This story has been updated with statements from Dan Snyder and the NFL.
Dan Snyder thought his team’s racist nickname was the worst of his problems.
A bombshell report by the Washington Post covers in extensive detail a toxic culture of sexual harassment and hostility toward women working for the Washington D.C. NFL franchise owned by Snyder that recently announced the dumping of its racist nickname.
Snyder, who bought the team, as well as FedEx Field, for $800 million in 1999, is not accused of abuse himself, but the allegations span most of his tenure and involve several members of his inner circle.
According to the Post:
“The allegations raised by Applegate and others — running from 2006 to 2019 — span most of Snyder’s tenure as owner and fall into two categories: unwelcome overtures or comments of a sexual nature, and exhortations to wear revealing clothing and flirt with clients to close sales deals.”
Radio announcer Larry Michael, former director of pro personnel Alex Santos, Richard Mann II, a former assistant to Santos, former business president Dennis Greene; and former COO Mitch Gershman are named as having harassed or berated the 15 women in the Post story. Fourteen of those women spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing nondisclosure agreements. One woman, former marketing coordinator Emily Applegate, said her dream job of working for an NFL team quickly turned into a nightmare.
“It was the most miserable experience of my life,” Applegate, now 31, said of her year working for the club, which she left in 2015. “And 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.”
Among the worst allegations:
- Applegate says Gershman routinely berated her for minor problems while complimenting her body.
- Texts from Mann to one female employee discuss an office debate over whether her breasts were real or not. Mann told her repeatedly that he intended to “squeeze her butt,” despite the woman’s objections.
- Six employees accused Santos of pressuring them to date him. Two female reporters, Rhiannon Walker of The Athletic and Nora Princiotti of The Ringer, told the Post that they had also been harassed by Santos.
Gershman denied Applegate’s claim.
“I barely even remember who she is,” Gershman said. “I thought the [racist nickname deleted] was a great place to work. … I would apologize to anyone who thought that I was verbally abusive.”
None of the other men, nor, Snyder, commented for the story.
When the Post brought the allegations to the franchise, Santos and Mann were fired and Michael retired. According to the Post, Greene “implored female sales staff to wear low-cut blouses, tight skirts and flirt with wealthy suite holders.” Greene left the team after a 2018 story by The New York Times writer Juliet Macur exposed a scandal involving cheerleaders forced to pose topless or in body paint while well-connected men ogled them on a trip to Costa Rica. Among other details about the Costa Rica trip: Some of the cheerleaders were chosen to accompany men to a nightclub, an assignment they felt they could not refuse.
The Times story also describes Snyder as making the cheerleading squad more and more risque. A story by the Washington City Paper describes it as “bringing the craft closer to pole dancing with every season.”
The Post did report that Snyder created a toxic, hostile environment, commonly belittling top (male) executives, including Greene.
“I have never been in a more hostile, manipulative, passive-aggressive environment … and I worked in politics,” said Julia Payne, former assistant press secretary in the Clinton Administration who briefly served as vice president of communications for the team in 2003. Payne did not witness or endure sexual harassment, she said, but she supported what many other former employees said about the culture under Snyder.
“With such a toxic, mood-driven environment and the owner behaving like he does,” Payne said, “How could anyone think these women would go to HR?”
According to Applegate, one team executive, former VP Eric Schaffer, offered to be a witness if she wanted to file a complaint against Gershman, but she feared for her job. Now she says she has no intention of working in sports again, and is studying law.
“I don’t see what I have to be afraid of. I’m just telling the truth,” she told the Post.
Update: Snyder responded to the allegations in a statement:
The behavior described in yesterday’s Washington Post article has no place in our franchise or society.
This story has strengthened my commitment to setting a new culture and standard for our team, a process that began with the hiring of Coach Rivera earlier this year.
Beth Wilkinson and her firm are empowered to do a full, unbiased investigation and make any and all requisite recommendations. Upon completion of her work, we will institute new policies and procedures and strengthen our human resources infrastructure to not only avoid these issues in the future but most importantly create a team culture that is respectful and inclusive of all.
The NFL also released a statement, but is awaiting Washington’s internal review before deciding on action:
These matters as reported are serious, disturbing and contrary to the NFL’s values. Everyone in the NFL has the right to work in an environment free of any and all forms of harassment. Washington has engaged outside counsel to conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations. The club has pledged that it will give its full cooperation to the investigator and we expect the club and all employees to do so. We will meet with the attorneys upon conclusion of their investigation and take any action based on the findings.