Andrew Cuomo report exposes the flaw in NFL’s handling of Washington Football Team investigation

Governor Andrew Cuomo holds press briefing and makes
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The NFL expertly handled the announcement of the punishment imposed on the Washington Football Team and owner Daniel Snyder, tucking the bad news into the late afternoon hours of the Thursday that preceded what ultimately was, for many, a four-day Fourth of July weekend. As a result, the league’s bizarre decision to not request a written report from Beth Wilkinson and the inescapable conclusion that with no written report the league would have nothing to release never received the full criticism that those moves merited.

By Tuesday, July 6, everyone had moved on.

A recent development from a completely different context exposes the fallacy of the league’s decision not to seek a written report and, ultimately, not to share any of the details of the specific acts of misconduct that triggered a $10 million fine and a “voluntary” decision by Snyder to step aside from day-to-day management of the team, with a return reportedly hinging on the approval of Commissioner Roger Goodell (which if accurate makes the thing anything but voluntary).

The conclusion from New York Attorney General Letitia James that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo engaged in workplace sexual harassment appeared in a 165-page written report, which was released for public consumption and scrutiny and which concluded specific details about the things Cuomo allegedly did.

But what about the NFL’s claim that it didn’t list incidents or otherwise provide details because some of the individuals who provided information wanted confidentiality? The Cuomo report does exactly what we explained the NFL should have done — it lists specific instances of misconduct without naming the names of the persons involved.

From footnote 2 to the Cuomo report: “Many of the individuals we interviewed during our investigation expressed concern and fear over retaliation and requested that, to the extent possible, their identities not be disclosed. Thus, we have sought to anonymize individuals as much as possible, while ensuring the Report’s findings and the bases for our conclusions can be fully understood. We have not anonymized individuals whose identities are already publicly known, individuals whose conduct is implicated in the sexual harassment and retaliation allegations, or those who did not raise any concerns about retaliation. In certain instances, we have named individuals in one context but sought to anonymize them in others where, in our judgment, the specific identity was not necessary to understand the context.”

That’s the right way to do it. The league, in contrast, seized on the fact that some undisclosed number of current or former employees wanted confidentiality to provide blanket anonymity for everyone. How many insisted on secrecy? We don’t know, and we surely never will.

But the information regarding the specific misconduct on which the NFL’s conclusions were based could have been provided without naming names, as the Cuomo report did, referring to Executive Assistant #1, Trooper #1, and State Entity Employee #1.

Yes, the NFL could have done the same thing in the Washington report but it didn’t, because it didn’t want to. If it had, and if the details regarding the misconduct that sparked an eight-figure fine and a “voluntary” relinquishing of the reins for an indefinite period of time had come to light, the fan and media backlash could have forced the league to compel Snyder to sell the team. As explained at the time, by protecting Snyder against that kind of backlash the league essentially protected other owners who may find themselves in similar situations in the future.

Now, for the NFL, the precedent has been set. If/when something like this happens in the future, an investigation will occur, the details will be reported to the NFL verbally, no written report will be disclosed because no written report will exist, and no one will ever hear the specific facts and circumstance regarding the kind of misbehavior that could cause writers and fans to demand a much greater degree of accountability than what amounts to, for a multibillionaire, a financial slap on the wrist. That was the outcome even though, as Goodell concluded, “for many years the workplace environment at the Washington Football Team, both generally and particularly for women, was highly unprofessional,” . . . “[b]ullying and intimidation frequently took place and many described the culture as one of fear, and numerous female employees reported having experienced sexual harassment and a general lack of respect in the workplace, . . . [o]wnership and senior management paid little or no attention to these issues,” and “senior executives engaged in inappropriate conduct themselves, including use of demeaning language and public embarrassment.”

This is where some will say that the NFL is a private enterprise, not a public body. And that is where I say baloney. The NFL and its teams have become public trusts, especially in the cities where any amount of public money has funded the team’s stadium. Indeed, the NFL has applied transparency to multiple other controversies; to do an about-face at this point becomes glaring.

Ultimately, however, it worked. More than a month after the conclusions of the non-report report became known, everyone has accepted the way the NFL handled the situation, and the news cycle has long since shifted to other things.

Maybe, given the way the Cuomo report was handled, it should shift back.

36 responses to “Andrew Cuomo report exposes the flaw in NFL’s handling of Washington Football Team investigation

  1. The author is correct but needs to remember that the NFL is a billionaires club and will act accordingly.

  2. The NFL is a private entity and has no legal obligation to make the results of an internal inquiry available to the public. However, the DA is required to do so by Freedom of Information laws. To expect the NFL or other corporations to act like the government is absurd.

  3. Excellent piece, Mike.

    It all comes down to motivation. There are many people who want Cuomo out. The band of NFL billionaires who own franchises don’t want to lose one of their billionaires. Hence, the disparate treatment.

  4. It’s not a court of law, it’s an internal investigation. If the Courts get involved, I’m sure it will be handled differently, and maybe more to the author’s liking as an attorney who hates and despises the owner of the WFT. Til then, nothing else to see here

  5. OK, the NFL whitewashed the investigation. What prevents the complainants from issuing their own list of allegations using anonymous identification (e.g Senior Executive 1, Bullied Empployee 2, etc)?

