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Congressional Committee Pressures NFL to Release Washington Probe Findings

Former Commanders employees and members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform once again called for the NFL to release the findings of its probe into the franchise.

A hybrid roundtable was held on Thursday with several former employees of the franchise to discuss “workplace misconduct and the NFL’s failure to take steps to prevent sexual harassment and verbal abuse within the Washington Football Team under the leadership of owner Dan Snyder,” per an official release. It comes after many calls from the former employees and congressional members for the findings to be released. 

“When the investigation of the air pressure of Tom Brady’s football concludes with a 200 plus page report, but the investigation into two decades of sexual harassment concludes with nothing, it shows the NFL’s complete lack of respect towards women, their employees and our culture as a country," Emily Applegate, the team's former marketing coordinator and ticket sales representative, said in her opening statement.

Committee members heard firsthand accounts from six different former employees: Applegate; Melanie Coburn, a former cheerleader and former director of marketing; Rachel Engleson, a former intern and later director of marketing and client relations; Ana Nunez, former coordinator of business development and client services; Brad Baker, a former video production manager; and Tiffani A. Johnston, former cheerleader and marketing manager.

Several allegations were repeated at the table, such as how several women working for the franchise endured unwanted touching and inappropriate comments. There were also claims that “lewd footage” from the cheerleader calendar shoots was edited together by the video department. 

However, new allegations were also made. 

“I am here today to tell you about the sexual advances by Dan Snyder and the constant unprofessionalism,” Johnston said, “and ‘boys locker room’ culture that started at the top with Dan Snyder and continued down the line with all of Dan Snyder’s Senior Team.”

She went on to detail what she “learned” during her time with the franchise, listing multiple offensive moments including a time when Snyder allegedly sexually harassed her.  

“I learned that placing me strategically by the owner at a work dinner after this networking event was not for me to discuss business, but to allow him to place his hand on my thigh under the table,” Johnston said in her opening statement. “I learned how to discreetly remove a man’s unwanted hand from my thigh at a crowded dinner table, at a crowded restaurant to avoid a scene. I learned that job survival meant I should continue my conversation with another co-worker rather than to call out Dan Snyder right then, in the moment.

“I also learned later that evening how to awkwardly laugh while Dan Snyder aggressively pushed me towards his limo with his hand on my lower back, encouraging me to ride with him to my car. I learned how to continue to say no even though a situation was getting more awkward, uncomfortable and physical.”

Snyder denied the allegations in a statement on Thursday. However, in a statement to the Associated Press, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said: “The NFL is reviewing and will consider Ms. Johnston’s allegations as we would any other new allegations regarding workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders. We will determine any further action as appropriate.”

As members called once again for the report to be released, the employees emphasized the need for legislative action to make reporting sexual harassment easier.

“The NFL did not protect us when they needed to, but they still have a chance to make it right,“ Nunez said. “The NFL preaches about inspiring change, but that seems only to be the case when it’s convenient for them.”

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The roundtable comes as a number of former employees have been critical in recent months of the league’s handling of the probe into Washington, which did not produce a public written report. 

Instead, after the team was investigated following allegations of workplace misconduct and sexual harassment within the franchise, the NFL provided only a brief summary of the findings and levied a $10 million fine against the team. Snyder also agreed to temporarily cede control of the team to his wife, Tanya. 

The Washington Post previously reported that “lawyers and private investigators working on Snyder’s behalf took steps that potential witnesses ... viewed as attempts to interfere with the NFL’s investigation.”

His numerous attempts to interfere reportedly ranged from reaching a $1.6 million settlement with a former employee who described sexual misconduct by the co-owner to filing petitions to identify employees who had spoken to the Post. Additionally, the Commanders co-owner allegedly hired private investigators who went to homes of former employees and contacted their friends and relatives, former employees' attorneys told the Post.

Coburn corroborated these allegations in her testimony.

“He sent private investigators to the homes of a dozen former cheerleaders last year, and I got calls from these terrified women who didn’t understand why P.I.s were showing up on their doorsteps,” she said. “He offered hush money to a group of us in exchange for our silence last February, but we declined. This was offensive and certainly felt like intimidation and witness tampering to us.”

The investigation was brought on after the Post reported in 2020 that female employees of the team experienced sexual harassment. And later Washington cheerleaders claimed to have been secretly videotaped while getting undressed, and reached a settlement with the team

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) sent a five-page letter to commissioner Roger Goodell in October, asking for him to produce “all documents and communications obtained in connection with the investigation into the WFT, its management, its owners, and any other matter relating to or resulting from the WFT investigation” by Nov. 4.

The commissioner said the league would “be cooperative” with Congress, but according to ESPN, the NFL only partially responded to the House Democrats’ request. The league reportedly only sent back answers to the members’ questions but not documents of the findings as requested.

Then, in a letter on Nov. 5, the representatives called for the league and team to release all individuals from their non-disclosure agreements that prevented them from speaking out against Snyder or the Commanders about the work environment. 

The franchise has gone through a hefty rebranding period from taking on the name Washington Football Team to now being dubbed the Commanders this week. Rep. Maloney said, “Just yesterday, Mr. Snyder tried to rebrand his team as the Commanders. With due respect, it’s going to take more than a name change to fix that broken culture.”

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