Does Commanders' owner Dan Snyder have a hold on the NFL?
Congress asserted on Friday that the NFL and Commanders' owner Dan Snyder are working together to hinder an investigation into the team's workplace conduct.
After a congressional hearing, new details were released about the investigation into the workplace environment of the Washington Commanders and they aren't good.
Dan Snyder, the NFL and the lack of transparency
According to documents released on Friday by the congressional committee investigating the NFL, the league is unable to publicly release the findings of its internal investigation of the Washington Commanders without the permission of owner Daniel Snyder. The House Committee for Oversight and Reform also released a second document Friday, which indicated that the team requested a "written investigation" from Beth Wilkinson's law firm, when she was hired to conduct an internal investigation of the team. This point is important to note, especially when considering the fact that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, previously stated that the league couldn't disclose the findings of the internal investigation, due to the fact that Wilkinson presented her findings orally.
Of course both the league and Snyder were quick to refute the claims made by the committee. Part of the NFL's statement directly addressed the committee when saying, "the League, and not the team, has and will determine which information it is in a position to produce. ...To date, we have shared nearly 80,000 pages of documents and made many others available for the Committee to review, in addition to responding to questions from the Committee, both in writing and in the course of numerous discussions," the statement continued.
Where Snyder is concerned, his attorney Jordan Siev gave a statement on his behalf. "Regarding today's letter from the Committee to the NFL, neither Mr. Snyder nor the team has ever done anything to block the Committee from receiving any documents it has requested from the NFL that are not expressly protected by attorney-client privilege or attorney work product," Diev said in the statement. "Finally, all remaining non-privileged emails are being provided to the Committee shortly."
Congress gets tough on the NFL
It is now clear that the documents released by the congressional committee on Friday are part of a wider effort by the NFL to at the least present the image of cooperation, however, in comments made by the committee itself, doubts were clear as they maintain that there has been a 'decades-long toxic work environment' under Snyder's ownership.
For more from the NFL
"This morning, we released two key documents: the first shows Wilkinson was hired to write a report, but as we know, NFL changed that plan," Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois) said in a statement Friday. "The second shows the Commanders and NFL agreed to pursue a 'joint legal strategy,' raising serious doubts about NFL's commitment to independence and transparency in investigating the Commanders. We will continue to investigate, get answers, provide accountability for these victims and workers across America."
Did the NFL block the Wilkinson report?
As earlier reports indicated, five women appeared before Congress on Thursday. Each of them outlined their experiences which resulted in direct allegations of sexual assault and harassment. One such account was that of Tiffani Johnston, a former marketing and events coordinator for the team, who explained that Snyder touched her without her consent during a work place dinner some 13 years ago. Snyder has since released a statement denying her allegations. Congress continues to demand that the NFL release the full report to the public.
Attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks who represent more than 40 former team employees, including the aforementioned five women, gave comment on Friday. Katz took to twitter saying, "The NFL deceived our clients and the public. Not a single witness - not one - would have participated in the Wilkinson investigation had they been told the truth about the NFL and the WFT's joint defense agreement." Banks for her part gave a statement in which she made no pretense about where the hammer should come down. "Goodell was anything but an honest broker when it came to this investigation. He was an active co-conspirator with Dan Snyder and is now carrying his water in stonewalling Congress' efforts to ensure accountability by making the results of the Wilkinson report public."
Congress sends a letter to the NFL
As the gravity of the allegations reverberated, Congress sent an official letter to the NFL on Friday according to reports. In the letter, Krishnamoorthi and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York), address Goodell directly. "You have claimed that the NFL did not release Ms. Wilkinson's findings in order to protect the 'security, privacy and anonymity' of the more than 150 witnesses who courageously spoke to Ms. Wilkinson and her team. The Committee's investigation and the NFL's own legal documents raise serious doubts about this justification." To date the NFL has released some of the documents related to the Wilkinson report, but certainly not all. Indeed according to congress, there are more than 650,000 emails and documents related to the investigation.
What is known about the Wilkinson Report and other documents?
If there are two things that are certain, the first would be that in August of 2020, the Washington Commanders, known at the time as the Washington Football Team entered into a contract with Wilkinson and her firm. Some of that document has been redacted which in itself presents a problem. Where the presentation of findings was concerned, she was to "complete a written report of its findings and make recommendations regarding any remedial measures." The second is that somewhere along the line, something changed. In a statement from the committee on Friday that notion was directly addressed. "After assuming oversight of the investigation, however, Mr. Goodell personally instructed that Ms. Wilkinson was to present him with oral, not written, findings in a stark departure from the League's previous practices." Why is that significant? Simply because the NFL later stated there was no written report from Wilkinson and as such published a short review. "Your decision not to release the written report is deeply concerning," Maloney and Krishnamoorthi told Goodell in their new letter.
Another document which caused concern is one entitled "Common Interest Agreement." Dated September 8th, 2020 it appears to detail how the NFL and the team agreed to pursue a "joint legal strategy," agreeing not to share any privileged documents or information exchanged during the investigation without the consent of both the NFL and the team. Again there are redactions with the signatures of the two individuals who signed it, obscured from view. The committee made clear what it's interpretation of the agreement was."the NFL may not have been able to release the results of the Wilkinson investigation to the public without the permission of team owner Daniel Snyder, who himself has been accused of multiple acts of sexual misconduct by his employees, most recently during yesterday's Committee roundtable."
Asked whether there had been any abuses of privilege under the agreement, the team's attorneys stated, "The Team, and the NFL, have always acted in a manner consistent with the maintenance of that privilege, and there have been discussions, too numerous to recount (which are themselves privileged), regarding the preservation of that privilege."
The NFL, the Commanders and a congressional stalemate
While it may yet be too early to judge, there is another damning piece of evidence to be considered. In their letter to Goddell, Maloney and Krishnamoorthi's make clear that the NFL withdrew from the common interest agreement in October which in essence is when Congress launched its investigation. "These documents, which were gathered and created as part of the Wilkinson investigation, were stored on servers of a third-party vendor, where they remain. Now, after the NFL's withdrawal from the agreement, each party claims that absent the other's consent, they cannot access the documents, let alone release them to the Committee. By dissolving their common interest agreement and with holding consent, the parties may be attempting to create a legal limbo to stop the Committee from obtaining these key investigation documents."