NFL owners came here on Tuesday to talk about football business — the state of officiating, concussion data, stadium updates in Buffalo and Chicago, and more.
Ana Nunez and Melanie Coburn came to discuss a different matter.
The two former employees of the Washington Football Team delivered a letter to each the 32 owners staying at the Intercontinental New York Barclay hotel, site of the meetings.
The letter demanded transparency and accountability from the investigation into the toxic, sexist, and misogynistic workplace environment that cultivated under Daniel Snyder’s watch for two decades.
“I want everybody to know the heinous things that happened in that organization,” Coburn said. “I think the owners deserve to know. I think the league, the fans, the sponsors, everybody needs to know the truth of what happens there, and what will continue to happen there with the leadership in place.”
Coburn and Nunez felt the need to hand-deliver the letter because there has been an appalling lack of accountability for Snyder or anyone associated with the WFT. Snyder was temporarily removed from day-to-day operations of his team, and the team was fined $10 million, but that was basically it for punishment. The team is now controlled by Snyder’s wife, Tanya, and it’s only a matter of time before Snyder regains control.
Most egregiously, the NFL ordered independent investigator Beth Wilkinson not to produce a written report, instead asking her for a verbal recollection. This from the same league that received a 243-page, written report from Ted Wells over the Patriots’ deflated footballs.
“To hear that it was orally presented was kind of a slap in the face,” Nunez said. “We want them to make [them] accountable, especially Dan Snyder for letting this happen over and over again for years.”
The owners declined to speak to the media after Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioner Roger Goodell instead took the heat at a news conference. He said the league’s response was appropriate because it promised privacy and anonymity to many of the 150 people interviewed in the investigation. He also disagreed with the characterization that Snyder wasn’t held accountable.
Goodell ordered the investigation after more than 40 women came forward to the Washington Post in the summer of 2020 detailing a pattern of sexual harassment, misogyny, and borderline prostitution. The results were announced right before the Fourth of July.
“We made a promise to protect anonymity to make sure we got the right information,” Goodell said. “We need to stand by that. We are very cognizant we are protecting those who came forward. They were incredibly brave, incredibly open.”
But Nunez, Coburn, and dozens of their former co-workers are furious about the report getting buried.
“The NFL should not be allowed to encourage employees to come forward at great personal and professional risk to speak to investigators, only to sweep the results of that investigation under the rug,” read their letter, signed by Nunez, Coburn, and 10 of their former co-workers.
The only person to face any accountability from the investigation has been Jon Gruden, whose sexist, homophobic, and racist e-mails to former WFT president Bruce Allen were leaked to the media and led to him resigning as Raiders coach.
The NFL has 650,000 e-mails that it is keeping private, as well as the details of hundreds of interviews it conducted.
“The NFL must make public the findings of the investigation into the WFT,” stated the letter. “We are calling on you to demand that the NFL make the findings public. We are calling on you to do the right thing.”
The most notorious allegations revolve around the WFT’s cheerleading squad. The cheerleaders were allegedly encouraged to get close with suite holders and team sponsors who were invited to calendar photo shoots. Snyder also had a $1.6 million settlement with a former employee in 2009.
“It sounds terrible, but they were trying to pimp them out,” said Coburn, who was a cheerleader from 1997-2001 and an employee until 2011, helping run the cheerleading squad. “I felt that I had to stay there longer because I felt like I had to protect [the cheerleaders].”
But the incidents didn’t just involve the cheerleaders. Nunez was in sales and suites during her tenure from 2015-18.
“I know a lot of people want to talk about how this happened years ago, but I was within the last three or four years,” Nunez said. “There are top-tier employees who make comments about what you’re wearing, your looks, and you’re supposed to just brush it off.”
Nunez said she was encouraged to speak of her experiences to the WFT’s assistant general counsel in 2018, but nothing came of the conversation, and she was fired in 2019. WFT had a tiny human resources department that has since become more robust and formalized as a result of the investigation.
“When something happens to you, you should be able to go to HR and have an interview and have something happen after it,” Nunez said. “There was nothing.”
But now Congress is getting involved. The NFL received a letter last week from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform requesting documents and information about the WFT investigation and why the NFL never asked for a written report from Wilkinson. Goodell said the league will cooperate with the Congressional committee.
“The NFL’s lack of transparency about the problems it recently uncovered raise questions about the seriousness with which it has addressed bigotry, racism, sexism, and homophobia — setting troubling precedent for other workplaces,” wrote the committee. “We hope and trust that the NFL shares the committee’s goal of protecting American workers from harassment and discrimination.”
So far, the NFL hasn’t shown that it supports that goal. That’s why Nunez and Coburn came here on Tuesday with a plea for the owners.
“I know my story and what I experienced there, and I want my story, Melanie’s story, everyone’s story to be released. Because this is not OK,” Nunez said. “We need accountability now.”
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