Congress launches inquiry into Washington’s toxic workplace culture and the NFL’s response

Congress has asked the NFL for the 650,000 emails collected during the investigation into the Washington Football Team's workplace culture.

On Thursday, Two prominent Congressional Democrats pressed the National Football League for greater transparency about the investigation into the Washington Football Team’s workplace culture and the league’s handling of an independent probe of the franchise, whose findings have largely remained confidential.

Congress asks NFL for Washington Football Team documents

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, announced they have sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday “requesting documents and information regarding the Washington Football Team’s (WFT) hostile workplace culture and the NFL’s handling of this matter,” with the expectation those documents will be provided by November 4.

“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 raise[s] questions about the seriousness with which it has addressed bigotry, racism, sexism, and homophobia — setting 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 non-disclosure 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.”

The National Football League responds

Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL, provided this statement to Pro Football Network:

“We have received the Chairwoman’s letter and share her concern that all workplaces should be free from any form of harassment and discrimination. We look forward to speaking to her office soon.”

Attorney Beth Wilkinson conducted 150 interviews and collected roughly 650,000 emails during her investigation into WFT’s inner dealings after a series of allegations were made against the franchise, including, in the words of the letter to the NFL, “rampant sexual harassment, a culture of verbal abuse, and surreptitious recording of female employees undressing.”

The league ultimately was briefed by Wilkinson verbally — there was no written report. On July 1, the NFL announced the conclusion of the investigation, saying “the workplace environment … particularly for women, was highly unprofessional,” that “[b]ullying and intimidation frequently took place,” and that “senior executives engaged in inappropriate conduct themselves.”

WFT owner Dan Snyder agreed to pay a $10 million fine and temporarily stepped away from the day-to-day operations of his franchise.

But that was not the end of the story. Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that within the cache of documents collected by Wilkinson was an email sent by Jon Gruden, then an analyst on Monday Night Football, to a WFT executive that included the use of a racist trope to describe NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.

Three days later, many more bigoted emails sent by Gruden were made public, forcing him to resign as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Additionally, embarrassing and potentially inappropriate correspondence between Jeff Pash, the NFL’s general counsel and executive vice president, and Bruce Allen, who was a high-ranking WFT official for a decade, has since come to light.

Despite calls to release all 650,000 emails, the NFL has demurred. That prompted Thursday’s Congressional request.

What Congress wants from the NFL

“To assist us in our review of this matter, please produce the following documents by November 4, 2021:

“1. 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;

“2. All reports or findings made in connection with investigations into the WFT, including but not limited to semi-annual reports from the WFT, and all documents and notes referring or relating to any oral reports and findings; and

“3. All NFL policies and procedures referring or relating to the use of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements by the NFL and its teams.

“The Committee also requests answers to the following questions by November 4, 2021:

“1. What reasons did the WFT provide for requesting that the NFL assume “full oversight” over Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation, and why did the NFL agree to assume this role?

“2. Please describe in detail the NFL’s role in overseeing Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation, and what changes, if any, were implemented as a result of the NFL’s role.

“3. Please describe in detail Mr. Pash’s role in the investigations described in this letter, if any.

“4. Please provide a list of all NFL employees who were involved in overseeing Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation, including their names and job titles, and describe in detail each of their roles.

“5. How often did the NFL communicate with Ms. Wilkinson or members of her team during the investigation, and how did these communications occur (e.g., by phone, email, or in person)?

“6. Who directed Ms. Wilkinson to provide the NFL oral reports and investigative findings, rather than written reports and investigative findings, and why? Please provide a list of all meetings or briefings at which Ms. Wilkinson or any member of her team provided final or preliminary findings, interim reports, or read-outs to the NFL, the dates that they occurred, and all participants.

“7. Please confirm the number of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements reported to the NFL, or entered into by the NFL, from January 1, 2016, through the present, including the names of the teams involved, dates of the agreements, and whether the agreements resulted from allegations of discrimination and retaliation.

“8. What actions has the NFL taken, if any, regarding the use of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements in matters related to workplace abuses since January 1, 2016?

“The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the principal oversight committee of the House of Representatives and has broad authority to investigate “any matter” at “any time” under House Rule X.”

Adam Beasley is the National NFL Analyst and Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.

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