In a move that has sent shock waves through NFL circles, two Democratic members of Congress sent a letter late on Thursday to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling on the league to provide Congress with the results of its internal investigation into the Washington Football Team’s workplace culture of toxic, predatory sexism.
The treatment of women workers, including the team’s cheerleaders, as extensively documented by The Washington Post, was supposed to be central to the inquiry. But the results of this investigation, which people have been waiting on for many months, looked disturbingly likely never to see the light of day. Once again, it seemed that scandal-ravaged, incompetent franchise owner Daniel Snyder—easily the most reviled man in Washington, now that a certain orange somebody is no longer in town—was going to skate.
Yet, last week, out of the 650,000 e-mails being reviewed for the investigation, a small handful were leaked showing Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden regaling former Washington team president Bruce Allen with all kinds of racist, sexist, and homophobic dreck over the course of seven years (starting when Gruden was the Monday Night Football announcer on ESPN). Outrage ensued, and Gruden was bounced from his lucrative coaching job. And still, questions lingered: Who was responsible for the leaks, and why has the only tangible result of this investigation been the punishment of a coach with no connection to the team?
It was all very curious, and the most popular theory being bandied about was that Dan Snyder—or someone close to Snyder—leaked the e-mails to both distract attention from himself and spotlight Allen as the real culprit in this stew of predatory sexism. Yet, if that were in fact the plan, it is now looking about as clever as one of Snyder’s countless failed coaching hires. There is now a greater appetite for not only the investigation’s conclusions but also the release of all the 650,000 e-mails so there can be a true exposure of all the bigotry that lurks in the NFL behind closed doors. They could provide precious insight into not only the Washington scandal but also perhaps into why there are so few Black executives and whether there was collusion enacted to keep a team from signing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The two members of Congress, Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Raja Krishnamoorthi now want the league to deliver its investigation to them by November 4. In a five-page letter to Goodell and the league they wrote, “We have serious concerns about what appears to be widespread abusive workplace conduct at the WFT and about the NFL’s handling of this matter. Communications between league management and WFT leadership also raise questions about the league’s asserted impartiality in these investigations…. The NFL’s lack of transparency about the problems it recently uncovered raise questions about the seriousness with which it has addressed bigotry, racism, sexism, and homophobia—setting troubling precedent for other workplaces.”
Their ask also comes on the heels of the demand by 10 former employees of the club that multiple sponsors, including Nike and Amazon, press the NFL for detailed findings of the investigation. In other words, if whoever leaked those e-mails was hoping to deflect attention away from the Washington Football Team, the results have been quite different. After a week of furious coverage about Gruden, the leak has refocused eyes on the investigation itself and why the promised results have been under lock and key.
I reached out to Emily Applegate, a former marketing coordinator with the WFT who has been the central whistleblower about the team’s culture and the public face of the many former and current employees who have spoken out yet fear reprisal. Applegate said about the news of congressional intervention, “I’m ecstatic! This is exactly the support we need to get the commissioner to release the report. We’ve been working hard for months to get answers from the NFL and it’s exciting to see we’re getting close.” I asked her if she thought that the other 649,990 e-mails should be released, and she said, “Absolutely. Those few e-mails show a very small portion of the workplace culture there. I have no doubt there’s plenty more to learn from the rest.”
I also spoke over the weekend to former Green Bay Packers executive Andrew Brandt, who talked about how in NFL franchise ownership circles there is “an in group and an out group” and Dan Snyder is definitely in the “in group,” but if this gets too public, particularly if Snyder played a role in perpetuating the team’s toxic culture, then the long-standing wishes of the Washington Football Team faithful could finally be fulfilled and Snyder would be forced to sell the languishing, once-proud franchise that he has spent over 20 years running into the ground. If that day does come to pass, it will hopefully be remembered that it was whistleblowers like Emily Applegate who brought down a seemingly untouchable billionaire by performing the radical and courageous act of risking the public glare and telling the truth.