Lawmakers battle at Washington Football Team roundtable on sexual harassment

House lawmakers sparred on Thursday during an oversight roundtable on sexual harassment within Washington’s NFL franchise, with Democrats seeking to amplify the voices of alleged victims and Republicans arguing the matter was outside of Congress’s jurisdiction.

The NFL previously conducted its own investigation into the Washington Football Team, now called the Washington Commanders, eventually fining the team $10 million for “highly unprofessional” behavior in the workplace, including bullying, sexual harassment and a “general lack of respect.”

Tanya Snyder, the wife of owner Dan Snyder, also took on day-to-day operations of the organization. However, the league’s investigation was not publicly released, even after the House Oversight committee requested it, and Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) announced in late November that lawmakers would hear directly from former employees. 

Kentucky Rep. James Comer (R), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, set the tone for how Republicans would be approaching the roundtable in his opening remarks Thursday, listing off various issues including inflation, the U.S.-Mexico border and China as all being issues he believed the committee should be focusing on instead.

“Instead of adhering to our committee’s mission to root out waste, fraud and abuse and mismanagement in the federal government, Democrats instead are holding a roundtable about the work culture in one single private organization,” Comer said.

“Make no mistake, no one should face harassment at work and bad actors must be held accountable. But it’s unclear why examining harassment that took place a decade ago in one private workplace warrants oversight from this committee.”

One former Washington football staffer, Brad Baker, said Comer was being “a little bit dismissive” of the issue and minimizing what the women who worked for the team went through, which Comer immediately denied.

Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly (Va.) apologized to the witnesses for what he referred to as his Republican colleagues causing them to be “victimized all over again,” eliciting a shout of “bullcrap” from Comer.

“The American people want Congress to do its job,” Comer shouted, accusing Connolly of “pandering.”

“This is my time and all Mr. Comer is doing is giving me more of it,” Connolly shot back. “If you want to give me more time, keep on going Mr. Comer.”

Rachel Engleson, a former sports marketer for the team, recalled that when she reported a superior for sexual harassment, her boss called him while she was in the room. She recounted that the other employee shouted, “What the fuck is she thinking,” so loudly that she could hear him over the phone.

Tiffany Johnston, a former marketing coordinator, told the committee that she was purposefully placed in a “compromising sexual situation” with Snyder at a work dinner. According to Johnston, she was “strategically” seated so that Snyder could place his hand on her thigh under the table.

Later that evening, she said that Snyder “aggressively” pushed her towards a waiting limousine by pushing on her back, only stopping when his attorney told him, “Dan, this is a bad idea.”

In a statement, Snyder reiterated his past apologies for workplace misconduct at the organization but called the specific allegations against him made at the roundtable “outright lies.”

New Mexico Rep. Yvette Herrell (R) reiterated Comer’s remarks, telling the alleged victims of sexual harassment and assault, “I’m sorry for what happened to you, but this committee can’t fix it. This was 10 years ago. We’ve seen this culture move in the right direction.” 

California Rep. Jackie Speier (D) also issued an apology to the former staffers and directly addressed her Republican colleagues’ assertion that there was nothing Congress could do, saying, “There’s a lot that can be done.”

“Congress can do a lot about this. Next week, all my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who aren’t here now could vote for the bill by Cheri Bustos …  that is going to require that no NDAs can be forced upon employees for sexual harassment or sexual assault. That would go a long way,” Speier said.

She also suggested that the NFL’s tax-exempt status be investigated, noting that the league received about $8 billion in tax incentives last year, as well as continuing the probe into the alleged “criminal conduct” that occurred at the Washington Football Team’s workplace.

“This was a predatory environment. I don’t believe it’s just going on at the Washington Commanders. This is a message to send to every football team in this country,” said Speier.

During the roundtable, the former Washington Football Team employees and Democratic lawyers again called on the NFL to release its report on the sexual harassment accusations.

Last year, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated that the league would not be releasing the report, claiming that doing so would endanger the anonymity of former employees.

Updated: 1:51 p.m.

Tags Carolyn Maloney Cheri Bustos Gerry Connolly Jackie Speier Jackie Speier James Comer James Comer NFL Sexual harassment United States House Committee on Oversight and Reform Washington football team

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