House

Former Washington football team staffers detail sexual harassment, humiliation, racism to House panel

The Washington Commanders was revealed as the new name for the Washington Football team on Wednesday.
Associated Press/Patrick Semansk

Former employees of the Washington Football Team criticized a culture of sexual harassment, misogyny and racism they said pervaded the organization during a Thursday “roundtable” held by the House Oversight Committee.

Numerous employees, including former marketing staffers, cheerleaders and video production team members detailed how women were mistreated and discriminated against by higher-ups in the team and how powerless they felt in the face of misconduct. Team owner Dan Snyder was repeatedly singled out for criticism.

Melanie Coburn, a former cheerleader and marketing executive, who started with the team when she was 19, said working for the Washington Commanders made her feel “anxious and unsafe.”

“Women were used as sex objects and tools to increase sales rather than dignified human beings,” said Coburn.

She recounted how one year, auditioning cheerleaders were made to “parade” out in front of Snyder as he and his friends watched them on the field with binoculars.

“The women were directed to turn around slowly, as if they were cattle being examined for sale. One of the women cried on the sidelines because she didn’t understand what was happening,” she said.

The allegations against the team first came to light in 2020 when multiple former employees spoke to The Washington Post on the misconduct and harassment they experienced.

Emily Applegate, a former marketing coordinator, said that on top of the regular sexual harassment she was subjected to, co-workers frequently used slurs to refer to her.

Applegate said she was “called Jewish slurs that referred to a non-Jewish woman that you are sexualizing.”

Although she declined to repeat the word, she quoted a rabbi who described the slur as “indefensible, condescending, racist and misogynistic.”

Tiffany Johnston, who also worked in marketing for the team, said she was once placed in a “compromising sexual situation” with Snyder during a work dinner. Johnston said she was “strategically” seated so that Snyder could place his hand on her thighs underneath the table.

Later that evening, he “aggressively” pushed against her back towards a waiting limousine, only stopping when his attorney said, “Dan, this is a bad idea. A very bad idea Dan.”

In a statement provided to The Hill, Snyder apologized for his conduct, but said the allegations that were made against during the roundtable were “outright lies.”

“I have acknowledged and apologized multiple times in the past for the misconduct which took place at the Team and the harm suffered by some of our valued employees,” he said. “I apologize again today for this conduct, and fully support the people who have been victimized and have come forward to tell their stories.”

Snyder argued that since the allegations were first made public in 2020 “real change has been made and employees of the Team have confirmed the vast improvement in Team culture over the past 18 months.”

“While past conduct at the Team was unacceptable, the allegations leveled against me personally in today’s roundtable – many of which are well over 13 years old – are outright lies,” said Snyder. “I unequivocally deny having participated in any such conduct, at any time and with respect to any person.   

Snyder continued that he and his wife and co-CEO of the team Tanya Snyder “will not be distracted by those with a contrary agenda from continuing with the positive personnel and cultural changes that have been made at the Team over the past 18 months, and those that we continue to make both on and off the field.”

Soon after the allegations against the team came out, Tanya Snyder was named co-CEO of the Washington Football Team and took subsequently took over the day-to-day responsibilities of the team from her husband.

Neither Snyder or any members of the Washington Commanders’ management or ownership took part in the congressional roundtable on Thursday.

Many of the former staffers told the committee that Snyder carried an intimidating presence in the office, with employees told not to look him in the eye, to go into the nearest room if he walked in their direction and to never directly engage with him.

When asked by the committee what barriers prevented workers from reporting harassment, former team business coordinator Ana Nunez said “definitely retaliation.”

“It was a small building, everyone knew what was going on. So the moment you tell someone — someone would tell someone and it would get to the top. So there was no secret that if I went to HR and said what I said that that would get to somebody else who then would be in a position of power to retaliate against me. Which eventually did happen,” said Nunez.

Many of the women who spoke to the committee began working for the NFL team, which this week was renamed as the Washington Commanders, when they very young and at the beginning of their careers. When questioned why they didn’t pursue legal action at the time, many cited their lack of knowledge on resources for workers, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, while othera cited a financial inability to do so.

Republican members of the committee criticized the roundtable as being outside of Congress’s jurisdiction. Democrats accused their colleagues across the aisle of victim-blaming and re-victimizing the former NFL staffers. These disagreements eventually led to brief shouting match between Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), with the Republican ranking member of the committee accusing Connolly of “pandering.”

During the roundtable, staffers reiterated a call for the NFL to release the report that was made on workplace misconduct in the Washington Commanders. The House Oversight Committee called on the NFL to release the report in November, with Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) saying the allegations raised “serious questions” about the NFL’s “commitment to setting workplace standards that keep employees safe.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has so far refused to release the report, saying doing so would threaten the anonymity of the more than 100 former staffers who contributed to it.

Megan Imbert, a former production manager for the team who did not speak at the roundtable on Thursday, told The Hill afterwards that she was “pleased” with the support that lawmakers showed.

“I am in awe of my former colleagues that came forward and provided their statements. I know how hard it’s been for me publicly talking about situations over and over again in the public eye, but to be so transparent and personal about very traumatic experiences — it’s a whole different level and I have the utmost respect for them,” Imbert said.

“My hope is that the Oversight Committee will go forward and have a formal hearing. I would love to see Roger Goodell, Dan Snyder, Beth Wilkinson, the investigator, potentially subpoenaed,” said Imbert.

Tags Carolyn Maloney Daniel Snyder Gerry Connolly House Committee on Oversight and Reform James Comer Sexual harassment Washington football team Workplace harassment
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