NFL commissioner Roger Goodell testified for hours Wednesday morning before the Oversight and Reform Committee of the House of Representatives. The committee is exploring the alleged misconduct of Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder and the NFL team’s extensive history of workplace and sexual harassment and human resources issues that triggered widespread complaints from cheerleaders and other female employees.
Roger Goodell testifies about Commanders/Daniel Snyder’s history of ‘toxic’ workplace culture
Goodell didn’t deny the past existence of significant problems, characterizing the NFC East franchise’s environment as “unprofessional and unacceptable” and “toxic” while adding that he is confident “the workplace at the Commanders today bears no resemblance to the workplace that has been described to this committee.”
Goodell acknowledged it was extremely bad, saying, “I have not seen a workplace in the NFL that is anywhere near what we saw in the context of that period of time for the Washington Commanders.”
Goodell’s virtual presence from New York was performed voluntarily. Goodell was peppered with questions for hours by Congress with the conversation veering away from Snyder’s misconduct, including an allegation he committed a sexual assault on a private jet in 2009, to extraneous issues such as Deflategate, Jack Del Rio being fined $100,000 by Ron Rivera for his comments on the Jan. 6 insurrection, Barstool’s Dave Portnoy not being credentialed by the league, and other unrelated issues such as inflation, gasoline prices, tampon shortages, and racism that crossed political party lines.
Committee to subpoena Daniel Snyder to testify
Snyder did not comply with a request to testify as he was in France on business.
That prompted Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the committee chair, to state that she will issue a subpoena for Snyder to appear next week.
“The Committee will not be deterred in its investigation to uncover the truth of workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders,” Maloney said. “Mr. Snyder has not been held accountable. His refusal to testify sends a clear message that he is more concerned about protecting himself than coming clean with the American people. If the NFL is unwilling or unable to hold Mr. Snyder accountable, then I am prepared to do so.
“The NFL is unwilling or unable to hold Mr. Snyder accountable. That is why I am announcing now my intent to issue a subpoena for Mr. Snyder for a deposition next week. The committee will not be deterred in its investigation into the Washington Commanders.”
Goodell was asked if he feels Snyder has been held accountable for Commanders’ workplace conduct issues. He stated, “I do,” reiterating that dramatic changes have been enacted by the team to improve and prevent further workplace issues.
When Goodell was asked if he will remove Snyder from ownership, he replied accurately that he doesn’t hold that authority.
The question was posed by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan): “Will you remove him?”
“I don’t have the authority to remove him, Congresswoman,” Goodell said.
It takes a majority three-quarters vote (24 of 32 owners) to remove an owner. Goodell does have the ability to officially recommend a vote.
Goodell was pressed on whether Snyder will be held accountable for not voluntarily appearing before the committee.
“I do not have any responsibility for whether he appears before Congress,” Goodell said.
Snyder, widely criticized for overseeing an organization rife with scandals, cited business issues as to why he didn’t attend.
“Apparently, Mr. Snyder is in France, where he has docked his luxury yacht near a resort town,” Maloney said. “That should tell you just how much respect he has for women in the workplace.”
Former Washington safety Su’a Cravens rips Snyder
Su’a Cravens wrote on Twitter that he hopes Snyder is held accountable for his actions:
“I can’t wait until this poor excuse for a human being is forced to sell his team! He’s ruined so many careers and made life difficult for so many that did no wrong. Karma really comes full circle. The funds of the wicked will be transferred to the righteous!”
I can’t wait until this poor excuse for a human being is forced to sell his team! He’s ruined so many careers and made life difficult for so many that did no wrong. Karma really comes full circle. The funds of the wicked will be transferred to the righteous! https://t.co/foxm1ye2rt
— Su’a (@iammsuzy) June 22, 2022
Goodell was explicitly asked if Snyder notified him that a woman accused him of harassment that led to a payment of $1.6 million, and he said, “I don’t recall.”
Goodell affirmed that a failure to notify would violate the NFL personal conduct policy. Goodell was asked multiple questions about why the Beth Wilkinson investigation wasn’t published in a written report, as other workplace investigations, including the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, were, and he repeatedly cited the privacy of cooperating witnesses. When asked why that was the case when many witnesses have spoken publicly, Goodell didn’t have much of an answer.
Several times, Goodell pointed out that Mary Jo White is currently conducting an investigation into the Commanders, and the findings will be made public.
Past reports regarding Snyder and the team’s conduct
Prior to the hearing, the committee released a report alleging that Snyder conducted a “shadow investigation” about the allegations with the Commanders.
In the 29-page memo, the Oversight Committee cited an eight-month investigation where Snyder investigated whistle-blowers and journalists to determine who were sources for Washington Post articles and sought to blame former team president Bruce Allen for the workplace issues.
The memo noted how Snyder used a common-interest legal agreement from the team and the league to provide “derogatory information” about cooperating sources.
The memo noted how Snyder filed a defamation lawsuit against an India-based website to obtain phone records, emails, and other documents.
“A close examination of Mr. Snyder’s [petitions] suggests that his focus was not on discovering the sources of the MEAWW articles but on those who were behind the Washington Post exposés,” the memo stated. It further added these efforts “may be less of a bona fide effort to obtain evidence supportive of the claims in the Indian Action, than they are an effort to burden and harass individuals formerly associated with the Washington Football Team who may have acted as sources for The Washington Post.”
Committee: Snyder ‘sexualized’ cheerleaders
The committee reached the conclusion that Snyder “sexualized” the cheerleaders and ordered the firing of two cheerleaders for having “romantic relationships” with former tight end Chris Cooley.
