What to Know
- More than a dozen women who worked for D.C.'s NFL team say they were sexually harassed at work, a bombshell report says. One accuser spoke with NBC on Friday.
- The team says an independent investigation is underway and that they take issues of employee misconduct seriously.
- This isn’t the first time the team has been accused of mistreating women.
More than a dozen female former employees of Washington’s NFL team say they were sexually harassed on the job, according to a bombshell report published Thursday by The Washington Post.
The women described relentless verbal abuse that they say top executives ignored and even condoned. Former marketing coordinator Emily Applegate spoke on the record with the Post and NBC News. She said working in the NFL had been her dream job; instead, she was miserable. She cried in the bathroom after executives swore at her and told her to wear a tight dress so clients at a meeting would have “something to look at.”
"Nobody deserves to be degraded and treated like that. Nobody deserves to be disrespected," Applegate said Friday on “TODAY.”
Fourteen other former employees of the team detailed accounts of misconduct but chose to remain anonymous for fear of legal retribution. Some of the women said they signed nondisclosure agreements. Additionally, two reporters who covered the team described repeated remarks about their bodies, harassment and — in at least one case — being touched.
An independent review of the team is underway.
Team owner Dan Snyder issued a statement Friday promising change and saying the behavior the women described has “no place in our franchise or society.”
Snyder said the investigation will be fair and the team will be respectful in the future.
“[Independent investigator] Beth Wilkinson and her firm are empowered to do a full, unbiased investigation and make any and all requisite recommendations. 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,” he said.
Snyder and his wife sent a letter to everyone in the organization Friday apologizing for the situation created by the Post's report.
A D.C. law firm will conduct an “independent review of the team’s culture, policies and allegations of workplace misconduct,” Wilkinson told NBC News on Thursday. Wilkinson, a trial lawyer, recently represented Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as he faced a sexual assault allegation and a federal judge after he refused to immediately drop the prosecution of former Trump adviser Michael Flynn.
In a statement Thursday, the team said it had hired Wilkinson and her firm, Wilkinson Walsh, “to conduct a thorough independent review of this entire matter and help the team set new employee standards for the future.”
“The Washington Redskins football team takes issues of employee conduct seriously … While we do not speak to specific employee situations publicly, when new allegations of conduct are brought forward that are contrary to these policies, we address them promptly,” the team said.
The NFL issued a response to NBC News, saying it expects the club and employees to comply with the investigation. The league said it will review the investigation and "take action based on the findings."
"These matters as reported are serious, disturbing and contrary to the NFL's values. Everyone in the NFL has the right to work in an environment free from any and all forms of harassment," the statement said in part.
Accuser Emily Applegate said she was worried no one would believe her or care if she reported misconduct.
There is no mention in the Post report of whether any of the women filed official complaints with the team or any outside entity.
Applegate said at the time of her employment, she was worried no one would believe her or care if she reported misconduct. Attorney Debra Katz said that's a common choice for women.
“There’s a reason, and that reason is it’s a way that women get isolated and made to feel that they have no power and that if they come forward, it’s dangerous, and not only would they lose their jobs, they could suffer significant financial penalties,” she said.
Katz — who has been referred to as one of the nation’s top #MeToo lawyers, having represented victims in high-profile sexual harassment cases, including those involving disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, opera great Placido Domingo and D.C. celebrity chef Mike Isabella — said the Post story is likely to continue to gather momentum.
“The name change showed that the organization can be forced to do the right thing,” she said. “Now it’s time to do the right thing with respect to the female employees.”
New head coach Ron Rivera promised a new team culture.
“Dan Snyder brought me here to change culture and create an environment of inclusion among employees,” Rivera said in a statement. “I believe everyone that works for this franchise has a vested interest in our success. Biggest thing is we have to move forward from this and make sure everybody understands we have policies that we will follow and that we have an open door policy with no retribution. Plus my daughter works for the team, and I sure as hell am not going to allow any of this!”
D.C.'s NFL team moved to shut down controversy this week and announced it would drop its logo and the name Redskins after 87 years, following decades of pressure and a recent push by corporate sponsors.
After the name change announcement, rumors swirled that more major news would emerge, fueled by the departure of three longtime members of the organization.
Over the weekend, front office executives Alex Santos and Richard Mann II left, NBC Sports Washington reported. Santos had been with the team since 2006; Mann was about to enter his 11th season.
Broadcaster and "Voice of the 'Skins" Larry Michael announced his departure Wednesday after 16 years with the team. He was a close ally of owner Dan Snyder and former president Bruce Allen, who was fired after last season, News4 reported.
Alleged actions of Santos, Mann and Michael were described in the Post story.
Washington's NFL team has undergone several changes in the past several months. Former head coach Jay Gruden left in October and was eventually replaced by Ron Rivera. Then, team president Bruce Allen departed in December.
This isn’t the first time the team has been accused of mistreating women. In 2018, team cheerleaders said team officials required them to escort sponsors to a nightclub in Costa Rica in 2013.
Members of the cheerleading squad said officials repeatedly crossed the line during a trip to the Central American country on a photo shoot. First, they took the cheerleaders' passports. Then, they told them they were required to be topless for a photo shoot as sponsors and FedExField suite holders, who all were men, watched. Then, some of the cheerleaders were told they had to be personal escorts to sponsors at a nightclub. Some of the women were in tears.
The team also was reported to have a separate team of scantily clad, non-cheering cheerleaders who were hired to mingle with fans. The women reported harassment and groping.
"We were made to look almost exactly like cheerleaders, but we weren’t a member of that society. We didn’t get the perks of dancing. We were just low-paid, underappreciated, exploited moneymakers in a huge moneymaking scheme," a former team “cheerleader ambassador” told The New York Times.
Allen, the former team president, said in 2018 that he would protect workers and punish employees for any misconduct.
Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.