Women who allege abuse in Washington are speaking out after everyone in the building failed them

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·6-min read

For most of this week, some media who cover the Washington football team on a regular basis were tweeting about a bombshell story set to come out that would expose terrible behavior within the organization.

Let it be said that those who were teasing this story, if they had an inkling of what was in the Washington Post piece that dropped Thursday evening, should be ashamed. The pain and humiliation these women endured shouldn’t have been social media theater, nor should their stories have been demeaned for retweets.

Maybe, since these brave women had been failed by pretty much everyone within the Washington organization, we shouldn’t be surprised that they were failed one last time, even by those technically outside the organization.

In a thorough, lengthy story, Post reporters Will Hobson and Liz Clarke told the stories of 15 women who worked for the team in recent years, all of them saying they were victims of sexual and verbal harassment at the hands of male co-workers and superiors.

The environment was so toxic within team offices that female employees told the Post that after their formal on-boarding process with the organization there would often be a second, “informal, but invaluable, orientation administered privately by veteran female employees who wanted them to avoid certain people and places, such as the staircase near the entrance to team headquarters.”

The staircase has transparent plexiglass, and someone standing at the bottom can look up the skirt of a woman using it. Early in her time with the team, one former female executive recalled to the Post an athletic trainer staring up at her, leaning to and fro, doing nothing to try and hide his behavior.

Great working environment you’re overseeing there, Daniel Snyder.

The culture Daniel Snyder reportedly cultivated in Washington was overwhelmingly toxic toward women. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The culture Daniel Snyder reportedly cultivated in Washington was overwhelmingly toxic toward women. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On and on the stories go, all of them making this woman’s skin crawl.

The longtime voice of the team, Larry Michael, who was also a vice president and chief content officer who suddenly “retired” on Wednesday, allegedly leered at young interns and made comments about their appearance and assumptions about what they were doing away from their jobs.

Alex Santos, the director of pro personnel who was fired on Saturday, allegedly sexually harassed one female reporter, Rhiannon Walker of The Athletic, at one point humiliatingly pinching her on the hip in front of other team employees and reporters. Santos also allegedly made overtures to another female reporter, Nora Princiotti, when she covered the team for the Washington Times, and team employees.

Richard Mann II, the assistant director of pro personnel who was fired with Santos, allegedly made lewd comments to multiple female employees, texting one that she should expect an “inappropriate hug ... And don’t worry, that will be a stapler in my pocket, nothing else.”

Mitch Gersham, at one time the chief operating officer, allegedly screamed at employee Emily Applegate for trivial things like misusing a printer but would follow it up with sexual comments.

Training camp and the NFL scouting combine were nightmares for many women. One female employee said she was propositioned basically every day during camp, with team executives either verbally or via text telling her their hotel room numbers and offering her to visit them.

Unlike former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who was exposed as a predator to women who worked in the Panthers’ offices and a racist who used the n-word toward at least one Black employee, Snyder is not implicated in any of the allegations from the 15 women who spoke with the Post.

That does not absolve him. Not in the least.

Especially since this isn’t the first time Washington has been exposed for turning a blind eye while female employees were mistreated; the New York Times’ story on how former sales executive Dennis Greene mistreated team cheerleaders, letting an all-male group of suite holders ogle them at a calendar photo shoot and serve as “escorts” (neither with their permission), was just two years ago.

And there certainly are stories of Snyder being vicious toward underlings, like Greene. Greene was a cheerleader himself in college, a fact Snyder constantly demeaned him for.

Applegate, the only former female employee who went on the record with the Post — other women had signed non-disclosure agreements that the team would not let them out of for the report, so they spoke anonymously — described instances when women told higher-ups about mistreatment and it was met with indifference. Her desk, she said, was near former longtime executive Bruce Allen’s, and Allen saw her crying at her desk several times a week.

Many of the women said working for an NFL team was a dream job, and they were reminded often that if they left hundreds would submit resumes to take their place. So they stayed quiet for as long as they could, meeting in bathrooms to cry together at the brutal conditions.

Is that, as the welcome manual for new employees says, “a high level of professionalism,” Daniel Snyder? Is having one-person human resources department for a 220-employee workplace a “high level of professionalism”?

Their male colleagues, the ones who weren’t treating these women like pieces of meat, did nothing to help. General counsel and senior vice president Eric Schaffer watched how Applegate was treated and offered to “serve as a witness or connect her to a lawyer.” You were the senior vice president, Eric. Why couldn’t you speak up? If you were so appalled, why didn’t you intervene on her behalf?

These stories aren’t new. There’s a familiarity to them for so many of us women, who want to do our jobs, whether it’s working for an NFL team or another professional sports team or covering one for a media outlet. None of those jobs — no job, really — should carry with it an expectation that you’ll endure verbal abuse or sexual harassment from some clown front-office executive with a middle-school maturity level for the sake of a paycheck.

Unfortunately, since Snyder has not been named as a perpetrator of this behavior, he probably won’t be forced to sell the team. And given that Snyder seems all too happy to make new head coach Ron Rivera the face of the team’s long-overdue decision to change its offensive team name, I expect he won’t have the fortitude to face media in light of all of this either.

“I’m sorry” won’t cut it. Hiring a law firm to investigate the franchise culture won’t cut it, especially since, well, he’s paying them, so you won’t exactly get the unvarnished truth. A fish rots from the head, and Washington has been rotten for decades.

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