“The female employees were fired, the male employee was — there were no repercussions other than he was restricted from additional sex with the cheerleaders,” the deposition stated. “Snyder’s decision was part of a pattern of firing female employees who engaged in consensual sexual relationships with male members of the team’s football operations in order to ‘minimize distractions, temptations for players.'”
Additionally, former personnel executive Alex Santos was fired for sexually harassing female employees and reporters who covered the team. Former Commanders broadcaster and executive Larry Michael was caught on video making inappropriate comments and had been accused of multiple instances of sexual misconduct. He resigned from his job after the Washington Post reported the allegations.
Goodell sees positive changes
Prior to his appearance, Goodell read in its entirety a six-page statement that cited the problems with the Commanders and the improvements he has seen, including new policies and hiring Jason Wright as team president to replace Allen.
“Let me start by expressing my gratitude to the men and women who shared their experiences during the investigation, and to Beth Wilkinson and her team, who did their work with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism,” Goodell said.
“It required substantial courage for many to relive their painful experiences and tell their individual stories. No one should experience workplaces like the one they described, especially not in the National Football League. I can say to every victim unequivocally that their willingness to come forward has contributed to a substantially improved workplace. It is clear to me that the workplace in Washington was unprofessional and unacceptable in numerous respects: bullying, widespread disrespect toward colleagues, use of demeaning language, public embarrassment, and harassment.
“Moreover, for a prolonged period of time the Commanders had a woefully deficient HR function, particularly with respect to reporting practices and recordkeeping. As a result, we imposed unprecedented discipline on the club – monetary penalties of well over $10 million, and requirements that the club implement a series of recommendations and allow an outside firm to conduct regular reviews of their workplace.
“In addition, for the past year, Daniel Snyder has not attended League or committee meetings, and to the best of my knowledge, has not been involved in day-to-day operations at the Commanders. The cheerleader program has been entirely revamped and is now a co-ed dance team under new leadership.
“And the most recent independent workplace report, which we have shared with the committee, confirms that an entirely new, highly-skilled, and diverse management team is in place and that there has been a ‘substantial transformation of [the team’s] culture, leadership, and Human Resources practices.’ To be clear – the workplace at the Commanders today bears no resemblance to the workplace that has been described to this committee.”
As for the confidentiality issues Goodell repeatedly cited, he stated:
“We did not receive a written report of Ms. Wilkinson’s findings for compelling reasons that continue to this day,” Goodell said. “A critical element of any workplace review is broad participation by both current and former employees. Encouraging employees to come forward and share their experiences, which were frequently painful and emotional was essential to identifying both the organization’s failures and how to fix them. To encourage this participation, Ms. Wilkinson promised confidentiality to any current or former employee.
“For this reason, shortly after we assumed oversight of Ms. Wilkinson’s work, we determined that a comprehensive oral briefing would best allow us to receive the information necessary both to evaluate the workplace as it was, and to ensure that the team put in place the policies and processes to reform that workplace — all while preserving the confidentiality of those who participated in the investigation.
“Oral reports are often used by the NFL and other organizations in conducting internal investigations and for other issues. If appropriate, we will make public a summary of the key findings, as we did here. We have been open and direct about the fact that the workplace culture at the Commanders was not only unprofessional but toxic for far too long.
“I am aware that some victims, including those who appeared before this committee, each of whom was invited to participate in Beth Wilkinson’s investigation, have chosen to share their experiences publicly and I fully respect that choice. Many others made a different choice and it is my responsibility to honor the commitment to protect their confidentiality.”
Ron Rivera sees progress
Goodell’s stance criticized
Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who are the attorneys representing over 40 former Washington Commanders employees, took exception to Goodell’s remarks before the committee.
They issued a statement highly critical of Goodell’s stance.
“Today it was stunning and disheartening to listen to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell insist that Dan Snyder and the Washington Commanders have been held fully accountable for the team’s two-decades long sexual harassment of female employees,” the statement said. “This, of course, is not true. Today the Committee released a damning report demonstrating that Snyder and his lawyers also surveilled and investigated complainants, their lawyers, witnesses and journalists, which Goodell knew about and did nothing to address.
“In his inexplicable and apparently unending desire to protect Dan Snyder, Goodell continues his refusal to release the findings by Beth Wilkinson citing reasons that do not withstand even minimal scrutiny. Confidentiality can be protected in a written report by redacting the names of witnesses, which is common practice, including by the NFL.
“The NFL issued a written report and protected promised confidentiality in 2014 when it investigated sexual harassment in the Miami Dolphins organization. And most recently, the NFL has directed Mary Jo White to interview numerous witnesses, promise them confidentiality, and produce a written report that honors that promise. It was made clear at today’s hearing that the NFL could have done the same with the Wilkinson investigation, except for the continued reluctance of Mr. Goodell to expose the full extent of the wrongdoing by Dan Snyder and the Washington Commanders.
“To be clear, our clients want and deserve a full accounting of Beth Wilkinson’s findings. Until he agrees to release such findings, Mr. Goodell’s purported concern for the employees who suffered through 20 years of harassment and abuse is a sham.”
Several Republican committee members, including James Comer of Kentucky, took issue with Congress investigating the NFL, a private business.
It got heated.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) asked Maloney, “What is the purpose of continuing this?” as she banged the gavel calling for order.
His loud reply: “You can bang the gavel all you want, I don’t care.”