Roger Goodell Defends Commanders Investigation, but Not Team’s Owner

N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell stood by the league’s investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct at the Washington Commanders organization at a congressional hearing on Wednesday, despite being challenged by House members about the N.F.L.’s decision not to compel a written report of the findings or to come down more harshly on the Commanders’ owner, Daniel Snyder.

Hours after the House Committee on Oversight and Reform released a memo that said Snyder had interfered in the investigation, Goodell testified that he believed Snyder had been held accountable through the league’s assessment of a $10 million fine on the team and having Snyder step away from the team’s day-to-day operations for the past year.

While Goodell lauded the Commanders for transforming their organization’s culture in the wake of the investigation, including an overhaul of their human-resources practices, he also said he had not seen another workplace in the N.F.L. “anywhere near” what former employees alleged they experienced with the Commanders over a period that ran from 2006 through 2019.

Snyder did not appear at Wednesday’s hearing. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the committee, said she would subpoena Snyder to appear for a deposition next week.

Goodell testified under oath for more than two hours in front of the committee, which conducted an eight-month inquiry into how the Commanders and the N.F.L. handled claims of rampant sexual harassment of the team’s female employees. In a memo released on Wednesday morning, Maloney detailed the committee’s findings, including that Snyder sought to interfere with the league’s investigation of his organization by directing intimidation of witnesses and launching a “shadow investigation” that yielded a 100-page dossier on those who had shared claims of harassment against the Commanders.

Goodell said the league would find unacceptable and “not permit” any action that would discourage people with knowledge of violations from coming forward. He added that, in August 2020, as the N.F.L. took over the investigation which had begun under the Commanders’ oversight, the league told the team not to conduct its own investigation.

Throughout his testimony, Goodell reiterated his defense of the league’s approach, even in the face of Congress members’ questions that burrowed into the N.F.L.’s handling of serious claims of workplace violations, particularly his decision to keep the investigation’s findings confidential.

Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, pushed back on Goodell’s assertion that a written report could not be prepared and released for this investigation out of concern for the confidentiality of some of the people interviewed. Raskin referred to the N.F.L.’s 148-page report released in 2014 regarding the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal in which names and identifying information of participating witnesses were redacted, and asked the commissioner why the same was not done with the league’s report led by the lawyer Beth Wilkinson.

“Redaction doesn’t always work in my world,” Goodell said.

Later, Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, read from a September 2020 engagement letter in which the N.F.L. appeared to commit to Wilkinson producing a written report of the investigation’s findings. Goodell said the league decided a month later that the report would be delivered only orally, an approach that has been criticized by many of the people interviewed for the league-run investigation.

Goodell did not go out of his way to defend Snyder, who declined two requests to appear at Wednesday’s hearing, citing a longstanding “Commanders-related business conflict.” The commissioner asserted that, as the team owner, Snyder is responsible for his club’s workplace environment and said he did not believe Snyder contemporaneously told the league office that a team employee had accused Snyder of sexually harassing and assaulting her in 2009 before reaching a $1.6 million confidential settlement, as reported by the Washington Post.

Understand the N.F.L.’s Recent Controversies

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Deshaun Watson’s troubling behavior. After several women said the quarterback had harassed or assaulted them during massage appointments, two grand juries in Texas declined to criminally charge the football star, who later reached settlements in 20 of the 24 cases against him. But a Times investigation showed that Watson may have engaged in more questionable behavior than previously known.

Washington Commanders investigations. As the N.F.L. was investigating his team for widespread sexual harassment, the Commanders owner Daniel Snyder directed a “shadow investigation” to interfere with and undermine its findings, a Congressional committee found. Meanwhile, the league started a second inquiry into the Commanders earlier this year, in response to a new allegation of sexual harassment that directly implicates Snyder.

Jon Gruden’s lawsuit. In 2021, Gruden stepped down as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders after The Times reported on emails in which he made homophobic, misogynistic and racist remarks. He later filed a lawsuit against the league, claiming that it had intentionally leaked the emails and sought to destroy his career. In May 2022, a judge denied the league’s motions to dismiss the suit and to compel a closed-door arbitration.

Racial descrimination lawsuit. The former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who is Black and Hispanic, sued the N.F.L. and its 32 teams for racial descrimination in their hiring practices. Mr. Flores was later hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a defensive assistant coach. Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, two Black former coaches, have joined the ongoing lawsuit.

A demoralizing culture for women. After the 2014 Ray Rice scandal, the N.F.L. stepped up its efforts to hire and promote women. But more than 30 former staff members interviewed by The Times described a stifling corporate culture that has left many women feeling pushed aside. Six attorneys general warned the league that it could face an investigation if it does not address the problem.

At one point, when Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, pressed Goodell on if he would remove Snyder as a team owner, he at first demurred but then replied when she repeated her question: “I don’t have the authority to remove him,” Goodell said.

While Goodell can’t unilaterally remove Snyder, he could recommend that the rest of the league’s owners do so. Such a measure would require a vote by at least 24 of the league’s 32 member clubs, and it is expected that Snyder would vigorously fight against any such effort.

But two high-ranking officials at other teams said that Snyder’s fellow owners and other top executives had grown impatient with answering a constant barrage of unflattering news about the Commanders. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the issues are still being investigated. One of the team officials said the N.F.L. team owners planned to discuss the second league inquiry — which is looking into a new allegation of sexual harassment against Snyder as well as claims of financial malfeasance by the organization — once it is completed.

Several Republican members of Congress disagreed with the committee’s decision to focus on the workplace culture of an N.F.L. team. Maloney replied that a driving purpose in holding the hearing was to strengthen workplace protections for all employees and proposed two new pieces of legislation, one which would prohibit the use of nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs, to conceal workplace misconduct and require employers conducting investigations to share the outcome with victims.

Goodell said the N.F.L. would work with lawmakers on such legislation, though the league has not instructed teams not to use such agreements, but rather has said that NDAs cannot be used to prevent employees from participating in a league investigation.

Ken Belson contributed reporting.

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