Growing up in Maryland, I was raised as a fan of the team now called the Washington Football Team, and my parents have pictures of me as a baby in a burgundy-and-gold onesie. We watched games at family gatherings, and I know what it’s like to have that one uncle root for the Cowboys. When I started working for the team as an intern in 2010, and then full time in 2011, it felt like a dream come true.
But my eight years working for Washington in my 20s were excruciating, full of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. I wasn’t the only one: Dozens of women who worked for the WFT came forward beginning in the summer of 2020 to tell our stories about the team’s toxic culture. The National Football League directed team owner Dan Snyder to investigate, and then the league took over. Beth Wilkinson, a respected former federal prosecutor and white-collar litigator, led the inquiry. I wound up speaking with members of her team for three hours. They seemed serious and diligent, and dedicated to uncovering any wrongdoing in the franchise.
Yet now that Wilkinson’s investigation is over, league officials have decided to protect the team and Snyder rather than release a report on what she found at the team’s headquarters. Worse, they’re claiming they’re doing it to shelter us. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in October that the league is satisfied that the WFT has been held accountable and that “steps were put in place to make sure that it does not happen again,” and that Wilkinson’s findings should be kept secret to guarantee privacy and anonymity for women like me. “We’re very conscious of making sure that we’re protecting those that came forward,” he said. “They were incredibly brave, incredibly open, and we respect the pain that they probably went through all over again to come forward.”
Yes, some of us who participated in the investigation wanted privacy. But Goodell’s claim that the NFL cannot produce a written report without jeopardizing witness confidentiality is simply incorrect. The report could omit or redact the names of witnesses and remove identifying details. The league is simply choosing not to release one.
Without seeing a report, we do not know the extent of the wrongdoing, who was responsible, and what actions Wilkinson recommended to remedy the WFT’s culture of sexual harassment. That means fans and former employees lack transparency not only about how bad the problem was but also about whether the actions the NFL has taken are enough to force change.
My story is similar to what so many other women went through while working for the team. As I told Wilkinson’s investigators, I was sexually harassed starting in my first year there. When I started I was only 22, a new graduate from the University of Maryland, working as a customer service representative. There was no way to avoid the team’s culture of rampant harassment — at FedEx Field, at the practice and office facility then known as Redskins Park, at the preseason training camp in Richmond, or at off-site gatherings such as rallies, dinners and client events. It was everywhere and anywhere there was a team executive.
At off-site events, I hid behind colleagues or strategically sat between them to try to avoid unwanted attention from team executives, who would make remarks about my appearance and outfits, comment on how I looked when I walked in heels, or plant kisses on my cheek — to start. I reported this harassment to my boss, and to other team executives and lawyers, but no one did anything to stop it. Those who tried, like Brian Lafemina, the team’s former president of business operations, were fired. Many women working for the team treated sexual harassment like a running joke or a rite of passage. In 2011, when I was under consideration for a promotion, the woman who was vacating the job told me that the man I would report to called her fat every day. She was thinner than I was. I passed up even an interview for that role.
During my tenure, the team participated in some annual league-mandated trainings about sexual harassment but brought in a third-party company for additional training only once, in 2018, at Lafemina’s request. The league-mandated meetings were geared more toward players than executives; they seemed to me to be essentially an apology tour for the NFL’s handling of abusive and reckless behavior by former players at other clubs. The lack of resources and training for employees was and is part of the larger failure to create a safe work environment, instead of the toxic and hostile environment I endured for eight years.
In July 2020, when the team’s investigation launched, I was cautiously optimistic that it might result in clear, documented steps for Snyder to change the workplace environment at his club, and steps for the NFL to take to ensure it would never happen again at any team. After meeting with Wilkinson’s investigators, I believed they genuinely wanted to uncover any and all information about the club’s culture. They made it clear that anything I spoke about would not be traced back to me, that what I said was confidential and that my name would be removed from a written report or notes from interviews. Team officials would not know who had described certain experiences or made specific comments, and that gave me confidence to be completely honest and forthcoming. I knew that some colleagues didn’t want to come forward for fear it would jeopardize their careers, because they felt intimidated by Snyder’s private investigators — or because of a general lack of confidence in the investigation since the team was paying the league back for Wilkinson’s fee, which set up a conflict of interest, or at least the appearance of one. (The concern about a conflict of interest only worsened when the NFL unanimously approved Snyder’s buyout of his minority partners’ shares, allowing him to own 100 percent of the team before the investigation was over.)
I waited months for the investigation to conclude — months of reliving trauma and having many, many tearful conversations with family and friends. Finally, the league made its decision: It was giving Snyder a pass. The team, not Snyder, was fined $10 million, which amounts to a parking ticket for an organization worth billions. Snyder stepped back from daily operations and named his wife, Tanya Snyder, as co-chief executive. Worse, there would be no written report — the league didn’t ask for one, ostensibly to protect people like me.
To endure all of this — to come forward to share a terrible experience, to seek change at a place that so desperately needs it and to have it go nowhere — left me heartbroken and discouraged. Goodell and the NFL have essentially buried more than 20 years of information, and they’ve demonstrated to survivors and women everywhere that they don’t care about us and that the harm we suffered doesn’t matter.
Publicly releasing the investigation’s findings would be a first step in regaining trust from WFT fans — showing that the league will step in when a franchise is in disarray. It would also signal that the NFL is willing to be a change agent for industry-wide standards on workplace culture and values. Releasing a written report would be just the starting point, though. The actions taken next would indicate whether the NFL can adhere to its core values: respect, integrity, responsibility to team and resiliency.
On behalf of the brave women and men who came forward to participate and spark change within the WFT and the NFL, I can say we deserve more than to be used as a PR shield to justify not releasing a formal report. It’s time for the NFL to let the world see Wilkinson’s findings and her recommendations for the future of the franchise.
What to know:
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Four takeaways from Washington’s season-ending win over the Giants
Terry McLaurin, a constant amid the WFT chaos, keeps finding ways to improve
• Brewer: Ron Rivera’s Washington blueprint needs a bolder vision than Carolina 2.0
Washington fans didn’t show up at FedEx Field. What will it take to lure them back?
Jalen Hurts writes to WFT, NFL asking about ‘follow-up action’ to railing collapse
Washington Football Team to reveal name on Feb. 2
Read deeper…
Daniel Snyder pledged support for the NFL’s investigation. His actions tell a different story.
Jonathan Allen just doesn’t stop
After hearing a survivor’s story, this WFT player joined her efforts against sexual violence
DEA investigation of Washington’s trainer is related to disbursement of prescription drugs
How Taylor Heinicke went from sleeping on his sister’s couch to Washington’s QB
For Jason Wright, WFT’s outsider president, the future is all about change
Why Washington dropped its mascot and became the Washington Football Team
Workplace investigations: Washington Football Team replaces cheerleaders with coed dance team | Lewd cheerleader videos, sexist rules: Ex-employees decry Washington’s workplace | Washington settled sexual misconduct claim against Daniel Snyder for $1.6 million | 15 women accuse former Washington employees of sexual harassment and verbal abuse


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