On Thursday evening, The Washington Post published a disturbing exclusive which gave us an inside look at the culture of Washington's NFL franchise. According to Will Hobson and Liz Clarke, 15 former Washington employees told the Post that they were sexually harassed during their time at the club. Over the past week as the Post presented detailed allegations and findings to Washington's NFL franchise, three team employees accused of improper behavior abruptly departed, including Larry Michael, the club's longtime radio voice.
In a statement, the team said it had hired D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson and her firm, Wilkinson Walsh, "to conduct a thorough independent review of this entire matter and help the team set new employee standards for the future."
"The Washington Redskins football team takes issues of employee conduct seriously … While we do not speak to specific employee situations publicly, when new allegations of conduct are brought forward that are contrary to these policies, we address them promptly," the team said.
The NFL also came out with a statement on Friday morning, which did seem to suggest that potential punishment could be handed down following the investigation.
"These matters as reported are serious, disturbing and contrary to the NFL's values," the league's statement reads. "Everyone in the NFL has the right to work in an environment free from any and all forms of harassment. Washington has engaged outside of counsel to conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations. The club has pledged that it will give its full cooperation to the investigator and we expect the club and all employees to do so. We will meet with the attorneys upon the conclusion of their investigation and take any action based on the findings."
The allegations are included in a time frame from 2006-19, and the Post has categorized them into two categories: unwelcome overtures or comments of a sexual nature, and exhortations to wear revealing clothing and flirt with clients to close sales deals. Some of the men who are accused of verbal abuse are members of team owner Dan Snyder's inner circle. Several specific examples of harassment were included in the exclusive, including this disturbing story:
Former women employees said the first few weeks at Redskins Park also often came with an informal, but invaluable, orientation administered privately by veteran female employees who warned them to avoid certain people and places, such as the staircase near the entrance to team headquarters.
Lined at the top with transparent plexiglass, the stairs descend from the lobby to the locker room and training area, and someone standing at the bottom can look up the skirt of a woman standing at the top.
One former female member of the executive staff learned this lesson early in her tenure, she said, when she looked down to see a male trainer, two floors down, staring right back up, walking step for step with her.
"He even leaned to get a better angle," the woman said. "He wasn't even trying to hide it."
Snyder himself was not accused of acting improperly with women, but they did blame him for an understaffed human resources department and what they viewed as a "sophomoric culture of verbal abuse among top executives that they believed played a role in how those executives treated their employees." Snyder also reportedly routinely belittled top executives. One was a former male cheerleader in college, and Snyder once allegedly ordered him to do cartwheels for their entertainment after an executive staff meeting.
"I have never been in a more hostile, manipulative, passive-aggressive environment … and I worked in politics," said Julia Payne, who briefly served as vice president of communications for the team in 2003. "With such a toxic, mood-driven environment, and the owner behaving like he does, how could anyone think these women would go to HR?"
Payne says she did not witness or experience sexual harassment, but did support what "many" other former employees said about the culture Snyder fostered.
The report is full of text messages from employees that support some of their claims, and also includes an entire section devoted to Larry Michael -- who retired earlier this week.
"(Michael) said you can't mess with her, though … because you know she's f-----g every guy on the team, right?," said a Washington staffer, who afterward mentioned the comment to four colleagues, including a veteran female employee.
"I was mortified, but not surprised," the female employee said. Years earlier, Michael had squeezed this woman's face after a late-night taping of a team program and told her "she was so cute," she said.
Unwelcome advances, a volatile environment and what several women describe as a nightmare allegedly took place at Redskins Park over the last decade. It's incredible to look back less than a year ago and see former general manager Bruce Allen say that the culture is "actually damn good."
This news comes just days after Washington announced it was retiring its team name. The franchise's moniker has been a controversial topic for years with Native Americans petitioning the team to change it on multiple occasions. Snyder had long been resistant to changing the name, telling USA Today in 2013 that he would "never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER -- you can use caps." However, after stadium naming-rights sponsor FedEx threatened less than two weeks ago that it would end its partnership with Washington, the team clearly began to feel real pressure for change, perhaps for the first time. This development certainly does not help the change Washington is trying to embrace.