NFL Team Might Actually Be Held Accountable for Treating Women Employees Like Shit
For the first time in NFL history, it seems the Washington Commanders' systemic culture of sexual harassment and verbal abuse may finally get its day in court.JusticePolitics
After a slate of bombshell investigations, hours of testimony in front of The House Committee on Oversight and Reform, a petition with 43,000 signatures, and an in-person protest outside FedEx Field, home to the Washington Commanders, it appears the former women employees of NFL’s most abhorred franchise are maybe, hopefully, finally, getting closer to justice.
On Thursday morning, the office of D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced that it had filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the Commanders, the team’s owner Dan Snyder, the NFL, and the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell. The suit accuses all parties of intentionally deceiving D.C.’s fans about the results of a 2021 investigation into the team’s toxic workplace, in favor of financial gains. The filing joins several other ongoing investigations into the team’s workplace—which was notably horrific for women employees—as Snyder explores his options to sell the team.
“Yesterday, when we heard the charges, it was like a faucet opened up and tears were streaming down my face because it’s like, finally, they see us,” Melanie Coburn, a former Washington cheerleader and marketing director who participated in Congress’ hearing in February, told Jezebel on Friday. “They know it’s not just Dan, it’s not just a few experiences, this is the culmination of all these attacks being swept under the rug.”
Snyder and the culture he enabled at the Commanders have been under scrutiny since a Washington Post report in 2020 revealed allegations of systemic harassment, both sexual and verbal in nature. (One former executive, for example, was caught on a hot mic objectifying a college intern, while another told an Athletic reporter she had “an ass like a wagon.”) As a result, the NFL issued the team a $10 million fine. After Congress began investigating the team’s culture, as well as the NFL’s near silence on the allegations, Snyder refused to cooperate and was later located on his megayacht near Cannes. According to ESPN, Snyder is reportedly convinced that neither the NFL nor its owners can “fuck with” him. But the government certainly seems to be trying.
“After public reporting revealed that sexual misconduct, harassment, and misogyny ran rampant for decades at the team, the defendants promised DC residents that the league was going to fix this toxic culture, including by fully cooperating with an independent investigation,” Racine said in a statement. “That was all a lie. Instead, the NFL turned a blind eye to Snyder’s extensive efforts to silence or intimidate witnesses, and the NFL and Commanders entered into a secret agreement that gave Snyder power to veto the release of any results.”
Across several Washington Post investigations, former cheerleaders said executives created videos of them partially exposed on Snyder’s command, made inappropriate comments towards them, and asked them to flirt with suiteholders. The AG’s lawsuit explicitly makes reference to the way the cheerleaders were mistreated by the team, stating that they, like other women employees, were “exploited,” “routinely…objectified,” and subject to “extensive and prolonged sexual harassment and verbal abuse” while working for the Commanders.
“We’ve all been interviewed and participated in multiple investigations, we’ve relived our traumas multiple times,” Coburn, who serves as an advocate for survivors of Snyder’s tenure, including a group of former cheerleaders who were exploited by team leadership, said. “We’re finally hopeful that all of this anxiety and stress that we’ve been going through perhaps will lead to the transparency and accountability that people have been so desperate for.”
The AG’s office also hopes to force the NFL to release the findings of its investigation into the Commanders’ workplace culture. Though Racine has made clear that the lawsuit is not intended to vindicate survivors and alleged victims, women who have come forward with claims over the years have still found a sense of relief with the latest update.
“Yesterday, for the first time in over two years I felt that the law is truly on our side,” Imbert, a former producer in the team’s broadcast department, who went on the record with The Post in 2020 about her experiences with the team, told Jezebel.
As of today, it seems the efforts Snyder, Goodell, the Commanders, and the NFL went to may not be enough to save them from the wrath of the public, city officials, and the women who were hurt, ignored, or silenced under their watch. “For years, the team and its owner have caused very real and very serious harm and then lied about it to dodge accountability and to continue to rake in profits,” Racine during the news conference. “So far, they seem to have gotten away with it. But that stops today.”
For the first time in league history, true accountability—the kind that evaded Deshaun Watson and the women he allegedly harassed—for women may be within reach. Imbert knows they still have a long journey ahead but the message, she says, is clear: “They are not above the law, we are not afraid of them, we will not be silenced, and we will be relentless in our fight.”