On Wednesday, six state attorney generals wrote and released a joint letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell threatening to investigate the league’s workplace culture for being discriminatory and “overtly hostile to women.” Based on allegations leveled against the league by over thirty former employees in a February New York Times report, the AGs called the NFL’s current work environment “entirely unacceptable and potentially unlawful.”
The letter, signed by Democratic attorneys general Letitia James of New York, Kwame Raoul of Illinois, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, Ellen Rosenblum of Oregon, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, and Bob Ferguson of Washington State, urged that “The N.F.L. must do better—pink jerseys are not a replacement for equal treatment and full inclusion of women in the workplace.”
In particular, the AGs called out the NFL’s paltry response to Ray Rice’s 2014 assault of his fiancé. After promising to take domestic violence and gender-based violence seriously, the NFL had (unlawfully, according to the AGs) made women employees view the Rice video multiple times, while some coworkers remarked that “the victim brought the violence on herself.” After the NFL initiated sensitivity training sessions on the matter, women employees said they were asked to raise their hands if they or someone they knew had been a victim of domestic violence.
The letter also generally refers to other issues of sexual harassment, including unwanted touching from male superiors, the presence of hired “prostitutes” at company parties, and retaliation for speaking out on discriminatory company practices. Even more shocking, some women who spoke out later learned there were no records of their complaints, according to the letter. “In New York, where the NFL is headquartered, the Office of the Attorney General has never hesitated to take action to protect employees from sexual harassment and abuse,” the AGs write.
This is yet another domino to fall in a long line of public relations disasters for the NFL this year, as they have continually claimed that the league is indeed a safe place for women. After anonymous allegations from women formerly employed by the Washington Football Team arose, claiming players whipped their penises out and asked them jokingly to engage in sex in the middle of the workplace (among a slew of other horrifying sexual harassment and assault claims), six of the team’s former employees pleaded their case in front of Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney’s House Oversight Committee. Brian Flores, the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins who was fired after last the conclusion of last season and one of the only Black coaches in the league, filed a class action racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL, calling the league a billion dollar “plantation.”
Meanwhile, the NFL put out a fluffy docuseries, hosted by Ciara, about the women in the NFL breaking glass ceilings. It was convincing to approximately no one. As the AGs said: Just do better.