Goodell said he believes the NFL has held Daniel Snyder, the team’s owner, properly accountable. He stressed that the league considers it important to protect witnesses who sought “security and privacy and anonymity” to participate in Wilkinson’s investigation.
“That not only affects the investigation that you’re going through,” Goodell said. “But it affects future investigations and the credibility of that. So when you make a promise to protect the anonymity to make sure that we get the right information, you need to stand by that. And so we’re very conscious of making sure that we’re protecting those that came forward. They were incredibly brave, incredibly open, and we respect the pain that they probably went through all over again to come forward.”
Lisa Banks, an attorney representing former team employees, responded to Goodell’s comments on Twitter.
“I represent 40 former employees of the WFT who participated in the investigation. Goodell’s statement is false,” she wrote, before adding: “My clients did not ask the NFL for ‘protection’ when they participated in the investigation. They asked for transparency and accountability — and received neither.”
Goodell’s first substantive public comments on the investigation, which was completed in July, came after two former employees of the team hand-delivered a letter to owners earlier Tuesday at the hotel at which they were meeting, urging the league to release information from the investigation.
“I just really felt compelled to be here in person to hand-deliver these letters to make my voice and make all of our stories heard,” said one of the former employees, Melanie Coburn, as she stood in the lobby after delivering copies of the letter to the hotel’s front desk. “I think it’s very important that the other owners know what is going on in the Washington football franchise. And I’m honored to be here to represent all of those who have worked in this culture and survived.”
The letter, signed by 12 former team employees, was addressed to five owners on the NFL’s social justice working group and copied to all other owners.
“Unfortunately this is something that doesn’t just happen … at the Washington Football Team,” the other former employee, Ana Nunez, said as she stood alongside Coburn in the hotel lobby. “So that awareness needs to expand beyond the NFL. We have heard stories from other leagues and teams where this has happened in the past. And there needs to be a standard of repercussions for team owners and staff and everyone that this is not okay. ... The long-term trauma is going to be there for people. So now is the time to do it, to say no and to be aware and to be better — better humans, better people, better bosses, better employees.”
The NFL Players Association also has called for information from the investigation to be released. Last week, two members of Congress wrote to Goodell, asking the league to provide the findings of the investigation and details of its handling of the probe.
“It’s a step forward, honestly, because as much as I wish it was just us, that our pleas would have gotten this report released, now we need whoever can [help] to help us, from Congress to different organizations,” Nunez said. “We need more people on board to help push the envelope to have this report released. As someone who is included in the report, I know my story and I know what needs to be told. And I know my friends, my colleagues, my former colleagues — their stories are more than that. We need to be heard whatever way possible.”
The NFL announced in July that Washington would be fined $10 million and that Snyder would cede control of the franchise’s daily operations to his wife, Tanya, who had been named the team’s co-CEO, for an unspecified amount of time. Tanya Snyder is representing the team, along with several other executives, at this week’s meetings.
“I do think he’s been held accountable,” Goodell said of Daniel Snyder. “I think the organization has been held accountable. I think we’ve given an unprecedented fine. Dan Snyder has not been involved with the organization for now almost four months. And we obviously are focused more on making sure that policies ... will be maintained and that we can ensure that will happen with this organization.”
Goodell said the NFL will “respond to Congress appropriately” and will be “cooperative.”
Owners participated in their first in-person meeting Tuesday since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“We got a complete narration and review of how the information was gathered [and] how it was resolved,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, using the team’s former name. “Dan and the Redskins are addressing any issues that were involved and had begun to address them even before the findings were totally in. We looked into how the information was obtained, the extent of the information, how it was presented and [were] totally satisfied.”
New York Jets owner Woody Johnson said before the meeting that he would not offer an opinion on whether evidence from the investigation should be released.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s something between the league and the various people involved in that. I’m not going to really opine on that. We’re here for football.”
In their letter to the owners, the former team employees wrote: “This investigation into the WFT was an important step in addressing the widespread harassment and abuse of women within one franchise of the NFL. If the NFL discloses the results of the investigation and takes meaningful steps to address the underlying problems, that will send the message that the League does not tolerate misogyny and abuse. To date, the League has sent the opposite message.”
Jon Gruden resigned as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders this month after it was revealed that he used racist, homophobic and misogynistic language in emails to Bruce Allen, Washington’s former team president, and others over a span of approximately seven years while Gruden worked for ESPN. Gruden’s emails were uncovered as part of the Washington investigation.
“Now is the time for the NFL to change course and take action to denounce past racist, sexist, and homophobic conduct,” the former Washington employees wrote. “The first step in doing so is transparency. The NFL must make public the findings of the investigation into the WFT. We are calling on you to demand that the NFL make the findings public. We are calling on you to do the right thing.”