Jon Gruden was fired from his position as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders for emails he sent over a decade ago. It would likely be easier to make a list of people Gruden didn’t single out for personal attacks, which, at present, may only include his immediate family.
However, the issue with Gruden’s firing has little to do with Gruden and everything to do with it revealing the NFL covered up an investigation into what is now known as the Washington Football Team.
Someone in the League office leaked the Gruden emails. For what purpose, we don’t know. We do know that all the emails came out of the NFL’s investigation into the then-Washington Redskins, a probe that involves around 650,00 documents, emails, and data. Gruden wasn’t part of the investigation; he was collateral damage.
That’s not to defend the Gruden. What he said was pig-headed and wrong. But it does raise questions about the decision to leak by the NFL.
The investigation covered 15 years with Washington. More than 40 employees accused the team of sexual harassment, abuse, and harboring a toxic work environment. Yet Roger Goodell and the League released none of the information from that probe and made the odd decision to create no paper reports. At the time, ESPN reported, “attorney Beth Wilkinson, who conducted the investigation, orally submitted her findings and recommendations to the league.”
There was a $10 million fine. Everyone had to attend “sensitivity training,” and owner Daniel Snyder got removed from day-to-day operations. What broke this week was how that decision to quietly sweep things under the rug and give a wrist slap to Snyder was made.
The NFL sent its top lawyer, Jeff Pash, into the situation. Pash was best friends with the leadership in Washington. What happened next, according to The New York Times, was “amid a dispute between the team’s principal owner, Daniel Snyder, and his limited partners and as The Washington Post detailed widespread sexual harassment in the organization — Snyder hired the Washington lawyer Beth Wilkinson to conduct an investigation. The League took over the investigation, with Wilkinson reporting to Pash. Ultimately, Snyder expanded his financial stake in the team, and the League did not release the full detailed report of its investigation.”
Washington got investigated for everything. There were allegations they were doctoring injury reports, violating rules over free agents, and downgrading fines the League should have assessed to the club. But worst of all, the treatment of women within the organization matches some of the worst conduct detailed in any of the #MeToo era stories.
First, there was May 2018, where the NFL was forced to investigate Washington’s treatment of its cheerleaders. The New York Times learned that cheerleaders “had been flown to Costa Rica for a team event, made to pose topless for a photo shoot and assigned as personal escorts to team sponsors and suite holders.” Forbes reported instances where cheerleaders were propositioned and pressured in some cases, verbally degraded in others.
Another New York Times report revealed that the team was hiring women entirely for their looks, with no cheerleading duties, and doing whatever the organization requested at private events. After those news reports dropped, the team was forced to promise they’d focus on “cheerleader safety.”
Again, the result of all this investigation was a decision made by the NFL to cover up everything that happened, provide no transparency, and protect the owner, Daniel Snyder. This protection was notably not granted to someone like Gruden, who was an employee of ESPN at the time all of this was going down. The League was willing to “take a stand” against Gruden, but they want no more questions about their cover-up of the Washington Redskins investigation.
It’s telling that Washington — after years of pressure — decided to change its name from Redskins to Football Team soon after this investigation. And they’ve done other things to appease certain journalistic narratives.
It’s similar to how Harvey Weinstein floundered after being outed and accused; he promised he’d do more and would tackle the scourge of our time, the National Rifle Association. It was nothing more than a diversion.
This isn’t a story about Gruden, and it’s not even a story about the Washington Football Team anymore. Washington’s ownership may have engaged in all the tawdry behavior. Still, the NFL decided to bring their top attorney into the situation to take over the investigation. The NFL chose to hide all information relating to that investigation and provide no closure or answers to the cheerleaders and other employees who were abused, harmed, or verbally assaulted.
By stepping in and taking over the investigation and hiding it, Roger Goodell and his leadership team have assumed full responsibility here. For all the talk of how the NFL is involved so many good causes and doing all the right things — which ESPN reporters like Adam Schefter dutifully report like good props — the NFL decided to cover up an investigation that revealed some of the worst abuses of the #MeToo era.
When Congress made its investigations into steroid use in baseball, the ramifications were longstanding. If the NFL cannot police itself here and refuses to punish bad behavior, it may be time for Congress to force Roger Goodell and his team to start testifying under oath about their decisions.
It’s time to release all the documents here. The NFL cannot run from the light. Football is America’s favorite pastime now, surpassing baseball. A sports league that flouts accountability and mistreats and abuses people is not something that should be allowed to stand.
Release all the emails and documents related to the Washington investigation. It’s time for full transparency.