A scathing new report in the Washington Post is amplifying the voices of 15 women who allege that they were sexually harassed and verbally abused by former employees of Washington, DC’s professional football team while they worked for the organization.
“I have never been in a more hostile, manipulative, passive-aggressive environment … and I worked in politics,” Julia Payne, former assistant press secretary in US President Bill Clinton’s administration, told the Washington Post in a recent interview.
While Payne, who was vice president of communications for Washington’s NFL team in 2003, claims she did not witness or experience sexual harassment within the team workplace, at least 15 women who also worked in the office were not so lucky, according to recent testimonies provided to the outlet.
Emily Applegate told the Post that the daily sexual harassment and verbal abuse that she and other female employees of the team were subjected to was not just ignored, but at times even encouraged by individuals the outlet referred to as “top team executives.”
Applegate was the only alleged victim who did not elect to speak on the condition of anonymity. However, several of the other women noted that they previously entered into nondisclosure agreements with the NFL franchise and, therefore, feared possible litigation and financial ruin if they spoke publicly.
“Reducing a young woman to thinking that she can only do her job well if she wears a certain thing or exposes part of her body is demeaning,” stated a former saleswoman with the team. “It puts women in their place.”
As for the alleged harassers, a total of five men were named in the report: Larry Michael, the recently “retired” radio voice of the team; Alex Santos, ex-director of pro personnel; Richard Mann II, assistant to Santos; Dennis Greene, former president of business operations; and Mitch Gershman, the team’s former chief operating officer.
At least seven former employees accused Michael of routinely using “sexual and disparaging overtones” as he referenced the physical appearance of his female colleagues. Michael was reportedly offered a chance to speak to the Post about the allegations, but declined the offer.
Appearing to get ahead of the story, Michael announced his abrupt retirement from the team on Wednesday – just hours before the report went live.
“After 16 great years my time with the organization is over,” Michael said in a statement obtained by NBC Washington.
Both Santos and Mann were terminated from their positions earlier this week. When NBC Sports’ ProFootball Talk asked about the firings, head coach Ron Rivera appeared to support the decision, as he said that the DC team – concurrently under a microscope for its polarizing retirement of the name “Redskins” – is “trying to create a new culture here.”
“We’re hoping to get people to understand that they need to judge us on where we are and where we’re going, as opposed to where we’ve been”
However, some would argue that the team and company may not be effective in their “new culture” campaign because of one prominent figure who remains in power: team owner Dan Snyder.
The Post called attention to the fact that Snyder purchased the team in 1999 and remained a rather visible team owner to employees during the years (2006 through 2019) during which the alleged widespread misconduct took place.
Three former employees noted that Snyder’s alleged harassment was not directed at women, but top executives like Greene. The women claimed that the team owner would routinely belittle Greene over the fact that he was a cheerleader in college and, on one occasion, instructed Greene to perform cartwheels for his entertainment.
Greene ultimately somersaulted his way into a major scandal and lost his job of 17 years in 2018 after it was exposed that he sold “access” to team cheerleaders when marketing FedEx Field’s premium suite packages.
“With such a toxic, mood-driven environment, and the owner behaving like he does … How could anyone think these women would go to HR?” Payne asked the outlet.
The embattled, now-nameless team did, however, issue a loose statement regarding the allegations.
“The Washington Redskins football team takes issues of employee conduct seriously,” the DC team statement read.
“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,” it added, also revealing that local attorney Beth Wilkinson of Wilkinson Walsh has been hired by the team and will “conduct a thorough independent review of this entire matter and help the team set new employee standards for the future.”
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