At Committee Roundtable, Former Washington Commanders Employees Detail Widespread Sexual Harassment by Top Executives
Washington, D.C. (February 3, 2022)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, held a roundtable to discuss sexual harassment and verbal abuse at the Washington Commanders organization, previously known as the Washington Football Team (WFT), under the leadership of owner Dan Snyder and the National Football League’s (NFL) failure to address this misconduct.
“We should be able to agree on the fact that sexual harassment will not stop—and workplaces like the Washington Commanders will not improve—unless there are clear consequences for those who engage in this unlawful behavior and try to cover it up. No individual, no corporation, and certainly no employer should be able to bully or threaten victims into silence. But without transparency, this conduct will continue unabated,” said Chairwoman Maloney in her opening statement.
“After we hear from these victims, we’ll all be clear on one thing: to ensure real accountability—and to stop workplace harassment in the future—the NFL and WFT must release the findings of its own investigation. This is the beginning, not the end, of holding the rich and powerful accountable and protecting women across America from workplace sexual harassment. Recognizing the NFL’s power and popularity, Roger Goodell said that we should hold the NFL to a higher standard. And starting with today’s roundtable, we will,” said Chairman Krishnamoorthi in his opening statement.
Six former Washington Commanders employees shared their stories with the Committee: Emily Applegate, former Marketing Coordinator, Premium Client Services Coordinator and Ticket Sales Representative; Melanie Coburn, former Director of Marketing, Marketing Coordinator and Cheerleader; Rachel Engelson, former Director of Marketing and Client Relations, Director of Client Services, Manager of Premium Client Services, Customer Service Representative, and Intern; Ana Nunez, former Coordinator of Business Development and Client Service and Account Executive; Brad Baker, former Video Production Manager and Producer; and Tiffani A. Johnston, former Marketing and Events Coordinator, Marketing Manager, Club Level Tickets, and Cheerleader.
Roundtable participants shared personal accounts of sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and other misconduct while employed at the Washington Commanders under the leadership of owner Dan Snyder.
- Ms. Johnston shared her personal experiences of sexual harassment during her eight-year tenure at the team, including an instance in which Daniel Snyder put an “unwanted hand” on her thigh at a dinner with colleagues and “aggressively pushed” her towards his limo while senior team officials watched. When Ms. Johnston reported Snyder’s aggressive sexual advances to a senior colleague within the team, she was told that she “should not repeat this story to anyone outside this office door.”
- When Chairwoman Maloney asked Ms. Johnston whether the NFL’s statements “that wrongdoers have been removed from the Washington Football Team” were accurate, Ms. Johnston replied “Absolutely not. It all started from the top from Dan Snyder.” She continued that Snyder was “involved in every single thing, every minor thing, every minor detail, every major detail, every single thing that happened at that office.”
- In her testimony, Ms. Engleson shared that she constantly experienced fear of harassment while an employee at the team: “It was just a pervasive part of the culture and unavoidable rite of passage being a woman who worked there.”
- Ms. Coburn detailed how Daniel Snyder drove the sexualized culture of the team and “ordered the Director of the [cheerleading] squad to parade the ladies onto the field while he and his friends gawked from his suite through binoculars … as if they were cattle being examined for sale.”
Bipartisan Committee Members and participants discussed the team’s failure to address the misconduct and the NFL’s failure to take steps to prevent harassment and verbal abuse within the Washington Commanders organization.
- In response to a question from Rep. Brown about the NFL’s handling of the Wilkinson Investigation, Ms. Nunez replied that the NFL had sent the message that “unless you have money, unless you have power, honestly unless you’re white, you’re powerless. You don’t matter.”
- After hearing participants detailed the harassment they suffered, Rep. Sessions stated, “the story that is being told today is very disturbing” and that he had “no question that what these witnesses have said is not only factually correct but very despicable.” He added: “No one would be above the law even if you’re in the NFL.”
- Rep. Biggs reacted strongly to the participants’ stories, stating it was “difficult to sit here and listen to the horrific circumstances to which you were subjected.” When he inquired whether reforms to the Commanders’ cheerleading program would be enough to protect women, Ms. Coburn responded in the negative, stating: “Not when leadership has not changed with one of the men who was very closely involved with the cheerleaders, their auditions, their calendar pictures, the videos created at the behest of that person. No, I do not believe they are safe.”
Members highlighted how the NFL’s prominent platform makes it an example for employers across the country and failing to hold the team and the League accountable sets a dangerous precedent for other workplaces.
- Rep. Wasserman Schultz highlighted how the NFL’s profits are directly impacted by Congress’s anti-trust legislation, which allows them to save millions of dollars each year, asking Ms. Coburn whether she believed that Congress should be in the “business of protecting an organization that puts the interests of billionaire owners over hundreds of women who experienced harassment and abuse.” Ms. Coburn replied, “Money and power is what rules the NFL. Unless someone steps in and holds them accountable, nothing will change. They will continue business as usual.”
- In response to Chairman Krishnamoorthi’s question regarding safeguards the NFL allegedly put into place following the 2018 investigation into the sexual misconduct and harassment within the Carolina Panthers, both Ms. Engleson and Ms. Nunez stated that they were unaware of any NFL policies to that effect.
- In response to questioning from Rep. Holmes Norton, Ms. Engleson detailed how the cheerleaders described the abuse to the new executive team “specifically hired to help change the business.” These executives were appalled at the abuses described but were all fired within months.
Members from both parties and participants called on the NFL to release the results of the Wilkinson Investigation, and participants emphasized the need for Congress to pass legislation to make it easier to report sexual harassment.
- Rep. Donalds condemned the “abhorrent behavior” under Daniel Snyder’s leadership, stating that it “should not be tolerated in any workplace in the United States.” Rep. Donalds continued that the “report in question by the NFL should be released,” and stated: “It is clear that there are several issues with the NFL, this being one of them. And I think that that report should be released.”
- Chairman Krishnamoorthi noted that the NFL had not followed its past practice in the Wilkinson Investigation, explaining the NFL released lengthy reports for the Ray Rice domestic violence case and “DeflateGate,” but “nothing in regards to the Washington Football Team’s sexual harassment scandal.” Chairman Krishnamoorthi called upon the NFL to release the report so that there could be a full accounting of the toxic culture at the Washington Football Team.
- Ms. Applegate stated that Congress was the “appropriate venue for us to be sharing this story” and called for Congress to act on pervasive sexual harassment in the workplace, saying, “you guys have the opportunity to take this issue on, pass legislation that would help other employees to report so they have the opportunity to be in the courtroom, and not only be in the courtroom, but find some justice.”