In the wake of The Washington Post’s bombshell report about Washington’s NFL team Thursday, the only thing more noticeable than the team’s dire need for a complete cultural reset was its staggering reaction at the top.
According to The Post, 15 (!) women who worked for the club over the past two decades alleged sexual harassment by former scouts and members of team owner Daniel Snyder’s inner circle.
Noticeably absent in that report were direct allegations against Snyder, the beleaguered owner who has shepherded the team’s fall from NFL royalty.
Here’s what was also noticeably absent in the aftermath of this damning story: the lack of a timely statement from Snyder, who waited 18 hours to release one and left the talking to a new coach who suddenly (and unfairly) found himself speaking about past deeds in an organization he’s been a member of for only six months.
“[The] biggest thing is that we have to move forward from this and make sure everybody understands we have policies that we will follow and that we have an open door policy with no retribution,” Rivera said in a statement. “Plus my daughter works for the team and I sure as hell am not going to allow any of this.
“Dan Snyder brought me here to change [the] culture [and] create an environment of inclusion among employees. I believe everyone that works for this franchise has a vested interest in our success.”
Rivera’s intentions are good, no doubt. But he’s been around long enough to know that winning games in the NFL is about more than want-to; it takes vision and leadership from the top down.
NFL team owners who build championship franchises have both, and they not only place an organizational investment in winning by reinvesting money on the football side — something Snyder has not consistently done, though that’s another story — they also set up a functional organizational structure that lends itself to accountability, both on the football and business side. When NFL teams lose games years after year, it’s often because of a breakdown somewhere in this chain.
Sometimes, when teams go completely into the gutter like Washington has over the past two decades, it comes down to a good old-fashioned lack of leadership. And while Snyder, again, was not the explicit target of any of the allegations in the story, the fact is that all this — not to mention the story regarding the poor treatment of the team’s cheerleaders in 2018 — happened on his watch.
Snyder, remember, is in charge of setting up a structure that eradicates sexual harassment.
Snyder, remember, is in charge of hiring people who should not engage in such behavior.
Snyder, remember, is in charge of setting the tone of the organization.
And in all regards, the story essentially detailed how Snyder has fallen short. Many of the 15 former employees cited for the story noted that the team’s human resources department was understaffed, with some believing the team’s “sophomoric culture of verbal abuse among top executives” is, at least in part, attributable to him. The example of him allegedly mocking a former sales example for being a male cheerleader in college is a great example of this.
This goes so much deeper than that. And while I've liked many of Washington's offseason moves — I've even written about the team's brighter future — it's possible that Snyder’s decision to let Rivera address the matter initially on Thursday also speaks to an organizational structure that might be wobbly, too.
In the statement he eventually released Friday morning, Snyder says the story has strengthened his commitment to “setting a new culture.” He also noted that the firm he’s hired to investigate the culture will be empowered to “do a full, unbiased investigation.”
Yet, it's hard not to be cynical about the organization hiring a firm to investigate itself. Additionally, the statement — in which Snyder didn’t accept any responsibility for the organization's failings — came out too late to serve as a real, tangible form of leadership. In the hours after the story was released, Snyder left it to Rivera, who is essentially the sole voice of an organization that does not have a team president or general manager, to captain the ship. And it’s fair to wonder now if Rivera, a very good coach but a mere mortal, is being put in a position where he has to devote too much time and energy to non-football issues.
The Post alluded to this a little over a week ago, with the paper reporting that the team’s business operations have been “chaotic” following the firing of longtime executive Bruce Allen. Following the tragic death of George Floyd, for example, Rivera was not only asked to talk to employees on the business side, he was also asked to help the team craft a statement.
Additionally, Rivera has also invested time and energy in learning the many mechanisms surrounding the team’s recent decision to change its controversial name and logo, and he apparently will also be involved in selecting the new team name. I hope Rivera is getting overtime for all this extra work, because winning games in the NFL is hard enough when the head coach is focused solely on being a coach.
Given all the perpetual drama in Washington during a season destined to be turbulent for all teams due to COVID-19, one can’t help but wonder if Rivera will need more organizational support to handle it all. That remains to be seen, of course.
One thing we do know is that he likely could have used it Thursday, when he found himself having to give a statement about a controversy he didn’t create, a statement that should have come from Snyder — much earlier than it did — instead.
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