NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he has no authority to remove Daniel Snyder as owner of the Washington Commanders amid ongoing scrutiny into the organization’s workplace culture and accusations from women employees of pervasive sexual harassment by team executives.
Goodell testified Wednesday before members of Congress at a hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. At one point near the end of more than two hours of testimony, Goodell was questioned by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), who asked whether Goodell and the league are “willing to do more” to punish Snyder.
After initially asking whether he would recommend Snyder’s removal as owner of the Commanders, Tlaib followed up by asking Goodell: “Will you remove him?”
“I don’t have the authority to remove him, Congresswoman,” Goodell responded.
An NFL owner can be removed only by a three-quarters (so, 24 out of 32) majority vote of fellow owners, although Goodell does have the ability to officially recommend such a vote.
Snyder was invited to testify but declined, citing overseas business commitments and concerns about due process. Committee chair Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) announced during the hearing that she plans to issue a subpoena to compel him to testify.
“The NFL is unwilling or unable to hold Mr. Snyder accountable,” Maloney said. “That is why I am announcing now my intent to issue a subpoena for Mr. Snyder for a deposition next week. The committee will not be deterred in its investigation into the Washington Commanders.”
Committee: Snyder conducted ‘shadow’ probe
Goodell told the committee that the team’s culture has transformed as a result of an investigation led by attorney Beth Wilkinson and that Snyder “has been held accountable.”
After Wilkinson presented her findings to Goodell last year, the NFL fined the team $10 million and Snyder stepped away from its day-to-day operations. However, the league did not release a written report of Wilkinson’s findings, a decision Goodell said was intended to protect the privacy of former employees who spoke to investigators.
Following Wednesday’s hearing, the Commanders sent a letter to team employees — a copy of which was obtained by ESPN — that said, in part, “We believe the statements that have been made in the media critical of our organization do not accurately reflect our positive transformation and the current reality of the Washington Commanders organization that exists today.”
The committee released the findings of its eight-month investigation before Wednesday’s hearing started, accusing Snyder of conducting his own “shadow investigation” that sought to discredit former employees, hiring private investigators to intimidate witnesses, and using an overseas lawsuit as a pretext to obtain phone records and emails.
The 29-page memo alleges Snyder tried to discredit the people accusing him and other team executives of misconduct and also tried to influence an investigation of the team conducted for the NFL by Wilkinson’s firm.
Snyder’s attorneys presented the NFL with a 100-slide PowerPoint presentation that included “private text messages, emails, phone logs and call transcripts, and social media posts from nearly 50 individuals who Mr. Snyder apparently believed were involved in a conspiracy to disparage him,” the committee said.
When asked about the alleged “shadow” investigation, Goodell said: “Any action that would discourage people from coming forward would be inappropriate.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Snyder characterized the report and the hearing as “a politically charged show trial” and said Congress should not be investigating “an issue a football team addressed years ago.”
Attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent more than 40 former team employees, again called on Goodell to release a report from the Wilkinson probe, calling it “stunning and disheartening” to hear him say Snyder has been held accountable.
“Today, the committee released a damning report demonstrating that Snyder and his lawyers also surveilled and investigated complainants, their lawyers, witnesses and journalists, which Goodell knew about and did nothing to address,” Banks and Katz said in a statement.
Maloney has introduced legislation to curb the use of workplace nondisclosure agreements and to offer protections for employees whose professional images are used inappropriately. Among the accusations against the Commanders are that team employees produced a video of lewd outtakes from a photo shoot involving the cheerleading squad.
Republicans on the committee accused Democrats of going after an NFL team to distract from more pressing issues and exceeding the scope of the committee’s mission.
“A core responsibility of this committee is to conduct oversight of the executive branch, but this entire Congress, Democrats have turned a blind eye to the Biden administration,” said Kentucky GOP Rep. James Comer, the committee’s ranking member. “Instead, the Oversight committee is investigating a single private organization for workplace misconduct that occurred years ago.”
Commanders coach Ron Rivera issued a statement late Wednesday night, distancing himself from the team’s past.
“These investigations into inappropriate workplace issues pre-dates my employment,” said Rivera, who was hired in 2020. “I cannot change the past, but I would hope that our fans, the NFL and Congress can see that we are doing everything in our power to never repeat those workplace issues. And know that our employees are respected, valued and can be heard.”
ESPN’s Tisha Thompson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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