report after the investigation. They also wanted to know the details of the role of Jeff Pash, the NFL’s general counsel, in the investigation. In some of the leaked emails it was revealed that Pash had a close relationship with Bruce Allen.
October 26, 2021:
Former employees, Melanie Coburn and Ana Nunez, of the WFT show up at the NFL owners meeting, in NYC, with a letter addressed to the Social Justice Working Group (including Gayle Benson, Michael Bidwill, Arthur Blank, Jimmy Haslam and Shadhid Khan). The letter was signed by 12 former employees. The letter states, “We write to you as members of the NFL’s Social Justice Working Group to ask that during the NFL owners’ meeting this week, you push the NFL to make public the findings of the investigation in the Washington Football Team (“WFT”).” The letter continued to state “Now is the time for the NFL to change course and take action to denounce past racist, sexist and homophobic conduct. The first step in doing so is transparency.”
Goodell in a press conference on Tuesday night stated that the NFL will not release its findings from the investigation of the WFT.
October 27, 2021:
Raiders owner Mark Davis said the team should have been informed sooner about the emails. According to The Athletic “Davis also said seeing a written report on the WFT investigation was not his focus but ‘absolutely, I believe somebody should be looking at this. The league feels that it’s been looked at, they claim that nobody said anything… they’ve seen all the emails, they’ve seen everything, we have not.”