Congress turns up the heat on NFL over abuse allegations

Congress is turning up the heat on the NFL and one of its most beleaguered team owners. 

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform invited NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder to testify at a hearing June 22 about allegations of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct within the league and the team.

In a statement, committee leaders said they also plan to discuss more broadly “the NFL’s role in setting and enforcing standards across the League, and legislative reforms needed to address these issues across the NFL and other workplaces.”

In other words: a bunch of things the NFL probably doesn’t want to have to answer for under oath. 

Throughout the inquiry, congressional investigators have been “met with obstruction from the Commanders and the NFL at every turn,” committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement.

The committee opened its investigation in October after the NFL conducted an internal probe of Snyder’s conduct, which resulted in a $10 million fine and his suspension from day-to-day activities. But the NFL released only a few vague paragraphs that said “bullying and intimidation” took place. That was insufficient. And increasingly, it’s looking like the league’s failure to ethically resolve its internal issues has opened it up to even more scrutiny. (Snyder has denied the harassment allegations.)

Now, the NFL is in the middle of a legal minefield. 

Photo Illustration: An elephant balances on top of a globe
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Anything Goodell and Snyder say, if they testify, can and will be used against them by federal or state prosecutors and by plaintiffs’ attorneys, giving the NFL plenty to worry about. 

The attorneys general of Virginia and Washington, D.C., have opened probes into alleged financial impropriety within the Commanders organization. The team has denied any financial wrongdoing.

Several other state attorneys general sent a letter to the NFL in April warning of potential investigations if the league’s workplace culture and treatment of women don’t improve. On top that, the NFL also faces a racial discrimination lawsuit from multiple Black coaches who say the league’s hiring practices and workplace culture stopped them from getting or keeping jobs. The NFL has denied claims of racial discrimination.

But wait, there’s more. The NFL also faces a lawsuit from former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who alleges the league selectively leaked emails he sent that included racist and homophobic language to force him out of his job in October.

You can see how precarious this is for the NFL. These aren’t just legal issues — they’re legal issues that have a significant amount of overlap. I suspect all of the lawyers with cases against the league would love to use Goodell’s or Snyder’s testimony, if they provide it, to solidify their cases or use it as grounds to extract more information the league doesn’t want to hand over (more texts, perhaps?). Neither Goodell nor Snyder has agreed to show up for this month’s hearings. 

But rest assured, they know they’re in a dangerous position. And it might get a lot worse.