    I think they have not done that since some of the complainants still work for the team and they want to keep their jobs and avoid retaliation. Their hope was the NFL would apply the pressure needed to get a resolution and it did not. Unlike a public company with stockholders to answer to, the NFL is beholden to few so it can do what it wants even if the public perception is poor.

    Perhaps the Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland leadership should band together and use Snyder’s new stadium as the bargaining chip. No release of a report; no public infrastructure money.

  6. The explanation is a simple one: Private business versus government, a public entity.

  7. The courts should take away the anti trust exemption the NFL has. They are free to do whatever they want, anytime, without any consequences. How many scandals has the league had in the last ten years, poorly manage, when compared to other professional leagues?

  8. There’s a difference between a private enterprise and the behavior of an elected governor of a state. Seriously.

  9. Cuomo is an elected official/public servant. They should be (or at least are supposed to be) held to a higher standard than a private citizen. Im a retired cop.

  10. As I stated previously, WFT fans are the ones who lose out if the league comes down hard with big punishment. They should have stripped Snyder of ownership. That would have been the best present for our fans.

  11. It’s a private enterprise and does not have a duty to disclose any of this.

    Billion dollar businesses don’t expose awful information unless they are forced to.

    It’s really none of our business what happens with the WFT, while the NY taxpayers are very much entitled to the information re: Governor Handsy.

  12. ““Harassment”, especially the sexual kind, is extremely ambiguous at best.”

    Not to the victims

  13. It was a sham as usual. The NFL only cares about making money, and anything that gets in the way of it is the only problem.

  14. i long for the days when football was a just a game we watched on sunday and stayed out of politics and the crime blotter..

  15. Florio is on his game this year. Wow, great work as always. I agree it is private corporation, but when these franchises dip into tax payer money, then all bets off. That said, i feel snyder is being done dirty by his former co owners. This whole situation stinks.

  16. As others have pointed out, if NFL teams want to enjoy “private enterprise” status, then they are free to pay to build and maintain the stadiums themselves.

  17. I hate Snyder as much as anybody but an internal investigation in a private organiation is a LOT different than a state attorney general using public funds while investigating the state’s governor.

  18. it is a private entity but PR is critical for the NFL’s success and the real issue with the Washington team is not the team nickname.

  19. Why bother participating in any future investigations? Just take them straight to court

  20. Private business corruption vs public official corruption The NFL has no legal obligations to release anything. New York did.

  21. If a private enterprise does not want the scrutiny of the public then they should not take public money for stadium. Build your own damn stadium!

  22. harryinluv says:
    August 4, 2021 at 10:54 am
    There’s a difference between a private enterprise and the behavior of an elected governor of a state. Seriously.

    There is no difference in the legality of harassment or sexual misconduct or a hostile work environment, between a so called private enterprise and the elected governor of a state. None, only the expectation by which some perceive they will be held accountable. WTF are people thinking when they believe it’s okay for Dan Snyder to bury the conduct and culture of the organization? The only difference is, Cuomo should resign as an elected official, Snyder gets to comeback when the commissioner decides.

  23. It’s apples to oranges comparing a criminal investigation of a public official to an internal corporate review of civil complaints.

  24. Meh, different paths to same place. Cuomo ain’t going anywhere, he has already said so, and neither is Snyder.

  25. Snyder vrs. Cuomo is not the proper comparison. Snyder vrs. Watson is the one to look at. Bottom line is billionaires are used to buying their own version of the truth.

  26. One is the governor of new york who will not step down. The other one stepped down from his position…

  27. Obscured by not carefully looking at the language:
    QUOTE from the article:
    [o]wnership and senior management paid little or no attention to these issues,” and “senior executives engaged in inappropriate conduct themselves
    there has not been an indication that the owner, Daniel Snyder, personally engaged in inappropriate conduct. Of course he is guilty of being a horrible absentee landlord and bears a lot of responsibility for that, but that is not the same as a direct participant. To me this implies that Bruce Allen was the primary culprit, as was the case for much of the WFT troubles both on and off the field.

  28. And Cuomo blatantly refuses to resign. The sexual misconduct AND the nursing home investigations have cost millions (of which the taxpayers are on the hook.) Guess he wants to waste more money by making them impeach him..

  29. A written report of an investigation with people who allege sexual misconduct, who also want confidentiality should not be given a platform to make claims they can not prove or refuse to prove. Allegations with no name or proof is the equivalent of smack talk and having your name dragged through the mud based on a claim by someone who is not willing to put a name and a face to should be given little to no merit.

  30. “ehsteve says:
    August 4, 2021 at 11:24 am
    As others have pointed out, if NFL teams want to enjoy “private enterprise” status, then they are free to pay to build and maintain the stadiums themselves.”
    The current WFT stadium was fully paid for by the previous owner, Jack Kent Cooke, who never got government funds unlike almost all other owners.

  31. Goodell is beyond corrupt as is the league as a whole. The info that came out of this dwarfs whatever happened with Jerry Richardson. Not once has the league ever proven to be able to do an investigation correctly.

  32. dcchamps3 says:
    August 4, 2021 at 10:55 am
    As I stated previously, WFT fans are the ones who lose out if the league comes down hard with big punishment. They should have stripped Snyder of ownership. That would have been the best present for our fans.

    This is funny because the contention here is that if the NFL came down hard on WFT the fans would be the ones to lose out. The WFT fans have been losing out the entire time Snyder has owned the team, they just don’t seem to know it.

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