- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 1, 2021

Dan Snyder will lose control of the day-to-day operations of the Washington Football Team for “several months” and will have to pay a $10 million fine as part of the penalty the NFL handed down Thursday after a league review of sexual harassment claims made by 40 women against the billionaire owner and former executives in his organization. 

The owner’s wife, Tanya Snyder, will take over the daily responsibilities of the club, after she was named co-CEO on Tuesday. The league took action after District-based attorney Beth Wilkinson wrapped up an investigation that began last summer. Ms. Wilkinson‘s probe of the charges, made by women who said they were sexually harassed while working for the franchise, unearthed a “highly unprofessional” working environment, in which bullying and intimidation were the norm.

NFL officials said on a conference call that Ms. Wilkinson did not make any specific recommendations regarding punishment to Commissioner Roger Goodell, who chose not to suspend the owner. The league said Mr. Snyder’s decision to take a step back was “voluntary” and will last at least through the NFL owners meetings in the fall.

“It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: The culture of the club was very toxic and fell far short of the NFL’s values,” said Lisa Friel, the NFL’s special counsel of investigations. “We hold ownership to a higher standard, which is why [Thursday’s] announcement is not only about accountability for the past but also ensuring the improvements already underway at the club continue in the future.”

The investigation, which included interviews with more than 150 people, found ownership and senior management “paid little or no attention to these issues” of sexual harassment and bullying. It noted that there were times the senior executives themselves engaged in inappropriate conduct — including the use of demeaning language and public embarrassment.

The environment was especially challenging for women, according to the investigation. The money from the $10 million fine will be donated to organizations committed to character development, healthy relationships and anti-bullying initiatives.

Mr. Snyder was not suspended, nor will the football team lose draft picks over the conduct. But the franchise must strive to make organizational changes to its workplace culture, with the first report due July 31. The club will have semi-annual progress reports due through July 31, 2023.

In those semi-annual reports, Washington must show the progress made toward implementing each of Ms. Wilkinson’s workplace recommendations. Also, the team must include all results from surveys given out to staff members, as well as any complaints made — be it from an exit interview or while an employee is still with the team — regarding potential workplace issues.

Should Washington fail to supply that material during the semi-annual reports, the NFL has the authority to extend the reporting period or hand down another form of discipline.

Mr. Snyder, who was interviewed by Ms. Wilkinson twice for the investigation, said in a statement he accepts the league’s recommendations and apologized for the team’s conduct.

“I have learned a lot in the past few months about how my club operated, and the kind of workplace that we had,” Mr. Snyder said. “It is now clear that the culture was not what it should be, but I did not realize the extent of the problems, or my role in allowing that culture to develop and continue. I know that as the owner, I am ultimately responsible for the workplace. I have said that and I say it again.”

Ms. Wilkinson was not tasked with specifically confirming or rejecting any specific allegation, Ms. Friel said — including those made against Mr. Snyder. In a Washington Post article last August, Mr. Snyder was accused of ordering the creation of lewd videotapes based on outtakes from cheerleading shoots in 2008 and 2010, as well as propositioning a cheerleader to “go upstairs” to a hotel room with one of his friends.

Ms. Friel said that no written report was actually created by Ms. Wilkinson, who gave “a series of oral reports” to Mr. Goodell. That came in stark contrast to previous high-profile NFL investigations, including an infamous 243-page report on “Deflategate” — a football air pressure scandal that involved quarterback Tom Brady — and a 96-page report on running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence incident.

“We felt it was best (there was no formal documentation) due to the sensitivity of the allegations, the request for confidentiality, which includes by a number of people, a confidentiality, even reporting into the league office, their names,” Ms. Friel said. “Some of the specifics of allegations would have given away who people were. And so I think the commissioner was extremely concerned about respecting all these people’s requests for confidentiality.”

The failure to compile a written report was met with criticism from the attorneys who represented more than the 40 women who said they were sexually harassed while with the team.

Lisa Banks and Debra Katz said the NFL “effectively told” survivors of sexual harassment and assault that the league doesn’t care about them.

“The NFL has chosen to protect owner Dan Snyder,” Ms. Banks and Ms. Katz said. “Ignoring our requests that it make the report prepared by Beth Wilkinson public, the NFL has chosen instead to receive only an oral report of the findings and to fine owner Dan Snyder what amounts to 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.”

The Wilkinson findings featured several recommendations for the football team to implement, the first of which is developing a formal protocol for reporting allegations of harassment and misconduct in a confidential manner, without any fear of retaliation. The protocols should be available to all employees, and a third party should be used to monitor a secure email site for reports of misconduct.

The protocols should also extend to formal disciplinary measures, with an emphasis on executives and supervisors addressing misconduct through a formal report. Should they not report misconduct, disciplinary action would be involved.

The franchise must hold regular training sessions for employees on bullying, harassment and diversity and inclusion, while regular, anonymous culture surveys are mandatory to assess the progress in Washington.

The investigation noted that Mr. and Mrs. Snyder began making organizational changes near the end of the 2019 season in response to what they realized was a “deficient” workplace culture. That included hiring coach Ron Rivera and replacing several top executives. Ms. Wilkinson noted that hiring team President Jason Wright was another strong move.

But the investigation still found a need for a more diverse workforce, increasing the number of women and minorities in decision-making roles while also establishing clear lines of authority.

The investigation calls for Washington to expand and grant more power to the in-house human resources and legal departments to give those departments greater ability to investigate and address allegations of misconduct without interference from team executives.

Washington replaced its cheerleading squad with a gender-neutral dance team in March for the upcoming season, a month after the team reached a settlement with former cheerleaders who appeared in lewd videos without their knowledge or consent in 2008 and 2010.

Ms. Wilkinson’s recommendation includes extending human resource access to the cheerleading team, whether it reverts to its earlier form or remains a gender-neutral dance team.

Finally, Ms. Wilkinson’s investigation recommends the football team retain an independent professional consultant — chosen by the club but approved by the league — to ensure Washington’s workplace culture establishes and retains best practices. The league would have full access to the consultant.

While Mrs. Snyder runs the day-to-day operations of the franchise, representing the club at league meetings for “at least the next several months,” Mr. Snyder will still play a role for the team. He’ll concentrate on a new stadium plan, the NFL’s release said, along with “other matters.”

Legal experts previously said Mr. Snyder was unlikely to be suspended for the accusations, barring something unforeseen. The NFL’s bylaws give the league power to force a sale of a team if found “guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the league or professional football” — but that clause has never been invoked.

The $10 million fine was significantly more than the $2.75 million issued to former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson in 2017 in wake of sexual misconduct allegations that caused Mr. Richardson to voluntarily sell the team.

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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

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