The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The NFL’s investigation was just like Daniel Snyder’s workplace culture: Rotten

In a statement after the NFL announced a $10 million fine, Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder said, “I have learned a lot in the last few months about how my club operated.” (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The so-called investigative report on the nasty skirt-clutching culture inside the Washington Football Team has vanished like invisible ink. And somehow the NFL thinks it can make it all right by handing Tanya Snyder the mop and broom. Great. That’s the perfect NFL solution, isn’t it? Just to turn to the wife and say: “Here. You clean it up.”

Nothing against Mrs. Snyder — who is sure to do a far more professional job overseeing the business operation of the Washington Football Team than the twerp who has run it like a beer-slopping stag party these past 20-some years. But what do they take us for, really? As you read the NFL’s statement on its months-long investigation of Daniel Snyder’s cesspool of an office, you can almost feel Commissioner Roger Goodell and his legal eagles admiring their soft-shoe work as they step around the sleaze puddles.

Not a single allegation against Snyder himself was addressed. No written report will be issued. And no one is truly penalized. Except, of course, the women who were peeping-Tommed and pimped to sponsors. The perps? Some of them, such as Larry Michael, got to retire. The main culprit was allowed to profess ignorance from the distance of a superyacht and pay a $10 million fine that amounts to slot machine money for him.

“I have learned a lot in the last few months about how my club operated,” said the sneeringly disingenuous Snyder, who was alleged to have committed an act of sexual misconduct against an employee on a team plane, for which the team reached a $1.6 million settlement.

The NFL’s 29-paragraph statement goes on interminably without disclosing a single germane fact or finding. Independent counsel Beth Wilkinson — what has she been doing over the past year? There is nothing on paper, there is no evidence, and there are no conclusions. The NFL’s account of her report is like a spirograph in which everything circles into a single invisible point.

“Wilkinson was not specifically tasked with confirming or rejecting any particular allegation of inappropriate conduct,” the league wrote blithely in the opening of a statement that seeks to conclude the whole matter without coming to a single conclusion.

Lewd cheerleader videos, sexist rules: Ex-employees decry Washington's NFL team workplace

It turns out that Wilkinson’s job was to conduct an investigation in which nothing was to be specifically investigated. No conclusions were to be reached about any allegations that she was charged with investigating, because it was not her job to determine whether any “particular allegation of inappropriate conduct” was true. It was not her job to investigate, as it turned out, any actual people.

It was the building that did it. The walls. It was the staircase that peered up the dresses of young female employees.

“Beth wasn’t tasked with making recommendations about what should be done in terms of accountability by any individual person,” said Lisa Friel, the NFL’s special counsel for investigations.

It was the carpet that did it. It was the rug that made daily rude comments to female executives in front of clients.

Tanya Snyder, wife of owner Daniel Snyder, named co-CEO of WFT

It was the cameras, unoperated by any human hand, that took lewd videos of cheerleaders without their permission and shared “the good bits” of their nipples and groins with unnamed team executives.

The NFL’s statement goes on, bland and imprecise and with fact-dulling sentence after sentence, summing up meaningless generalities while absolving any actual humans of responsibility. “Numerous female employees reported having experienced sexual harassment and a general lack of respect in the workplace,” the statement said.

Numerous? Numerous?

Try 40. That’s how many women came forward publicly — including Tiffany Bacon Scourby, who accused Snyder of trying to pressure her to join a friend of his in a hotel room at a charity event. Then there was the young female executive who said, “It was like fresh meat to a pack of wolves every time a new pack of interns would come in.” And, of course, there were the scores of women who didn’t come forward publicly, who chose to keep their accounts confidential — such as the employee who received the settlement following the episode on Snyder’s plane.

Snyder’s vicious litigiousness is legendary, and his long campaign of legal intimidation over the course of the year, from private investigators contacting women to a blizzard of legal filings, appears to have worked. It scared Goodell and the league lawyers into this ludicrous soft-shoe performance. All you can hear in this supposed final report is the hissing of smooth shoe leather over plush executive-suite carpet.

You will never know any specifics, never know the full truth. There will never be any assessment of personal responsibility. Instead, there is just 29 paragraphs of perfect non-descriptness, a vague hum-drumming about “toxic culture.” All of which has the distinct sound of a hush up. As for the dirt under the carpet? Well, that’s for Mrs. Snyder to clean up.