(WASHINGTON) — The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing Wednesday to investigate the National Football League’s handling of what lawmakers are calling the Washington Commanders’ “toxic” workplace culture, including sexual harassment.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared virtually to face a grilling from committee Democrats.
During the roughly two-and-a-half hour hearing, Goodell was questioned about both the team culture in general and allegations about owner Daniel Snyder’s personal conduct.
Snyder did not testify as the committee had requested, although a name card and microphone were placed in front of an empty chair at the witness table. A spokesperson for Snyder cited a “business conflict” in a letter to the committee, according to ESPN.
“His refusal to testify sends a clear message that he is more concerned about protecting himself than coming clean with the American people. If the NFL is unwilling or unable to hold Mr. Snyder accountable than I am prepared to do so,” said committee chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who said she intends to subpoena Snyder to to testify at a deposition next week.
“I have not seen a workplace in the NFL that is anywhere near what we saw in the context of that period of time for the Washington Commanders,” said Goodell of the organization until recently known as the Washington Football Team.
Several Republicans on the committee claim Democrats shouldn’t be investigating a private business, instead questioning the commissioner on issues unrelated to the investigation, ranging from the NFL’s social justice program to Deflategate.
“Our hearing today is about protecting women and all workers from sexual harassment intimidation and bullying in the workplace,” Maloney said in her opening statement.
Multiple team employees were fired in 2020 when a Washington Post investigation found allegations of sexual harassment spanning from 2006 to 2019.
Goodell confirmed many of the claims about team culture found in an investigation by attorney Beth Wilkinson. “It is clear to me that the workplace in Washington was unprofessional and unacceptable in numerous respects: bullying, widespread disrespect toward colleagues, use of demeaning language, public embarrassment, and harassment,” he said.
Goodell defended the NFL’s response to the investigation. In 2021, the league fined the team $10 million. Snyder had denied any misconduct but has stepped away from day-to-day operations of the team.
The hearing grew especially tense when Democrats demanded why Goodell didn’t release Wilkinson’s full report, just a summary.
“Commissioner Goodell, yes or no: Will you commit today to providing this committee the full findings of the NFL internal investigation while protecting the identities of the confidential witnesses?” she asked.
Goodell responded that the NFL had committed to protecting the identities of the victims who came forward.
Rep. Jaime Raskin, D-Md, asked Goodell why redacting names and other identifying information — a practice the NFL had used in the release of a sexual harassment report about the Miami Dolphins — was not “sufficient” to protect the anonymity of the women involved.
“Congressman, with all due respect, redaction doesn’t always work in my world,” said Goodell.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich, prodded Goodell on whether he would force a change in leadership in Washington. “Will you remove him?” she asked about Snyder.
“I don’t have the authority to remove him,” Goodell said, although his fellow owners could vote to do so.
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