Column: Washington NFL owner Dan Snyder needs to change more than team name
In the span of a few frantic days last week, Washington’s NFL team was shamed into shedding its racist name and acknowledging a pervasive attitude of sexism and disrespect toward employees. Changing the name and logo will be easier than expunging the arrogance of an organization that allegedly allowed some of its senior officials to demean and mistreat women for more than a decade, as described last week in a thoroughly reported Washington Post story.
Franchise owner Dan Snyder initially refused to comment when approached by Post reporters, who spoke to dozens of former and current team employees and examined texts and company documents in substantiating 15 women’s claims of harassment and improper conduct. While Snyder dug in, three high-ranking executives were “disappeared”: broadcaster Larry Michael abruptly retired, and pro personnel director Alex Santos and assistant pro personnel director Richard Mann II were fired.
Not until the Post story was published did Snyder realize he couldn’t bluster his way out of trouble, as he usually tries to do.
“The behavior described in [Thursday’s] Washington Post article has no place in our franchise or society,” he said Friday in a statement that fell short of an apology. “This story has strengthened my commitment to setting a new culture and standard for our team, a process that began with the hiring of Coach [Ron] Rivera earlier this year.”
As proof he’s serious, Snyder cited his hiring of lawyer Beth Wilkinson, whose high-profile cases include prosecuting Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Wilkinson and her firm, Wilkinson Walsh, “are empowered to do a full, unbiased investigation and make any and all requisite recommendations,” Snyder said. “Upon completion of her work, we will institute new policies and procedures and strengthen our human resources infrastructure to not only avoid these issues in the future but most importantly create a team culture that is respectful and inclusive of all.”
Fifteen women who worked in the Washington Redskins organization allege sexual harassment against scouts and people close to owner Daniel Snyder.
Considering their human resources “infrastructure” reportedly consisted of one full-time person for more than 200 employees, there’s nowhere to go but up.
The women who spoke to the Post expressed doubt they would have been taken seriously if they’d complained that powerful team officials harassed them and told them to wear suggestive clothing to please potential clients.
Their skepticism resonates with every woman who has felt a verbal or physical pinch at work but fumed silently because she needs the job — which usually pays less than what her male peers earn — and knows that pursuing a grievance would only confirm she’s more expendable than the boss’ buddies.
Given the Washington team’s high profile, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will need to monitor the situation closely.
“The club has pledged that it will give its full cooperation to the investigator and we expect the club and all employees to do so,” the NFL said Friday. “We will meet with the attorneys upon the conclusion of their investigation and take any action based on the findings.”
Goodell isn’t likely to force Snyder to sell the franchise, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver ordered then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling to do when overwhelming examples of Sterling’s racist behavior surfaced in 2014. Snyder likely will dodge that fate because the women interviewed by the Post didn’t directly accuse him of misconduct, though it’s difficult to believe he didn’t know about the atmosphere, if not specific incidents.
The NFL hasn’t hesitated to step in before: The Carolina Panthers started an internal investigation in 2017 into allegations owner Jerry Richardson had exhibited racist behavior, sexually harassed employees and paid settlements to four people, but the accusations against Richardson got the league involved. Soon after, Richardson put the team up for sale. The NFL fined him $2.75 million. He sold the Panthers for $2.2 billion.
Under Silver, the NBA has taken a harder line on racist and sexist behavior. Silver acted decisively to banish Sterling, who sold the Clippers to Steve Ballmer, and the league stepped in immediately in 2018 after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told league officials Sports Illustrated had gathered allegations from female Mavericks employees of inappropriate behavior by some of the team’s male employees. The NBA oversaw a seven-month independent investigation that supported those claims and found that “Mavericks management was ineffective” and allowed a hostile environment to flourish. The team was ordered to institute training and other reforms, and Cuban hired Cynthia Marshall as chief executive. Cuban also made a $10-million donation to groups that combat domestic violence and support women in the workplace and publicly apologized for allowing the workplace to become toxic. Silver later said Cuban had followed through.
That was a transformational moment for Cuban, a peek at the humanity behind the bombastic guy who has paid the NBA more than $3 million in fines over the years, mostly for criticizing game officials.
“The pain that people went through, the pain that people shared with me as this happened, the tears that I saw, it just, it hurt,” he told ESPN. “And the way I felt is nothing compared to the way they felt.”
The Washington Redskins are changing their controversial name. Possible new monikers include the RedWolves, Warriors or RedTails.
Cuban is uniquely qualified to advise Snyder, an opportunity Cuban took Thursday during his Sirius XM show “Ask Me Anything With Mark Cuban.” According to the Dallas Morning News, Cuban recommended that Snyder be honest and forthright. That would be a new direction for the Washington NFL team under Snyder’s ownership.
“Tell Dan and his senior management you’ve got to just recognize what you did right and what you did wrong,” Cuban said. “You have to accept the mistakes you made. That’s painful. I made a lot of mistakes. And that’s the only way this is going to get resolved.”
Snyder has a similar chance to be humble and do better, which is a lot to expect. But he also said he’d never change the team’s name, and that’s about to happen. Is there hope for a new attitude along with a new logo? It wouldn’t be the only strange thing to happen in this strangest of years.
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