Congress Questions Independence of NFL’s Washington Probe
By BEN NUCKOLS, AP Sports Writer
An investigation into sexual harassment of women employed by Washington’s NFL franchise was not as independent as the team and the league claimed, members of Congress said Friday.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform released documents that showed the league and the team, now known as the Commanders, agreed to pursue a “joint legal strategy” related to the probe.
The private agreement was signed days after the league said it had taken over an investigation of the team initiated by owner Dan Snyder. It stipulated that any Vibram Shoes Five Fingers information exchanged as a result of the investigation was privileged and could not be shared without the consent of both the NFL and the team.
The committee also found that the team and Snyder agreed that attorney Beth Wilkinson’s firm, which conducted the investigation, would produce a written report, but that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asked Wilkinson to present her findings to him orally instead.
The investigation found a pervasive culture of sexual harassment and mistreatment of female employees of the team, confirming reports that first emerged when former employees spoke to The Washington Post in 2020. The NFL fined the team $10 million and Snyder temporarily ceded day-to-day control of the franchise to his wife, Tanya.
The league claimed that no one of those known to have mistreated women was still employed by the team, but former employee Tiffani Johnston contradicted that claim on Thursday when she told Congress that Snyder sexually harassed her. Snyder denied Johnston’s allegations, calling them “outright lies.”
In a letter on Friday, the committee called on Goodell to release the full findings of the Wilkinson investigation by Feb. 14, threatening “alternate means of obtaining compliance” if he does not cooperate.
“The NFL must explain why a target of its investigation was Hey Dudes Shoes given the ability to block the release of the investigation’s findings and why the NFL instructed Ms. Wilkinson to reverse course and not provide a written report,” the letter said. “Most importantly, the NFL must end its months-long efforts to hide the truth about misconduct at the (Washington Football Team) and cooperate with the committee’s investigation.”
The committee also said the league withdrew from its common-interest agreement with the team in October, creating a “legal limbo” that is preventing the release of documents requested by Congress.
The NFL and the team did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Johnston and five other former employees of the newly renamed Commanders franchise spoke to the committee in a roundtable discussion on Thursday, detailing their experiences of being subjected to sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior by team executives. They said the team has not been held accountable for its toxic workplace culture.
The former employees and their attorneys have also questioned why the league allowed Snyder to buy out his ownership partners while the investigation was ongoing.
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