Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform gave the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell until Thursday to produce documents related to the league’s investigation of the Washington Football Team workplace, and that deadline passed without either the committee or the NFL commenting on what information, if any, was shared.
Should the league fail to make what’s perceived as a good-faith effort to comply by the deadline, the committee has a few options at its disposal, though it’s not clear whether there is enough agreement on the bipartisan committee to exercise any of them.
In an Oct. 21 letter to Goodell, Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) asked that the league share “all documents and communications obtained in connection with the investigation into the WFT, its management, its owners, and any other matter relating to or resulting from the WFT investigation.”
Goodell has said that the NFL would “respond to Congress appropriately” and be “cooperative,” yet he also said the NFL would not release any documents related to the investigation.
Should the committee decide it isn’t satisfied with the NFL’s response, it could convene a hearing that would shine light on the league’s handling of its investigation into allegations of widespread sexual harassment. According to Krishnamoorthi, committee staffers have fielded calls from people who want to testify under oath.
“We have had a number of people call us — people with special knowledge related to this case — basically asking to testify,” Krishnamoorthi said in an interview this week. “So I think it’s fair to say that there is great interest in what happens.”
The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, with broad purview to investigate government agencies and private business, alike. It is the only committee with subpoena power, although it uses such authority only rarely.
Nonetheless, Maloney did just that Tuesday, issuing subpoenas to executives of ExxonMobil, Chevron and other oil companies after they refused to provide documents the panel requested in its investigation into allegations they hid evidence about the danger of global warming.
However, there is not unanimity among its 40-plus members on whether the NFL’s handling of the Washington team’s workplace warrants the panel’s attention.
Krishnamoorthi said he believes it does for several reasons, chief among them that Congress has an interest in ensuring that American workplaces are safe.
“The NFL is perhaps the most visible workplace among workplaces, and it powerfully influences the way that, in my opinion, men and boys think about sexual harassment and the way that employers think about sexual harassment,” Krishnamoorthi said.
Moreover, he added, the NFL enjoys an antitrust exemption granted by Congress and, in turn, is expected to operate to some degree in the public interest.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the senior Republican on the committee, disagrees. In an emailed statement, Comer referred to the letter requesting the NFL documents as the “theatrics” of a Democratic Party that is “out of touch with the American people,” as well as a poor use of committee resources that he felt should be devoted to issues “that actually impact Americans.”
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who also serves on the panel, echoed the sentiment, saying he believes Congress “has no business” delving into the NFL’s affairs.
“Making it political or a quasi-spectacle larger than what it is just has no basis here. We have real business to handle,” Donalds said in an interview Wednesday. “Getting involved with what’s happened with the Washington Redskins and the NFL is not one of those things that we should be doing. And, yes, I did call them the Washington Redskins. I’m old-school like that.”
The Oversight and Reform Committee has investigated a range of issues, from the effectiveness of the U.S. Postal Service to steroid use in professional sports.
It flexed its muscle on the latter issue by convening a hearing in 2005 to pressure Major League Baseball to toughen its policy against performance-enhancing drugs. The optics made a powerful tableau as star players such as Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro testified about their knowledge of prohibited substances in clubhouses.
In an interview this week, Krishnamoorthi elaborated on his concerns about the NFL’s actions in this case.
“The manner in which the NFL conducted the investigation is highly questionable, such as the fact that they asked the former federal prosecutor, Ms. [Beth] Wilkinson, not to document things,” he said.
The team’s broad use of nondisclosure agreements for the apparent purpose of silencing employees also raises concern, he noted, as does the disclosure of offensive and familiar emails between NFL general counsel Jeff Pash and Bruce Allen, the Washington NFL team’s former president.
“I question whether [Pash] is the proper person to be in charge of this — whether his own conflicts of interest may have led the investigation to go in a way it shouldn’t have gone,” he said.
Finally, Krishnamoorthi added, there are questions about the NFL’s $10 million fine against the team yet no sanction of consequence against owner Daniel Snyder.
“It’s striking how the owner of the Washington [team] continues to evade personal accountability for what happened,” Krishnamoorthi said. “A lot of people are questioning why that happened.”
Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this report.
What to read about the Washington Commanders
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