Commentary: NFL dismisses accountability with light punishment of Washington Football Team

The NFL seemed more intent on protecting its own rather than ensuring accountability and the protection of women in its employment.

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As part of the NFL’s punishment of the Washington Football Team, owner Daniel Snyder has given up day-to-day operation of the franchise.

As part of the NFL’s punishment of the Washington Football Team, owner Daniel Snyder has given up day-to-day operation of the franchise.

Alex Brandon/AP

After devoting so many resources over the past several years to convey a strong sense of morality and understanding, the NFL on Thursday seemed more intent on protecting its own rather than ensuring accountability and the protection of women in its employment.

While announcing the completion of a year-long investigation into the allegations of rampant sexual harassment and misconduct within the Washington Football Team, the NFL fined the team $10 million, instructing that money to be paid to charities that focus on character building and anti-bullying initiatives. And rather than suspend team owner Daniel Snyder, the league announced he has voluntarily turned over day-to-day operations of the team to his wife Tanya Snyder while he focuses on securing a new stadium deal.

Very little about this conveys accountability from the NFL.

Instead, the decision to take it easy on Snyder made many former employees who experienced mistreatment under Snyder’s watch view the NFL’s investigation as a sham.

“Today’s decision by the NFL leaves me livid and extremely disappointed,” Megan Imbert, who worked for Washington from 2006-11, said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “Over the past several months the NFL, specifically Roger Goodell, has spent his energy praising the changes the Snyders have made with very little commentary surrounding us and the investigation. I can’t help but wonder if (Goodell’s) daughters experienced what I know is in that report if he would act more empathetically and ensure without a doubt that no one would ever have the chance to be mistreated under Dan Snyder’s reign again.”

The amount of the fine alone proved eye-popping for many.

“Slap on the wrist. Unbelievable,” a former employee who requested anonymity to avoid backlash told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s bull s---.”

Slap on the wrist indeed.

Snyder and his organization came under fire a year ago when news of the long-running misconduct and harassment first became public following an investigation by The Washington Post.

The report detailed a toxic work environment, incidents in which cheerleaders were secretly videotaped in various stages of undress, and other female employees were subjected to sexual advancements and lewd comments from team employees.

Snyder claimed ignorance and blamed himself for being too hands off in his leadership. In July, he enlisted the services of Beth Wilkinson to conduct an investigation, and then said he thought it was best if the NFL had oversight of the probe.

When Snyder named his wife as co-CEO this week, it seemed as if Wilkinson’s investigation had concluded, and so it was on Thursday that the NFL announced the team’s punishment.

“Based on Wilkinson’s review, the Commissioner concluded that for many years the workplace environment at the Washington Football Team, both generally and particularly for women, was highly unprofessional,” the NFL said in a statement.

“Bullying and intimidation frequently took place and many described the culture as one of fear, and numerous female employees reported having experienced sexual harassment and a general lack of respect in the workplace.

“Ownership and senior management paid little or no attention to these issues. In some instances, senior executives engaged in inappropriate conduct themselves, including use of demeaning language and public embarrassment.”

But the specifics of the investigation were not released and will remain private.

Lisa Friel, NFL Special Counsel for Investigations, explained to reporters that there is no written report of Wilkinson‘s investigation.

Instead, she communicated it verbally to the league to ensure confidentiality.

This too proved upsetting to former employees.

“The fact that the NFL chose to receive an oral report instead of hard copy proves that they are scared of a paper trail and would have to be held to higher standards of integrity,” Imbert said.

Friel declined to discuss specific allegations against Snyder and the organization because she said many of the 150-plus individuals interviewed by Wilkinson spoke on condition of anonymity.

She declined to provide any context on an incident in which Snyder reportedly reached a $1.6 million settlement with a former cheerleader who accused him of misconduct.

Friel said Wilkinson’s task wasn’t to confirm the validity of the many allegations, but instead to learn about the culture and discover if Snyder was making meaningful changes.

Friel, despite acknowledging that Washington had a “very toxic culture that fell well short of (the NFL’s) standards,” like the NFL seemed more intent on commending Snyder on the changes he has made, which includes firing high-ranking officials accused of misconduct, hiring a diverse leadership team and putting in place new protocols aimed at creating a safer work environment for women.

When asked why Snyder wasn’t suspended, and if Wilkinson had recommended a suspension, Friel danced.

Repeatedly, she explained that league’s goal is to ensure that Washington continues to make strides in its culture changes and that a tone of strong accountability is set in place.

Then why slap Snyder on the wrist and let him go on his way?

That remains a mystery. It also sends a rather contradictory message.

The NFL in recent years has donated millions of dollars to the social justice charitable work of its players. The league has implemented strengthened protocols to tackle long-standing discriminatory hiring practices.

The league has gone to great lengths the past few weeks to present itself as a champion for diversity, inclusivity and to support LGBTQ community.

But now, as Snyder essentially skates after more than a decade of toxic leadership of an oppressive organization that so grossly mistreated and disrespected women, all of the NFL’s aforementioned efforts seem hollow.

And the many women who looked to the league to enact justice after enduring years of mistreatment instead revived yet another painful chapter to their saga.


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