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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Women Are Protesting the NFL at Tonight's 'Inspire Change' Football Game

The first NFL employee to speak publicly about the harassment she endured tells Jezebel why former employees are picketing Monday’s game.

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Image for article titled Women Are Protesting the NFL at Tonight's 'Inspire Change' Football Game
Photo: Greg Fiume (Getty Images)

On Monday night, the Washington Football Team will take on the Seattle Seahawks for the coveted Monday Night Football slot, and the evening is shaping up to be a dazzling showstopper in the eyes of its platitude-swinging, reputation-obsessed overlord, the NFL. As part of league’s “Inspire Change” initiative, rapper Wale is set to perform, the Team is debuting its inaugural “Shop Black” holiday market uplifting Black business owners in the area, and DC Go-Go band Black Alley Band will be featured in a pregame performance of “Lift Every Voice & Sing.”

But many former Washington Football Team employees are interpreting command differently as they prepare to protest the NFL’s mishandling of Washington’s workplace probe, in-person at FedEx Field during the game Monday night.

While many of the women who were sexually harassed and verbally abused while employed by the Washington Football Team have tirelessly trumpeted their warnings on social media and on newscasts, Monday night’s protest marks the first time some of the women are joining forces in-person to put their disdain of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder, and the league’s overarching complicity on full blast. Unlike the NFL’s empty promise, they hope to actually inspire change by demanding the league release its full findings of the Washington Football Team investigation. At the time of publication, the Change.org petition the women started, demanding the NFL “Release the Report” has garnered over 41,000 signatures.

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Emily Applegate, a 33-year-old law student and former Washington Football Team marketing coordinator spoke to Jezebel ahead of the protest. Applegate was one of fifteen women who spoke to the Washington Post in 2020, detailing the sexual harassment and abuse she and other employees were subjected to by top-ranking male executives—one of which was caught on a hot mic making sexual comments about a college intern, while another told Athletic reporter Rhiannon Walker she had “an ass like a wagon” and asked her to date him on multiple occasions. Amongst other nauseating comments, Applegate told The Post her direct boss often took photos of her without her knowledge and used “derogatory slurs” in work conversations with her. She felt “helpless,” but trapped, as she was constantly reminded that a million other women would die to have her job.

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As someone who has been a victim of harassment and abuse for nearly every stage of her adult life, Applegate says she was moved by anger to speak out against both the men who made her suffer in the workplace and the men who chose not to protect her. And as the NFL’s full report from its investigation into Washington’s workplace remains unseen—and the promise of accountability continues to fade—she continues to be moved by anger today, as she virtually protests alongside the daughters, sisters, mothers, and teammates the men of the Washington Football Team have traumatized.

While Applegate is currently taking her finals at Thurgood Marshall Law School (she hopes to one day work with women who are forced to defend themselves against their abusers) and isn’t able to attend the protest, she has been instrumental in promoting the women’s message and outrage.

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“We are trying to reach not just the sports industry, but industries all over the country, because almost every day there’s somebody new that has decided to speak out against the sexual harassment or the toxic workplace that they experience,” Applegate told Jezebel in a recent interview. “The NFL has such a big platform, which allows us to spread the word to more and more people, beyond sports.”

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Last month, as Jezebel previously reported, the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, began its congressional investigation into the NFL’s workplace probe of the Washington Football Team. The NFL claimed to be looking into allegations of sexual advances, sexualized comments about women employee’s bodies, inappropriate after-hours texts between a manager and his subordinate, and lewd photos taken of former Redskins’ cheerleaders during their annual bikini photo shoot. But after an 18-month probe, the full results of that investigation have not been released, and in the back and forth of Congressional bureaucracy, women like Applegate who have been clamoring for change have been lost in the red tape.

“We’re still not treated as equals or as if we have the brains of our male counterparts. We’re still just something to look at, and until we start changing those behaviors and calling people out, it’s never going to get any better,” Applegate said. “I hope that my experience will make sure that employers have the correct procedures in place to make sure that this no longer happens.”

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While Applegate acknowledges that many of the men on the field and in the NFL’s front offices are good people, little progress will be made without the players’ and coaches’ full support. As reported by WUSA9, even rapper Wale’s choice to perform a song titled “Sue Me” at the game seems ironic. And the NFL continues to claim it’s doing more than enough, like committing $250M to “social justice causes over the next 10 years” through the Inspire Change initiative, while the women begging for justice at their doorsteps continue to be ignored and silenced.

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The NFL is also allowing social justice phrases on the players’ helmets this year. In a perfect world, they might finally use this opportunity to stand in protest with the former employees. But until then, Applegate urges fans and women’s rights advocates to share their message on social media.

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“I urge people to speak out if they are going through these things because it’s not worth crying on your way to work because you’re scared of what’s going to happen and crying on your way home from work because of what happened to you,” Applegate said. “Support on social media is what got Congress’ attention in the first place and has helped our cause tremendously.”

Kickoff is at 8:15pm ET at the Washington Football Team’s FedEx Field.