Sexual Harassment And A Toxic Culture

For the last three or four days, there has been a “ripple in The Force” around the DC area.  Mysterious Tweets kept showing up saying that a big story was about to break and that it was going to land on the Washington NFL Team Currently-Without-A-Name.  It was supposed to break on Tuesday; then it was Thursday; well, it hit the Internet last night and it is on the front page directly under the masthead in this morning’s Washington Post.  The jump for the article is also in the front section; there is no mention of this story or anything related to this story in today’s 3-page Sports Section.

Here is the link to the story.  It is long and it is sleazy – but it is not nearly as bad as I had conjured up in my mind as the time between its supposed release and its eventual release stretched to more than a day.  Here is the summary:

  • Fifteen women accuse a handful of executives in the team’s “business side” of sexual harassment and creating a toxic work culture that goes back at least to 2006.
  • Two female reporters who covered the team also allege that they were subject to improper advances and touching
  • Two of those men were fired last week; a third announced his resignation from the team yesterday afternoon.
  • Allegations of improper touching, propositioning and peering up women’s dresses through plexiglass stair steps populate the story.

Just so you know, this is pretty mild stuff when compared to what my mind had conjured up for the rumored “blockbuster story”.  Here are the two most outrageous scenarios I had concocted in my mind.  Please note, the key words there are “concocted in my mind”

  1. Somehow and in some way this would be a lurid tale of sex for sale wherein Jeffrey Epstein was a “service provider” and that somehow someone in the team hierarchy had been involved in the elusive activities of Ghislaine Maxwell over the past several months.  Not even close!
  2. A US Attorney somewhere had been investigating and would soon announce an indictment of Danny Boy and/or Bruce Allen for some sort of Madoff-like Ponzi Scheme.  Not even close!

For the record:

  • No one alleges improper conduct by either Danny Boy or Bruce Allen.  Some of the accusers allege that they “set the tone” for the organization but that neither did anything as specifically wrong as any of the charges here.
  • Only one of the fifteen accusers is identified; the other fourteen spoke on the condition of anonymity because they say that they are subject to non-disclosure agreements.
  • A couple of years ago, the team’s cheerleaders accused some of the “business people” of bringing some of the expensive suite holders to a photo shoot where – allegedly – some of the suite holders had the opportunity to see the cheerleaders topless.  These allegations say that there was always pressure to “appeal to” these folks who bought the expensive stadium suites.  There is no overlap – – but there is parallelism.

[Aside:  As the team continues to search for a new name and a new identity, I think we can now assume that two possible names are “off the table”.  Considering this report – and what will surely be follow-up reporting – I think you can kiss goodbye the names Washington Red Tails and Washington Predators.  Then again, I have no expertise in marketing/branding.]

Putting pieces together after the fact, some of the unusual happenings of the past week now make some sense.  Last week, the team announced that it had fired its director of pro personnel and its assistant director of pro personnel.  Given that training camp was about to start, it seemed like a strange time to do that.  However, the team announced the hiring of a guy for the top job there who had formerly been with the Carolina Panthers and so I just figured that this guy was someone who had earned coach Ron Rivera’s trust and that this was a way to get another “Rivera-guy” into a key position.  While that last motivation may still be true, I think this report provides the real reason for the strange timing of those firings.

The announcement yesterday afternoon of the resignation of Larry Michael – “The Voice of the Skins” on radio and TV – was more than unusual.  For about 15 years, Michael has been the ultimate homer and a team apologist to the point of sycophancy.  He often came across like the kid in 7th grade who always asked the teacher what he could do for extra credit on any assignment.  When he resigned with no fanfare and with no acknowledgement or appreciation from anyone in team management, that scored a “10” on the “Bizarro-Meter”.

Fans have already expressed hope that all this sleaze will make the NFL force Danny Boy to sell the team.  I believe that is wishful thinking given what we know so far; no one alleges that Danny Boy did any of the harassing/touching.  Just as it took major economic pressure from big-money interests to force Danny Boy to change the team name, it would take even bigger economic pressure from even more big-money interests to pressure the NFL as a league to rid itself of Danny Boy as an owner.  Hey, in 2020 we have seen that just about anything is possible – – but I still think this is wishful thinking on the part of disheartened fans in the DC area.

Here is something to bolster my point that Danny Boy will not be forced to relinquish the team:

  • The team has hired the outside law firm of Wilkinson Walsh to “conduct a thorough independent review of this entire matter and help the team set new employee standards for the future.”  That is pretty standard stuff – – but the NFL already announced that it will rely on the findings of Wilkinson Walsh to determine what – if anything – the league should do about any of this.
  • It is the team – and by extension, Danny Boy – that has hired Beth Wilkinson for this independent review.  The team and Danny Boy are her clients; the chances that she will come up with anything that puts the team’s future under Danny Boy in jeopardy are minuscule.

Memo to DC Area Fans:  The team is not changing hands based on anything revealed here – and it will take a lot more to kick that snowball over the cliff.  It will take more than another shoe to drop; it will take another dozen or so shoes to drop.

There is an interesting irony here that fans will glom onto because it denigrates Bruce Allen who was fired as team president and GM at the end of last season.  At the end of his tenure here, no one would have confused him with a “fan favorite”.  Two of Bruce Allen’s pronouncements about the team particularly grated on fans.  He once said – after yet another losing season – that the team was “winning off the field”.  Fans did not take kindly to that.  In another time at the podium, he said that the team culture was “damned good”.  Well, the allegations in this report go back to 2006 and Allen was around from 2010-2019.  Is that what “winning off the field” looks like?  The team culture does not sound “damned good” to me and it will not to a lot of callers to DC Sports Radio shows today and tomorrow…

There will be more reporting on this story so let me take stock of the story at this point in time.  There are strong points and there are weak points; there are lots of speculations still out there.

  • Please note that in what sounds like an environment populated with testosterone-driven sub-humans, there are no allegations that any players were involved in any of these incidents.  The alleged perpetrators – people no longer with the team – were nominally professional executives.
  • Those who are pre-disposed to dislike this report can and will point to the fact that there is only one named source and that a lot of this is based on anonymous/unnamed sources.  That is true; it is also true that the team took action against two of its executives prior to the publication of the story indicating to me that the team has some inkling of “improprieties” even before the outside counsel delivers its report.
  • I hate to hear about situations where facts germane to the situation are restricted by non-disclosure agreements.  Those instruments not only get in the way of resolving disputes, but they also create an aura of suspicion about the motivations of all the parties to those agreements.  Why does one party want to keep things quiet?  What did the other party get in return for agreeing to keep things quiet?  Non-disclosure agreements make sense to protect the revelation of trade secrets and/or properly classified information; none of that sort of information appears pertinent here.

Obviously, the findings of the outside counsel will be an important element in the future of this story.  However, as I said above, do not expect any bombshells in there and be prepared for some cosmetic organization chart revisions for the team front office.  There may be another “Casanova wannabe” or two uncovered in the organization who will be terminated but they are not likely to be anyone sitting at a mahogany desk.  I will not be surprised to learn from the outside counsel that the folks already fired/separated were indeed as bad as alleged by the accusers – and maybe even worse.  But that is about as far as this one is likely to go.

So, until we know for sure what the outside counsel comes up with, this story has an unsatisfactory element to it.  As it stands now, it is sort of like the time when Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vaults.  There was great anticipation; people were going to learn something that could be really salacious; and it turned out to be as exciting as shredded wheat.

Stay tuned … but be sure you have something to occupy your time as this saga grinds to its conclusion.  It should take a while and it probably will not be overly dramatic at the end.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………