On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee hosted a hearing to hold the NFL, the Washington Commanders, and Commanders owner Dan Snyder accountable for fostering a toxic workplace environment, in which sexual harassment—verbal or otherwise—was a regular occurrence. The Committee had invited NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to appear for questioning, along with Snyder, who refused multiple requests.
The allegations leveled by women across decades and ages ranged from players exposing their penises in the middle of the workplace and asking female employees to engage in sex, to allegations that Snyder ordered video employees to edit together lewd footage of partially nude former Redskins’ cheerleaders during their annual bikini photo shoot for him. One former executive was caught on a hot mic objectifying a college intern, while another told an Athletic reporter she had “an ass like a wagon” and asked her on multiple dates. Emily Applegate, a former employee who previously spoke to Jezebel, said her boss took photos of her without her knowledge and used “derogatory slurs” at work. As a result, the NFL had issued the team a $10 million fine, Snyder had temporarily given day-to-day responsibilities to his wife, and the Commanders were required to undergo mandatory HR trainings. Victims have repeatedly demanded that the NFL release the written findings of its independent probe, but the NFL has refused to share its final report with victims or with the public—in part, Goodell claimed, to protect anonymous victims who indicated they did not want to be named.
Less than 24 hours before the hearing began, new details about a 2009 sexual assault allegation directly involving Snyder emerged in the Washington Post. The woman alleged that Snyder groped her, asked her to remove her clothes, and asked for sex in the back of a private plane. Three months later, she settled with the team for $1.6 million, though Snyder has denied the allegation. During an effort to discredit the woman’s claims, Snyder’s lawyers cited allegations about the woman’s personal choices including her “revealing clothing” and flirtation with other men, according to the Post.
However, House Republicans were quick to distract from the main purpose of the hearing—namely, to demand accountability for women’s abusers and harassers—to complain about how their time could be better spent addressing inflation, fentanyl overdoses, the formula shortage (which they are in part responsible for!), the “crisis” at the border...or literally anything other than sexual assault.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) used his time to ask if Goodell believes in the first amendment and if so, why the NFL has “banned” “journalist” “Dave Portnoy” from football games (Portnoy is not a journalist, and has also been accused of sexual misconduct). Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) told Goodell he’s “a little troubled by your embracement of what I call left woke anti-American propaganda” and called systemic racism a “myth.” And Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tx.) went so far as to tell Goodell he’d done an “outstanding job” holding Snyder and his leadership team accountable, conjuring up sympathy for Snyder and his ostracized comrades. “We’re all entitled to make mistakes and we’re all entitled to make up for it,” Sessions said, eliciting the same eerie tone that clouded over the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial (to be clear, sexual assault isn’t a mistake, it’s a crime).
In stark opposition to the moral bankruptcy on display by House Republicans, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) opened the hearing by noting that Snyder had refused to testify because he is apparently in France, “where he has docked his luxury yacht in a resort town…that should tell you how much respect he has for women in the workplace,” but confirmed she would subpoena Snyder to appear in front of the committee next week. As a result of the women who’d been violated under the NFL’s care, the committee then detailed two bills, one which would prohibit employers from using NDAs to conceal workplace misconduct (“one of Dan Snyder’s favorite conducts,” she added) and another that would require employers to create notice and consent requirements for employees whose professional images are used by the company—to protect against content like the lewd videos of cheerleaders.
To accompany Goodell’s questioning at the hearing, the Committee released a 29-page document, which includes damning evidence that Snyder had launched a shadow investigation to discredit his accusers, including a “100-slide dossier with emails, text messages, telephone records, and social media posts from journalists, victims, and witnesses.” The report also found that Snyder and his lawyer’s sent private investigators to homes of former cheerleaders and employees as an intimidation tactic. Additionally, the report detailed new evidence that two cheerleaders had been fired for consensual relationships with former football player Chris Cooley, while men suffered no repercussions other than being asked not to have additional sex with the cheerleaders.
The report presents compelling arguments that the NFL and Commanders together “buried” the report’s findings, claiming the NFL was briefed 16 times and still did not release its findings, despite past precedent in which the league released a 243-page report on Deflate Gate, and a 144-page report on allegations of bully at the Miami Dolphins, in which victims’ names had been redacted over privacy concerns. For the Commanders, House Dems pointed out, the NFL released a 5-page press release.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) also played a disturbing video of former employee Larry Michael objectifying a teenaged intern, saying: “I do think our intern is looking better every day. Little blonde there…she’s looking pretty good I don’t know what the fuck’s going on there.” When Tlaib asked Goodell if he would commit to removing Snyder from the Commanders organization, he answered, “I don’t have the authority to remove him.”
While much of the questioning of Goodell served as mind-numbing political theater, at the center of it all was a sinister implication—at least from the right side of the aisle—that harm enacted upon women by some of America’s wealthiest, billion-dollar corporations is not the government’s problem to solve. And that makes perfect sense, given that the government has done their own part in harming women by effectively removing their reproductive rights and forcibly attacking LGBTQ+ girls. The NFL as a mainstream organization, after all, is a symptom of our mainstream beliefs and values, and to that end, a slap on the wrist is apparently more than enough to hold the bad guys accountable when the bad guys have made these women’s lives a living hell.