Ana Nunez and Melanie Coburn probably weren’t even back to D.C. before Roger Goodell was at a podium, telling the football-watching world that protecting the anonymity of accusers like them is the reason why the league isn’t making public the findings of an investigation into the Washington Football Team that cost eight figures and took almost a year to complete.
Nunez and Coburn—the former having worked for the team in sales, the latter as a cheerleader and then in marketing—took the train from Washington to New York earlier in the day Tuesday to plead, again, for the league to lift the curtain on what Beth Wilkinson, the former federal prosecutor hired to run the investigation, found over her 11-plus months on the job. They asked for transparency in a letter they delivered to owners. They asked for it again talking with reporters on hand for the league’s fall meeting at a posh midtown hotel.
They probably knew, deep down, that the ask was always going to be ignored.
Mostly because everyone knows. This is how the NFL does business.
We’ve been over this point before, but the double standard is obvious. We got 243 pages on Tom Brady and Deflategate. We got 144 pages on Richie Incognito and Bullygate. We got 96 pages on Ray Rice. Anyone with Wi-Fi and Google can find those reports readily.
Meanwhile, we got zero from the league on Jim Irsay in 2014, on Jerry Richardson in ’18 or on Robert Kraft in ’20. In each case, the media or the authorities brought the facts to light, there was no follow-up investigation from the league and only Irsay was actually sanctioned by 345 Park.
In this case, the NFL did do an investigation, so give them credit for that. Yet, when it was time for accountability, the NFL assessed Dan Snyder a mealy-mouthed kind-of-but-kind-of-not suspension that has been enforced so strongly that Snyder hasn’t missed a single game—he’s front and center in the suite every week—and worded a $10 million fine to be clear that it was the team, not Snyder himself, being punished.
Coburn said Tuesday that if a written report were issued, she believes it would reveal “serial sexual harassment [and] serial sexual assault.” Which, of course, would be a problem, only it’s a problem Snyder will probably never be held accountable for.
And after that, Snyder’s response, through lawyers and PR people, has been to get his back up over anyone thinking he was suspended or not still in control of the team, which hardly would give anyone the impression that he’s a man who’s learned any sort of lesson. Or has done any sort of reflection over what he did wrong. Or even has a hint of self-awareness.
Of course, he doesn’t. So there was Goodell on Wednesday, holding the bag for Snyder, who hasn’t made himself available to face the music, just like Snyder's wife Tanya held the bag for him over the summer. Unsurprisingly neither even remotely pointed the finger at the Washington owner. And the reason why links right back to why Nunez and Coburn said they believe they still haven’t gotten an apology from anyone involved in the case—because such contrition to the accusers or through others would be an admission of guilt.
Because of all the things that have happened, being held personally responsible is the one thing we know that Snyder won’t stand for.
Some have asked how other owners could stand for Snyder’s driving the brand of one of the NFL’s flagship franchises into the ground relentlessly for two decades and making them all look bad over the course of the last year. The answer to that one is simple: Everyone has skeletons. No one wants the precedent set of the league’s having license to take an owner’s team away.
Trust me on this: It’s definitely not that the other people in that room like, or even respect, Snyder very much. More so, it’s what taking action on him will mean for everyone.
Four years ago, Richardson did the league a favor in a toxic workplace situation not wholly unlike Washington’s by stepping aside on his own volition, basically conceding that he’d brought a bad situation on to everyone else, and that it was best that he sell the team.
Snyder was never going to be that guy. That’s what left Goodell to stand there and basically say the league was protecting the women promised anonymity by not releasing a Brady- or Incognito-style report, when there were women involved literally asking for the opposite, representing a larger group of women wanting the same, five hours earlier and 50 yards away. That’s what’s left Ron Rivera and others to speak for Snyder over the last year. It’s what’s made this a situation that the league is going to have to continue to reckon with.
So what can everyone take away from this unseemly situation?
In the NFL, the guys who write the checks write the rules, too. And those rules are always subject to change.
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