Fifteen female former employees of the Washington, D.C., NFL franchise described sexual harassment and verbal abuse within the organization in a Thursday report in The Washington Post.
The former employees, as well as two female reporters—including one who still covers the team—told The Post they were sexually harassed by male members of the organization, including team executives and football staffers, between 2006 and 2019. The women say they experienced unwanted sexual overtures, were asked to wear revealing clothing, were sent crude text messages, and were subject to verbal abuse. The women also say they worked in an atmosphere that discouraged employees from reporting their treatment.
On Saturday, the team fired personnel executives Richard Mann II and Alex Santos, and longtime radio host Larry Michael retired on Wednesday. All three—as well as several other former employees—were named in The Post’s report.
“It was the most miserable experience of my life,” Emily Applegate, who worked as a marketing coordinator for the team from 2014 to 2015, told The Post. “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.”
In a statement given to The Post, Washington said that the organization hired Beth Wilkinson, a D.C. attorney, and her firm, Wilkinson Walsh, “to conduct a thorough independent review of this entire matter and help the team set new employee standards for the future.”
The Post reports that “no woman accused [owner Daniel] Snyder or former longtime team president Bruce Allen of inappropriate behavior with women.” But the report mentions how Snyder “routinely belittled top executives,” even requesting that former president of business operations Dennis Greene do cartwheels for his entertainment, one former employee told The Post. Greene was a cheerleader in college, a fact that Snyder used to mock him, according to The Post. The paper explains that some of the women interviewed “blamed [Snyder] for an understaffed human resources department and what they viewed as a sophomoric culture of verbal abuse among top executives that they believed played a role in how those executives treated their employees.” Snyder declined several interview requests from The Post.
The Post report describes a toxic work environment rife with misogyny. Mann and a group of male employees once debated whether a female employee had had breast enhancement surgery and then asked her about it. Michael was caught on a hot mic making inappropriate comments about a college-aged intern—common behavior for him, former employees told The Post. Santos repeatedly made unwanted advances toward women both inside and outside the organization. Rhiannon Walker, a reporter for The Athletic, and Nora Princiotti, a former Washington Times reporter who now works for The Ringer, told The Post that Santos made sexually explicit comments and harassed them. Walker told The Post that on one occasion Santos “pinched her on the hip, in full view of other team employees and reporters.” Greene “implored female sales staff to wear low-cut blouses, tight skirts and flirt with wealthy suite holders, according to five former employees,” per The Post.
The Washington organization has 220 full-time employees but only one full-time human resources staffer. Multiple former employees told The Post that the team has no clear policy regarding sexual harassment.
“There’s no HR,” one former female employee told The Post. “And there was never a reporting process, nor was one explained to new employees about how you should report something.”
Instead, women in the organization helped look out for other women. In one of the more appalling details contained in the report, The Post explains how female employees would warn new hires to not walk on a set of transparent stairs:
Lined at the top with transparent plexiglass, the stairs descend from the lobby to the locker room and training area, and someone standing at the bottom can look up the skirt of a woman standing at the top.
One former female member of the executive staff learned this lesson early in her tenure, she said, when she looked down to see a male trainer, two floors down, staring right back up, walking step for step with her.
“He even leaned to get a better angle,” the woman said. “He wasn’t even trying to hide it.”
In a statement to The Post, the Washington franchise said it hired a new human resources manager in 2019. The team said this staffer works with the organization’s legal department on issues involving employee conduct.
The Post also published text messages that detail inappropriate advances from male executives. In one, Mann texted a former female employee, “Nice shirt,” and then when she asked what he meant, he said, “Lame boob joke … real or fake is the debate.” He texted another staffer and repeatedly asked to “squeeze your butt” if he brought her food. To another, he said he’d give her an “inappropriate hug … And don’t worry that will be a stapler in my pocket, nothing else.”
This is not the first report about Washington’s abhorrent treatment of its female employees. In May 2018, The New York Times detailed how the team pressured its cheerleaders into a topless photoshoot. While the group was in Costa Rica in 2013, the team confiscated the cheerleaders’ passports. A “contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders—all men” were invited to watch the topless shoot, and later nine of the 36 cheerleaders were told to join some of the male sponsors at a nightclub.
“They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go,” one of the cheerleaders told The Times in 2018. The Times reported that “participation did not involve sex, the cheerleaders said, but they felt as if the arrangement amounted to ‘pimping us out.’”
The cheerleaders were not paid for the trip. Greene—the former president of business operations—was involved in that photo shoot and resigned after the 2018 report was published. He also had previously offered access to the teams’ cheerleaders as part of an incentive to sell luxury seats, according to The Post.
Washington head coach Ron Rivera, who was hired in December, said in a statement to The Post, “We’re trying to create a new culture here. We’re hoping to get people to understand that they need to judge us on where we are and where we’re going, as opposed to where we’ve been.”
Fourteen of the 15 former employees interviewed by The Post spoke on the condition of anonymity, as many had signed nondisclosure agreements with the team and feared litigation. The Post asked the organization to release the women from their agreements so they could speak freely on the record. The team declined the request.