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Commanders rank last in NFL for working conditions, according to NFLPA survey

The Commanders' facility, shown here, and environment graded lowest on the list of the 32 NFL teams in a recent player survey. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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INDIANAPOLIS — The Washington Commanders have the worst working environment for players and their families, according to a survey of players conducted by the NFL Players Association.

Of the approximately 2,200 players contacted by the NFLPA, 1,300 participated in the survey, which examined eight facets of teams’ operations and facilities in 2022: treatment of players’ families, food service and nutrition, weight rooms, strength and conditioning coaches, athletic training rooms, athletic training staffs, locker rooms and travel. Players provided both numerical ratings, such as how they would rate their weight room, and qualitative responses that factored into teams’ overall ratings.

Washington received an F for its treatment of players’ families, a D+ for its nutritional offerings, a C+ for its weight room, an F- for its athletic training room, a D for its athletic training staff and an F- for its locker room and travel operations.

“The locker room does not have confidence that club owner Dan Snyder is willing to invest to upgrade the facilities, as player responses rank him 31st in this category,” the Commanders’ report reads.

The team practices at its headquarters in Ashburn, Va., which opened in August 1992. FedEx Field in Landover, Md., opened in 1997 and over the years has been the subject of complaints from fans and players because of its condition and safety concerns.

The Commanders did earn an A+ for their strength and conditioning staff, led by Chad Englehart. Every Washington player who responded said he received an individual plan from the strength coaches, and 93 percent said the team had enough strength and conditioning coaches. Washington employs three assistants under Englehart, two of whom have dual specialties in nutrition or player performance, as well as a director of player performance. Still lacking, according to the players: the size of the weight room.

The Commanders ranked 18th among teams for their food services. They provide all three meals to players, unlike three teams that don’t offer dinner. But only 59 percent of Washington players who responded said they felt there was enough room in the team’s cafeteria.

The Commanders’ athletic training room received one of the lowest marks in the league. The majority of Washington players who participated said they felt they didn’t have enough athletic trainers or physical therapists, and many reported a lack of space in the hot and cold tubs.

Perhaps more concerning: “Many players reported that they do not want to do their rehab here,” according to the report.

Washington was without a head athletic trainer for much of the 2021 season after it placed Ryan Vermillion on administrative leave because of a federal investigation. To fill the void that year, the team relied on its assistants, some summer interns and the voluntary assistance of former director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer and former Washington Capitals athletic trainer Greg Smith.

The Commanders hired Al Bellamy as their head athletic trainer in April 2022 and now have three assistant athletic trainers as well as a director of rehabilitation/physical therapist and a full-time clinical psychologist.

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Washington’s locker room received the worst grade in the league. Players reported inadequate space, a lack of warm water and poor drainage in showers. They also said space was tight on team flights, contributing to the team’s league-worst grade for its travel.

Washington is one of six teams that require young players to share rooms on road trips.

“Player health and safety is our top priority, and we continue to invest in our facilities, including a new practice field, new turf in the practice bubble and increased meeting room space,” a Commanders spokesperson said in response to the survey results. “We know there is more to do, and we regularly talk with our players about ways to improve their work environment and the experience for their families.”

Treatment of families
29th-tied (last)
Food service/nutrition
Weight room
Strength coaches
Training room
30th-tied (last)
Training staff
Locker room

The Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins received A grades across the board from players and rank as the top teams in the league. The Las Vegas Raiders weren’t far behind; their lowest grade was a B+, for the athletic training staff.

Some of the most successful teams in 2022 were reported to have some of the worst working conditions. The Kansas City Chiefs ranked 29th and received the lowest mark in the league for their athletic training staff. The Cincinnati Bengals ranked 27th and had an F- grade for their nutritional offerings. They were the only team reported not to provide supplements to players.

The Houston Texans, who finished the season 3-13-1, ranked fourth in the players’ survey and had top-10 grades in every category.

The NFLPA said the basis for the survey was not, at least initially, to take action, unless obviously warranted.

“I don’t think as of now our plan was to make demands of every individual teams,” NFLPA president and former offensive lineman JC Tretter said. “… I think what they do on their own accord is going to matter a lot.”

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Tretter said the union’s hope isn’t to shame owners or teams but rather to urge the lagging teams to improve and to highlight the teams whose players reported pleasant environments.

“I think some [owners] are probably shameless at this point,” Tretter said. “You’re not going to pull on their heartstrings or convince them to do the right thing. I think that time has come and gone. But I think there will be some that read [the survey], and whether [they take it personally] or whether [they say], ‘I didn’t know about this; this isn’t fair, this isn’t right,’ I mean, there are some really basic things where it’s like, this shouldn’t be happening.”

NFL vice president Jeff Miller issued a statement after the release of the survey results, saying the league “[looks] forward to reviewing the data.”

“On Monday, during joint NFL and NFLPA meetings in Indianapolis, we discussed the process by which we would conduct the next comprehensive player survey to continue to work together to improve players’ experiences at NFL clubs,” Miller said in the statement.

The collective bargaining agreement calls for the league and union to establish an accountability and care committee to give guidance on medical care and rehab services for players and to conduct a player survey at least once every three years about teams’ medical and training staffs.