WASHINGTON — The NFL is taking center stage on Capitol Hill, as D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton says the House Oversight Committee is "very likely" to hold hearings regarding the Washington Football Team (WFT) and the league's response to allegations made against the team.
Officials from the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy announced Thursday that an investigation was being launched into the NFL's handling of allegations that WFT had fostered a "hostile workplace culture" for years.
WFT, which is valued in the billions, was fined $10 million by the NFL and owner Dan Snyder stepped away from day-to-day operations for a period of months after an independent investigation found the organization’s workplace “highly unprofessional," especially for women. But to date, no written report of its findings has been released.
"I think you can you can expect a hearing and I say that as someone who's been on this committee for a long time," Del. Norton, who sits on the House Oversight Committee, said. "It shows you the importance of what we have learned that we have announced an investigation even before the hearing itself has been announced."
Norton said the NFL has two weeks to turn over all information and documents related to their investigation into the Washington Football Team and its culture.
Failing to comply with Congress' request could be a "dangerous" move for the NFL, according to Norton.
"That's very dangerous," she said. "We can take him to court or we can go to the House floor to get the documents."
The investigation, commissioner by the club amid allegations from employees and taken over by the league, revealed that ownership and senior officials paid little attention to sexual harassment and other workplace issues. NFL special counsel for investigations Lisa Friel described it as a culture of fear.
“The NFL has one of the most prominent platforms in America, and its decisions can have national implications,” the Chairs wrote. “The NFL’s lack of transparency about the problems it recently uncovered raises questions about the seriousness with which it has addressed bigotry, racism, sexism, and homophobia — setting a troubling precedent for other workplaces. The Committee is seeking to fully understand this workplace conduct and the league’s response, which will help inform legislative efforts to address toxic work environments and workplace investigation processes; strengthen protections for women in the workplace; and address the use of nondisclosure agreements to prevent the disclosure of unlawful employment practices, including sexual harassment. We hope and trust that the NFL shares the Committee’s goal of protecting American workers from harassment and discrimination.”
Lawyers representing 40 former Washington employees slammed the NFL for choosing to protect Snyder and ignoring requests to make the report public, calling the fine “pocket change.”
“This is truly outrageous and is a slap in the face to the hundreds of women and former employees who came forward in good faith and at great personal risk to report a culture of abuse at all levels of the team, including by Snyder himself,” lawyers Lisa Banks and Debra Katz said in a statement. “The NFL has effectively told survivors in this country and around the world that it does not care about them or credit their experiences.”
Of the 40 former employees that were part of the investigation, 10 recently signed a petition sent to six of the NFL's top sponsors to demand transparency into the investigation conducted by attorney Beth Wilkinson following allegations of sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct.
The petition, released by the lawyers of Katz, Marshall & Banks, calls on the CEO's of Verizon, Anheuser-Busch, Amazon, Pepsi, Nike and Procter and Gamble to "step in and join the demands for transparency and accountability for these brave former employees of the WFT."
"Until a written report is conveyed to the NFL and made public we will not know the extent of the harm that occurred, or the reasons this culture was allowed to fester for so long," the petition says. "As corporations that care about women and equity, both inside and outside the workplace, and with consumers and shareholders who expect you to uphold these values, you should not be party to the efforts of the NFL to obfuscate the truth and to deny validation to so many brave women and men who came forward in the hope that the NFL would take action to right a clear wrong."
The petition came after some of the emails leaked between former NFL coach Jon Gruden and former Washington Football Team President Bruce Allen shed light on sexual misconduct within the team. According to the New York Times, the two exchanged emails with photos of women wearing only bikini bottoms, including one photo of two Washington cheerleaders. The emails were gathered as part of the investigation into WFT's workplace culture.
Reports allege that Gruden used racist, misogynistic and homophobic language directed at union chief DeMaurice Smith, Commissioner Roger Goodell and others in and around the NFL in written exchanges with former Washington executive Bruce Allen between 2011-2018, while he was an ESPN analyst between coaching jobs.
"All we wanted all along was transparency and accountability," said Melanie Coburn, a former WFT cheerleader and the team's former marketing director. "That's all we asked for from the beginning."
The Washington Football Team has repeatedly declined to comment to WUSA9 on this matter.