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The two phone calls I received Thursday night began the exact same way—with tears.
One came just after the Washington Post published a story detailing allegations by more than a dozen women about the sexual harassment and verbal abuse they faced while working for the Washington NFL team under Daniel Snyder’s ownership. On the other end of the phone was a former employee of the team who, since departing, has become one of my closest friends.
“It happened to me,” she said through tears. “I had just pushed it away as something that I had to deal with as a woman working for an NFL team. So many of the stories those women shared happened to me too.”
Later, she texted me more details of the abuse she faced.
“I had no idea how badly the sexist and toxic culture affected me until I saw it in writing,” she wrote. “It brought back so many awful and repressed feelings. There was no one to turn to. It was just part of the job. Every day I’d walk in wondering what someone might say about my outfit or if someone would be outwardly misogynistic and gross to me or my friends. Those stories were not unique and I would go as far as to say it happened to almost every single woman who walked through the doors at R*dsk*ns Park.”
Another phone call came about two hours after the story broke. It was one of my best friends, a man who is nearing 40. He’s been in the D.C. sports world for far longer than I have been in D.C. He grew up a fan of the local NFL team. He was sobbing.
His voice cracked as he wondered why this all stayed hidden for so long when so many people knew.
“Why?” he asked. “Because of football.”
I paused, gutted again like I have been gutted thinking about these things so many times before.
From August of 2015 until February of this year, I was a beat reporter covering the team. For the 2015 season it was for ESPN 980, owned by Snyder’s Red Zebra Broadcasting. I was hired part-time by 106.7 The Fan in 2016 and resumed a full-time beat reporter role in 2017. I worked out of the media room at the team’s facility four days per week in the fall and got to know dozens of people in the building in all parts of the team’s operation. In February, I made the decision to leave the beat to take a full-time role as the executive producer with the Washington Spirit. I still host talk shows part-time for The Fan.
Many of the stories in the Post’s report were ones I’ve known for years. I pride myself on being someone people, especially my female colleagues in the industry, can trust.
That’s why I feel this is important to write, not as a mea culpa so that people don’t say, “Well if you knew, why didn’t you stop it?” I’ve asked that question of myself a million times. Why didn’t I just say “to hell with it” and go public and be damned the consequences?
I feel this is important to write because this story isn’t about football. It’s about power—and the abuse of it.
This is a story about the courageous women who came forward and told their stories to reporters Will Hobson and Liz Clarke of the Post.
This is a story about centuries of misogyny and sexism building a society where powerful men get away with whatever they want.
This is a story about a world where men who try to fight back against that culture have been shouted down as traitors and snitches, where loyalty is valued over morality.
The incident mentioned in the report where he was caught on a hot mic making lewd comments about an intern? He’s lucky it only happened once, even if it was shamefully hidden in a human resources file. His pregame routine was sitting in the broadcast booth, headset on and binoculars out focused on cheerleaders and female journalists on the sidelines saying all the kinds of heinous things you think he said.
The stories about former sales executive Dennis Greene? Heard them. About former personnel executive Alex Santos? Heard them. Snyder’s belittling tirades? Heard about those too.
And why did they all do it? Because they could.
Eventually, the misconducts pile up. Someone goes too far and too many people know. The armor of the patriarchy can only sustain so many breaks.
It took a team of highly skilled reporters at one of the best journalism outfits in the country more than two years to break the Washington football team’s barriers down and still Michael was allowed to walk away on his terms without a peep from the team the day before the story dropped.
Now the story is out. The tide has turned. The power has shifted.
There are two more questions that remain:
First, what more is out there? Now that the power is in the hands of those wronged, who else will step forward with currently untold trauma of their time in Ashburn? Who else will be implicated and of what? Because there are more stories. They are not mine to tell and the extremely personal choice to tell them lies with each victim. But just know there are more stories and there are more men who have spent time in Ashburn who should be terrified right now about what could be shared about them.
Second, what about the owner?
Snyder hasn’t fielded questions in more than a decade. He is as cowardly as he is incompetent. He has displayed zero leadership skills and that is a liability to the NFL, considering he leads a multi-billion dollar organization.
“The behavior described in yesterday’s Washington Post article has no place in our franchise or society,” Snyder said in a statement that took no accountability for that behavior. “This story has strengthened my commitment to setting a new culture and standard for our team, a process that began with the hiring of Coach [Ron] Rivera earlier this year.”
But this toxic culture has festered for years under Snyder’s ownership, and he is attempting to turn Rivera into former team president Bruce Allen, a human shield for his inability to be held accountable.
Allen was abysmal at that. He was less a shield and more of a punching bag that ejected the worst possible reply when hit. It was less than a year ago that he declared in front of reporters during a press conference announcing the firing coach Jay Gruden that “the culture is damn good.”
Rivera appears to genuinely want to change the culture, but even then, it shouldn’t be on a first-year head coach—who ironically has been through the a similar situation with Jerry Richardson, the former Carolina Panthers owner who was forced to sell the team after alleged incidents of sexual harassment and use of a racial slur were uncovered in 2017—to fix and create a new team culture.
It should be on Snyder to answer for what has happened and how he should fix it. Hiring a high price attorney like Beth Wilkinson won’t do that. Frankly neither will anything else Snyder does because this is who he is.
Lack of accountability is Snyder’s brand. The Post did not implicate him in any misdeeds, but that’s irrelevant. He is the reason why it happened and there is no reason to believe he wouldn’t let it happen again. He needs to go and he needs to go now.
There is power in the moment to make a difference. The NFL should use it. We should all use it.