We tend to use the wrong D-word when referring to the Washington Redskins. They incite controversy, and we call them dysfunctional.
They’re dysfunctional when they can’t sign Kirk Cousins to a long-term contract; when they help wreck Robert Griffin III’s career; when they bad-mouth players who leave the organization to save face; when they use alcoholism as reason to fire former general manager Scot McCloughan for cause after shunning the issue when they hired him; when they disregard concern about the racial insensitivity of the team’s name; and now, when they are accused of allowing shady things to be done to their cheerleaders for the enjoyment of male sponsors and suite holders. Same ol’ dysfunctional franchise, huh?
No. That’s bailout language. “Dysfunctional” is too vague, and when used too often, it can start to sound like people are picking on the team. It’s far more accurate to use another D-word to describe the franchise’s leaders, their ineptitude and their propensity for exhibiting the worst behavior of privileged people: deplorable.
This is not merely a dysfunctional organization burdened by some mystical inability to get right. This is a dysfunctional organization that can’t get right because it is owned and operated by a few deplorable human beings. At the top of the food chain, owner Daniel Snyder and team President Bruce Allen continue to lead one of the NFL’s most important franchises deeper into the sewer. The latest example is exposed in a New York Times report on troubling claims of the franchise’s poor treatment of its cheerleaders. The story includes five women accusing the organization of indecent and shady acts five years ago.
The most egregious alleged behavior occurred during a Costa Rica trip for a calendar photo shoot in which the team allegedly allowed deep-pocketed male sponsors and FedEx Field suite holders access to see the cheerleaders topless or wearing only body paint. And one night in Costa Rica, the Times story says, nine of the cheerleaders were assigned to escort some of the men to a nightclub. The piece also details a 2012 boat party with local businessman William Teel Jr. that included charges of men giving cash prizes to cheerleaders during a twerking contest.
Regardless of what we think about the existence of cheerleaders and dance teams in professional sports — where the women are underdressed and sex appeal rules — these are serious claims that should not be minimized by a broad, existential debate about the value of those jobs. They should be taken seriously in any era, but amid this #MeToo reckoning, there can be no overlooking any questionable, inappropriate or oppressive sins against women.
Part of the movement is to eliminate all barriers, including shaming (which is easy to do to cheerleaders), that obstruct the pursuit of truth and equality. Society has let boys be boys for long enough. It’s not just about punishing Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby or Larry Nassar. It’s about accountability for all. It’s about female empowerment. And for men in particular, it’s about learning to be more compassionate and reaching a higher level of understanding to help women pursue fairness. In that spirit, Snyder, Allen and the entire Washington franchise should be, above all, concerned about the allegations and willing to do an honest, thorough and transparent investigation into the matter.
But, of course, they didn’t get off to a proactive start. That matters because it tells you that their instincts are all wrong. Instead of choosing to be humane, they reacted first with a deplorable brushoff. It’s infuriating, though not surprising, that the franchise’s leadership chose to deliver a vanilla statement to the Times that didn’t address anything specifically. Then it went into either no-comment mode or made only select cheerleaders who have been vetted and have no beef with the organization available to defend the team anonymously.
On Thursday afternoon, Allen finally chimed in with an appropriate statement, alluding to interviews the franchise already has conducted and contradictory information it has (the Times story presented counterclaims, too) and promising further scrutiny and “significant repercussions” if the team could prove the allegations are true. It was late and a little defensive, but it was progress.
Until the Allen statement, Stephanie Jojokian, the cheerleading director and choreographer, was left to answer the most difficult questions. While I was moved by the vehemence of her denials and her emotions in the Times story, Jojokian’s explanations don’t nullify multiple claims to the contrary. And even with some reassuring words from Allen that actually reference the allegations, it’s impossible to trust the organization when it didn’t respond appropriately until after it felt the first wave of criticism. It hoped to sweep another issue under the rug. It would have been better, not to mention classier, to deliver an immediate strong and personal message raging against this type of behavior. Instead, for almost a full day, it looked like the team was hiding or, worse, ignoring.
The reaction is consistent with what the organization has become under Snyder. On just about every social issue, from the team name to player protests, Washington comes across as smug, self-serving or frighteningly unconcerned. Many times, it is all three. The initial response to this potential scandal is another reminder that its leaders consistently act in a deplorable and privileged manner that makes them ill-suited to represent a community as diverse and influential as this one.
If the organization doesn’t care to think more deeply about whether it is offending Native Americans, if it doesn’t care about African American concerns involving police brutality and inequality, if it doesn’t instinctually care about the rights of women and respecting them, then what does it stand for? It doesn’t win many games. It gets caught telling lies to the public regularly. It just makes money off claiming to be a civic asset without being asked to provide proof. If football weren’t an American obsession, the team would have been thrown in the recycling bin long ago.
But the franchise continues to stay upright, intimating it will do better but pompously believing it can do no wrong. Then, when another bad thing happens, you realize how deplorable its leaders can be. It would be much more tolerable if this franchise was merely dysfunctional. It isn’t.
Good people can cure dysfunction. Smug men who show only cursory concern for humanity cannot rinse off their deplorable stench.