The Women Who Chased Dan Snyder Out of the NFL

From a Washington Post column by Sally Jenkins headlined “Don’t forget the women who chased Daniel Snyder toward the NFL’s exit”:

When the victory parade is thrown to celebrate the next Super Bowl trophy that comes to Washington, put the women at the front of it. From former cheerleader Tiffany Bacon Scourby to marketing executive Tiffani Johnston to investigators Beth Wilkinson and Mary Jo White, they’re the ones who really forced Daniel Snyder to sell the team. Without them, the NFL might have tolerated his delinquency forever.

A legion of female employees — 40 of them — came forward to expose the fetidly corrupt atmosphere inside the Washington football franchise. For 2½ years, they told their stories: of graspy skirt-clutching behavior by top executives, peeping-Tomming “good bits” videos of cheerleaders in changing rooms, daily sneering at women in sales and marketing that drove them into bathrooms to cry. They testified and gave depositions not once or twice but four or more times to get justice. And mind you, a sale of the team was the ultimate justice they sought.

“Accountability was always the goal. And when you are dealing with the owner of the team, a sale is the only true accountability,” says Lisa Banks, the attorney for many of the alleged sexual harassment victims.

Know how persistent they were? Some of Banks’s clients spoke to six different investigators.

First, they told their stories in 2020, women such as Emily Applegate, who described how she was ordered to wear a tight dress to work “so the men in the room have something to look at.” They told them again to Wilkinson — and trusted in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s word that Wilkinson’s investigation would be a thorough and independent one, only for Goodell to bury her findings in a deep-water tomb somewhere on an ocean floor. Which suggests just how much radioactive waste Wilkinson may have found.

They refused to let it lie. They agitated for a more public investigation and got it from former Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which held eight months of hearings into Snyder’s workplace culture with so many ancillary inquiries and such collateral fallout that Goodell and every owner in the league began to squirm. Snyder decried it as a “politically charged show trial,” but it set still more investigators on to him, his financial practices and myriad allegations of fleeced and abused fans.

It was Johnston’s testimony before Congress that really helped dynamite the league’s efforts to hush it all. Her allegation that Snyder groped her leg under the table at a business dinner and then tried to steer her into his limo was just too public and direct to ignore. Snyder called it “outright lies,” but the accounts of Johnston and others were accompanied by the embarrassing revelation that the league had quietly entered into an agreement not to disclose anything from Wilkinson’s findings without his consent. Cornered, the league had to treat Johnston’s allegations as “new” and brought in White, this time with a promise to release a written report. The world still waits.

Through it all, women refused to retract a word in the face of Snyder’s nasty two-faced campaigns at gagging them, his disingenuous public statements at once promising zero tolerance for sexual harassment yet branding them liars, his shadowy intimidation tactics that included private investigators visiting doorsteps and compiling dossiers on accusers.

They told their stories yet again to White, the former chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, who back in 2018 had helped the league disinfect itself from the sexist conduct of former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Some of them talked to the D.C. attorney general, the Virginia attorney general and federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia. “We have been at this for well over two years, and the perseverance and commitment of my clients has been amazing to see,” Banks says.

Would Goodell and the league owners have ever moved on Snyder based on the complaints and accounts of the women alone? Certainly not — the unpardonable secret agreement to stifle Wilkinson and hide her findings is evidence enough of that. It’s difficult to say exactly what the final cudgel was that leveraged Snyder out of the league. The allegations of financial malfeasance from Snyder’s former minority partners, which wound up in the prying hands of federal investigators? White’s inquiry, which apparently delved deeply into the financial practices in Washington as well as Snyder’s office culture? Pure weariness over the continual toxic ooze and the fear that the continual glare would expose the attitudes and practices of other owners? Oh, by the way, a couple of casual racists and homophobes were outed along the way and will never work again in the league. Thank you very much for that, too.

The women of the Washington football franchise were the ones who pushed it all to the point of a critical mass that would force a sale. It’s difficult to say that they “won,” given what they endured from the franchise. But an end to the lurid, sliming, morale-breaking, goodwill-sapping 24 years of Snyder’s ownership is surely worth a parade.

Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. She began her second stint at The Washington Post in 2000 after spending the previous decade working as a book author and as a magazine writer.

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