- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Washington Redskins have hired a prominent District-based lawyer to probe allegations of misconduct as 15 ex-employees and two reporters accused high-ranking team officials of sexual harassment.

A Washington Post story Thursday detailed accusations against senior vice president Larry Michael, director of pro personnel Alex Santos, assistant director of pro personnel Richard Mann II and two other business executives — all of whom no longer work for the team.

Beth Wilkinson, a former Justice Department attorney who helped with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s defense against sexual assault accusations during his 2018 Senate hearings, confirmed Thursday she’s been retained by the team.

Wilkinson, 57, and her law firm Wilkinson Walsh will “do an independent review of the team’s culture, policies and allegations of workplace misconduct,” she said in a statement.

The 15 ex-employees and two reporters, including a former Washington Times sportswriter, leveling charges of harassment are all women.

The investigation comes at a tumultuous time for owner Dan Snyder as he moves, under pressure from activists and corporate partners, to change the team name that many have decried over the years as racist.

None of the five officials named in the Post story remain with the team after Santos and Mann were fired last weekend and Michael abruptly retired Wednesday. The other two — Dennis Greene and Mitch Gershman — left the organization years earlier.

Michael, a senior vice president who spent 16 years with the Redskins, was the team’s play-by-play announcer and Pro Football Hall of Fame voting member. In 2018, Michael was caught on a hot mic making comments about a college-aged intern’s appearance, and other employees made similar accusations of inappropriate behavior.

No woman directly accused Snyder himself of misconduct, but the story alleges Snyder contributed to creating a hostile workplace by openly humiliating top executives.

The 55-year-old Snyder has faced intense scrutiny lately as the team conducts an ongoing review of its name and as reports emerged that Snyder’s three minority partners are looking to sell their shares in the franchise.

Washington Times columnist Thom Loverro reported last week that minority partners Fred Smith, Dwight Schar and Robert Rothamn initially looked to persuade Snyder to sell his shares to Smith and other investors but when he refused, the trio decided they wanted out.

Other sports owners have in recent years faced consequences — sometimes severe — for improper workplace behavior.

After a monthslong investigation exposing sexual harassment in 2018, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban donated $10 million to women’s groups and the NBA created a series of mandates for the organization to follow. The Mavericks, like the Redskins, had ordered a review in light of a publication detailing allegations.

Also that year, the NFL fined Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson $2.75 million following a history of racist and sexual remarks toward employees. Allegations against Richardson first came to light in 2017, following a Sports Illustrated article and the league launched an investigation after publication.

Richardson sold the Panthers in 2018.

Wilkinson’s review won’t be the first time Washington has faced questions about workplace misconduct.

A 2018 New York Times investigation revealed allegations from former Washington cheerleaders saying that, on a team-sponsored trip to Costa Rica in 2013, they were made to pose topless for a calendar shoot in front of suite holders who were “granted up-close access” to the women. Some said they were chosen as personal escorts for some male sponsors, though none engaged in sex with the cheerleaders, and the women allegedly weren’t paid for their work.

Washington denied the claims, but Greene, who was caught up in the scandal, resigned shortly after.

The team’s headquarters in Ashburn have resembled something of a revolving door in recent years. Nearly 40 workers on the business side of the organization departed in late 2018 following the firing of former COO Brian Lafemina and a few other marketing executives.

Washington also underwent significant changes within the last year related to football matters. Everyone from coach Jay Gruden to longtime president Bruce Allen have been dismissed, and an entire new coaching staff and a reworked front office are in place.

The team replaced Gruden and Allen with coach Ron Rivera, who was hired to have additional responsibilities beyond coaching matters. With Snyder wanting a “coach-centered” approach, Rivera has emerged as the main voice for the organization — taking a prominent role in the team’s renaming process and helping craft a response to George Floyd’s death.

Upon his hiring, Rivera vowed to change the team’s culture, which Allen once defended as “damn good.”

“Biggest thing is that we have to move forward from this and make sure everybody understands we have policies that we will follow and that we have an open door policy with no retribution,” Rivera said in a statement. “Plus my daughter works for the team and I sure as hell am not going to allow any of this!
“Dan Snyder brought me here to change culture and create an environment of inclusion among employees. I believe everyone that works for this franchise has a vested interest in our success.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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