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Cheerleading incident with Daniel Snyder's team should've been catalyst for change. But this is Washington.

·5-min read

The story about the (currently nameless) NFL franchise in Washington came out, and details about life there as a female employee were disturbing.

Unwanted sexual advances. Disrespectful requests. A culture that enforced silence and encouraged nonsense.

No, not the much-hyped story that the Washington Post published Thursday about the organization, although it contains all of the above, and then some.

This was from 2018 when The New York Times, citing five former cheerleaders, detailed an outrageous work environment that should have humiliated team owner Dan Snyder into, well, something, anything.

Of course, there was also a 2018 complaint against the team’s radio announcer, who was caught on tape objectifying a college intern. Not to mention a 2019 complaint by a female reporter from an outside organization who alleged Alex Santos, then the director of pro personnel, had groped her and made unwanted, inappropriate sexual comments.

Washington cheerleaders dance on the field before a game against Detroit at FedExField on Nov. 24, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Washington cheerleaders dance on the field before a game against Detroit at FedExField on Nov. 24, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Some of those led to an “internal investigation.” Cheerleading was supposedly reformed. Not much happened with Santos since he remained in his job until this week, when he was finally fired after the Post started asking questions. The radio guy never missed a game.

Apparently, as all of this was going down, it never dawned on Snyder that if there are three separate incidents coming from all parts of the organization, he might want to extend the investigations company-wide to find out the experiences of all the female employees.

Or maybe Snyder didn’t want to know. Or maybe he just didn’t care. He himself was accused of belittling top executives as he saw fit, although there are no allegations of sexual harassment.

If Snyder doesn’t care — he wouldn’t even talk to the Post — the NFL should make him care. He shouldn’t be able to hide behind public relations statements and a fresh “independent investigation.” The NFL needs to step in and make things tolerable for all its employees. Its concern for women needs to extend past just having the players wear some pink every once in a while.

If anyone had asked, as The Post did, they would have found at least 15 women willing to describe a culture out of some 1950s office nightmare.

Verbal abuse. Demeaning comments. A staircase too often used as a way to look up skirts. Requests to wear low-cut blouses. Suggestions to flirt with wealthy sponsors. Outrageous text exchanges. Virtually no oversight. The entire thing appeared to be an open secret, at least among the women. They routinely warned newcomers about what to expect and heaven help the interns during training camp.

“It was the most miserable experience of my life,” former employee Emily Applegate told the Post.

Snyder is apparently the owner of the franchise, but what he actually does on a daily basis is open for question. It certainly isn’t to protect the team’s image or create a positive experience for his employees or, as fans certainly know, actually win many games.

The humiliating 2018 exposé didn’t spur him into action. The humiliating complaints of 2018 and 2019 didn’t spur him into action. Will 2020? Or is it fair to believe that this humiliating exposé doesn’t actually humiliate him?

This is Washington. It doesn’t win on the field. It isn’t very fun to watch. The franchise owner stubbornly held onto the team nickname too long, only to have to dump it after the team sponsors made him. There are plenty of viable replacements, but he has been so slow on the draw that some guy in Alexandria already owns most of the trademarks.

Again, what’s his job around here, other than fanning the flames of the dumpster fire and never taking responsibility for any of it?

What the Post detailed was an organization without direction, standards or even a hint of class. The dysfunction isn’t just on the field. It’s everywhere.

The stories ran the gamut — boorish, sophomoric, stupid, shameful. None are appropriate. Just about everything needs to change inside the organization, where too often, bright and idealistic young women came to work in the NFL only to get run out in humiliation.

“We all tolerated it, because we knew if we complained — and they reminded us of this — there were 1,000 people out there who would take our job in a heartbeat,” Applegate said.

Washington's Daniel Snyder has had an embarrassing 20-year run as the team's owner. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Washington's Daniel Snyder has had an embarrassing 20-year run as the team's owner. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Even if they complained, what could come of it? The human relations department had a single full-time worker, overseeing 220 or so employees. Men working there were vocal about the uneven power dynamic the often low-paid women dealt with.

“They’re not going to get rid of ‘The Voice of the Redskins’ … over a $30,000-a-year marketing manager,” one former male staffer said according to the Post.

Yes, the “Voice of the Redskins.” So important. Anyway, he left this week too, after 16 years on the job. The Post did what Snyder wouldn't.

Maybe this is the start of a house cleaning, but it seems more likely that things got so rotten around the franchise that even Snyder realized he needed to throw some of the junk out. Now an independent investigation is underway. What that finds and how far that goes remains to be seen.

Based on the franchise owner, no one should have much faith in it. It’s up to Roger Goodell and the league to force this issue, because right now Dan Snyder’s two-decade plus tenure in D.C. has been nothing but one embarrassment after the next, mostly for his female employees.

And as we’ve seen, there is probably more to come.

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