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Following attorney Beth Wilkinson’s review of the Washington Football Team’s workplace, the NFL determined the organization’s culture was so toxic it warranted the biggest fine in league history. That alone is a damning indictment of owner Dan Snyder and his team. The report also confirmed a litany of previously reported allegations about the men who perpetuated a tradition of sexual harassment in Ashburn. But as is often the case with reports on sexual harassment, especially in sports, the discussion has centered around the perpetrators and not the victims.
The summary of Wilkinson’s report the NFL provided has been appropriately parsed and torn apart. First, there was no real report. Everything was delivered orally, likely to prevent leaks of more damning details beyond the generic conclusion that “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.”
Snyder escaped punishment entirely. The $10 million fine was explicitly given to the club, not Snyder, even if he’s the one who will pay it. His wife, Tanya, a part of the organization for the entirety of the time investigated, was named co-CEO the day before the report so that Dan could be taken off day-to-day duties. He will focus on finding a stadium deal, a project that could be the single biggest boost to the franchise’s bottom line since he took over the team.
To add insult to injury, Snyder then gave a softball interview to the Wall Street Journal claiming ignorance and that he didn’t realize there was a problem until former team president Bruce Allen, who presided over or was involved in multiple public embarrassments, said “the culture is damn good” in a press conference.
The harassers and abusers remain unnamed in any official report. Larry Michael, the longtime radio voice for the team who was allegedly caught on a hot mic making inappropriate remarks about an intern, was allowed to retire. And while “none of the managers or executives identified as having engaged in misconduct is still employed at the club,” according to the league’s statement, the public still doesn’t know exactly who they are. The claims against Snyder himself (one of which was settled for seven figures) remain a mystery.
Then there are the former employees themselves. Attorney Lisa Banks, who represents 40 of them, told ABC7 in an interview that some of her clients felt physically ill upon learning that this was the extent of the punishment for Snyder and his team.
“I think it’s outrageous,” Banks told WJLA’s Scott Abraham. “I think we have seen that there’s been no transparency and no accountability here, and I have over 40 clients who are truly devastated.”
So in summary, dozens of women went to work every day trying to live out their dreams of working for a professional sports team. They were harassed, abused, and mistreated by powerful men who did not care about their well being and saw them as objects, not people. After nearly two decades of this, it apparently stopped when the owner had a sudden awakening after his top lieutenant said something outrageous in a press conference, even though people have been talking about it for years. An investigation was launched after the malfeasance became public in the Washington Post and women told a league investigator their stories. That investigator would not end up releasing a formal report and no individual would be punished.
And where does that $10 million fine go? Not to those women. To charity. Worthy and noble causes, but not the victims of the crimes.
The cheerleading program at the center of some of the worst misconduct? Disbanded, a fact celebrated in the league’s telling of Wilkinson’s findings despite former cheerleaders, including some who were on the squad when it was dissolved, pleading for the continuance of something they loved under improved circumstances.
Washington decided to do away with the problem instead of dealing with it. The organization does not fear disappointing or upsetting the women who work or could work there. It’s more concerned that the men who run the team could one day be subjects of scandal. That’s why dozens of women left en masse and why, when they discovered their power in numbers, they fought back. Wilkinson and the NFL told them they were on their side. The workplace harassment they experienced would finally be exposed and resolved.
They weren’t. It wasn’t. Which is why this story isn’t over.
Snyder may never be forced to sell the team, the only outcome many of the women involved and fans watching will accept, but there will be more stories, more public embarrassment, and likely more lawsuits. The people at the center of this story have decided they are tired of being pushed to the side. Until those in charge allow that fact to come into focus, the clouds over Ashburn will not clear, no matter what the NFL says.
Photo by All-Pro Reels on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.