Jon Gruden’s emails could begin a reckoning for the Washington Football Team

By Christian D'Andrea

Jon Gruden is out as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. The effects of his email scandal could be devastating for a franchise 2,400 miles away.

Gruden resigned after details of racist, homophobic, and misogynistic language leaked from emails obtained in a league investigation. But that investigation wasn’t into whether or not the coach and prominent Monday Night Football personality was fit to lead a franchise. It was part of the NFL’s deep dive into a reported toxic work environment within the Washington Football Team — an investigation that concluded Washington’s head office was “highly unprofessional.”

The Gruden emails are just one example of the demeaning behavior pervasive throughout the organization. A year-long NFL investigation, spurred by 15 years of sexual harassment accusations detailed in a Washington Post story, found “bullying and intimidation frequently took place and many described the culture as one of fear, and numerous female employees reported having experienced sexual harassment and a general lack of respect in the workplace.” The report, compiled by attorney Beth Wilkinson, noted officials within the organization actively ignored these issues and any complaints that stemmed from them.

At the conclusion of the NFL’s investigation, Washington was fined $10 million. The team’s executives were forced into sensitivity and workplace training. A 10-step program designed to improve the team’s human resources department was put into place.

It was, in effect, a finger wagging for a franchise worth an estimated $4.2 billion. Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, attorneys for the 40 former employees subjected to harassment under Snyder, called it out as such.

“In response to a year-long investigation in which more than 100 witnesses were interviewed, and which we believe substantiated our clients’ allegations of pervasive harassment, misogyny and abuse at the Washington Football Team, the NFL has chosen to protect owner Dan Snyder. Ignoring our requests that it make the report prepared by Beth Wilkinson public, the NFL has chosen instead to receive only an oral report of the findings and to fine owner Dan Snyder what amounts to pocket change.

“This is truly outrageous, and is a slap in the face to the hundreds of women and former employees who came forward in good faith and at great personal risk to report a culture of abuse at all levels of the Team, including by Snyder himself.”

Washington did just enough self-policing to provide a thin sheen of responsibility the NFL deemed properly remorseful. But now a report NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t even originally get in writing — it was presented orally to executives — has begun to seep through the cardboard box the league had dropped it into and shuffled to the forgotten corner of a closet. The first person to be contaminated was Gruden. He may not be the last.

These leaked emails provide an opportunity for accountability months after the fact, but we don’t know what that will look like or who would be involved. Many of the people involved in Washington’s alleged offenses have been shuffled from the spotlight. General manager Bruce Allen, the main character in Gruden’s email replies, was fired in 2019 before the Post story ever came to light. Snyder handed co-CEO duties to his wife, Tanya, in an effort to clean things up but also potentially suggest punishments that weren’t actually punishments.

There are reportedly more than 650,000 emails contained in Wilkerson’s investigation. It’s possible Gruden was merely the first piece of a reckoning that finally takes the Football Team to task for decades of mismanagement. Or it’s possible Snyder escapes consequence once again and nothing changes in Landover but a few surface HR policies.

We’ll have to wait and see what comes next. Gruden’s resignation should only serve as the start of an overdue process.


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