The NFL managed in July to bury the entirety of the Washington Football Team investigation, with hardly a question asked about it. Now, with a portion of the documents harvested by the WFT investigation becoming weaponized for the purposes of taking out Raiders coach Jon Gruden, many questions are being asked. And many are calling for more of the documents to be released.
Through it all, the NFL continues to refuse to do so.
But there’s a small crack in the otherwise deadbolted door. In response to the news that the NFL Players Association will petition for all of the 650,000 WFT emails to be released, the league said it has no “current plans” to release the materials. The league separately told the Washington Post that it does not “intend” to release any of the emails or other documents.
Plans can change. Intentions can shift. In the world of P.R. professionals and others who send messages through every word they utter (and those they don’t), it’s not a coincidence or an accident. The words selected by the league in responding to these inquiries mean that it’s possible that something will happen to alter the current position.
So what will it take? Public pressure? Political pressure? Perhaps an ambitious prosecutor will decide to subpoena the entirety of the investigation to explore whether and to what extent crimes were committed, either in the underlying events or the efforts to conceal them.
Regardless, the NFL must release these emails. The truth must be known. Some view Gruden as an outlier. Some think everyone in the NFL acts this way. The truth is likely in the middle, somewhere. The truth, to some extent, is contained in those 650,000 emails.
The Packers, who are publicly owned, must release an annual financial report. This gives us a glimpse of the financial viability of the entire league. Similarly, the results of the WFT investigations, and particularly the emails, would provide a 1/32nd slice of NFL real life.
The other reason for releasing the emails relates to the power that the NFL and/or anyone with access to them currently has over others who may have sent offensive emails. Beyond those who sent emails to Bruce Allen, every employee with a team-issued email account (coaches, assistant, executives, etc.) over the duration of the investigation could be the next one to be targeted for termination or forced resignation.
Whether the league leaked the information to the media or not, the league decided to set this entire process in motion by harvesting a small subset of the 650,000 emails sent by Gruden and forwarding them for the Raiders. If the league did it to Gruden, they can do it to anyone else who is implicated by the emails.
If they are, so be it. They’re responsible for their words; other than when words are exchanged under the umbrella of a privilege, there are no truly private words. But the league shouldn’t have the power to selectively choose which careers will and won’t be destroyed. It all needs to be put out in the open now, if only to remove from the league and/or anyone with access to the 650,000 emails the ability to send emails to someone’s employer, leak them to the media, or — even worse — to quietly approach someone, to privately share their emails with them, and to suggest that they should choose to walk away before any embarrassing emails are released.