The NFL owners meetings aren’t usually so entertaining.
Usually, you have more of a united front around a multi-billion dollar business and one of the last cultural unifiers in a fractured landscape, but this year you have Colts owner Jim Irsay saying there might be merit in ousting Washington owner Dan Snyder, and Dallas owner Jerry Jones reportedly telling newlywed and Patriots owner Bob Kraft, “Don’t fuck with me” over commissioner Roger Goodell’s executive pay package.
Goodell’s pay, ESPN reports, was $128 million for 2020 and 2021.
If you added Botox and a yacht, it could be the vacation episode of the Real Owners of the NFL. It’s one dramatically tossed glass of a vintage red away from a season finale.
First of all, do a quick search for “Irsay” and “condo” to see how extraordinary it must be to have him call out another owner for being bad for the league. The NFL is filled with owners whose closets are crowded with skeletons.
But aside from the tragicomedy, the reports from the owner meetings, and an incredible piece of reporting from ESPN’s Don Van Natta, Seth Wickersham and Tisha Thompson, there is a larger question facing the NFL at this moment.
Why would anyone cooperate with an NFL investigation?
“I think this is going to tell women affiliated with the NFL is, you can’t trust the league to handle anything appropriately, especially if Roger Goodell is in charge,” said Lisa Banks, an attorney representing some of the women in the investigation into workplace harassment at the Washington team.
Between the issues that Dan Snyder is accused of, and for an extensive rundown please refer to this piece from Stephen Knox, and the absolute inadequacy of reporting in the Deshaun Watson investigation, the NFL has gone from a post-Ray Rice commitment to personal discipline to being accused of having victim information from the Snyder investigation get back to Snyder, and the possibility that it was used to hire private investigators against them. Snyder has denied any wrongdoing.
Banks’ law firm released a letter on Tuesday threatening a lawsuit if that had been found to have taken place.
The letter said that “a number of Banks’ and (Debra) Katz’s clients faced harassment, retaliation, and public disparagement after participating in the Wilkinson investigation.”
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy released a statement that denied that any information leaked:
“We have said repeatedly that we are committed to protecting the anonymity of all witnesses who participated in the Wilkinson investigation. The NFL did not share their names with the Commanders and their lawyers. The allegation is false. Ms. (Beth) Wilkinson and her firm kept their pledge to the witnesses and did not share their identities with the Commissioner or League staff other than the limited number of participants who were willing to be identified.”
The NFL released the statement, but, according to Banks, no one in the league offices has actually responded to Banks or her firm.
Banks said there were people at the NFL who she has dealt with in good faith, but that, in the Snyder case, they appeared to be overruled. Goodell said he wasn’t going to release the report on Snyder in order to protect Banks’ clients, but Banks and her clients have repeatedly demanded a public accounting. The person Goodell is really protecting with this is, of course, Snyder.
“If Dan Snyder is ultimately held accountable, it’ll be despite the NFL, not because of the NFL,” Banks said.
Ultimately, Goodell asked investigator Beth Wilkinson to not write a report, and to orally brief him on the findings. Hiding the findings may be a bad idea if the goal is institutional change, but if not, it saves the league from having to find a toilet to flush all the paper down.
If the NFL wanted to change, we’d have had a sign by now. It was all the way back in the Ray Rice era, after the 2014 revised personal conduct policy allowed for the league to investigate and apply penalties, even if there were no formal legal charges, that there was a question floating around the league offices: How could the league do internal investigations into these situations if the victims (and to be fair they were almost always women) wouldn’t talk to the NFL?
The league attempted to build trust by hiring capable people to do the investigations themselves.
But there isn’t a lot of money in actually holding employees accountable, and certainly not when it comes to owners. Over the most recent years, we’ve seen that the best of intentions from that era have been functionally abandoned in high-profile cases. Take Watson’s case, where Jenny Vrentas’ reporting in The New York Times found 66 massage therapists who were potentially visited by the then-Texans quarterback. The NFL meanwhile, interviewed only 12 of the 24 therapists who filed suits against Watson, and only detailed the findings of four.
Imagine being so overwhelmed by the number of massage therapists who may have been inappropriately touched, and worse, that you couldn’t possibly schedule them all for a visit?
The NFL is a business that doesn’t want to be a workplace.
“Corporate America has come much further since the advent of the Me Too era than many of the sports leagues,” Banks said.
Even so, she added, the NFL trailed even farther.
Listen, that $128 million isn’t free. Goodell works hard for that compensation package, and you’d think Jerry “Party Bus” Jones would see the value for Goodell’s service.