The Jon Gruden/WFT situation raises plenty of questions that, frankly, require a lawyer for the asking and a lawyer for the answering. I’ve got a long list of questions relating to the decisions made and actions taken (or not taken) by the league regarding the investigation of the Washington Football Team and, three months later, the utilization of some of the documents harvested during the investigation to take down Jon Gruden, who never worked for the Washington Football Team (and, based on the emails leaked, was working for no NFL team at the time they were sent).
As a result, I thought it would make sense to ask to interview NFL general counsel Jeff Pash. During the lockout (which has come up a couple of times in relation to former Washington executive Bruce Allen’s emails), Pash appeared multiple times on PFT Live, eager to help fans and media understand the league’s bargaining position as to the NFL Players Association. In this setting, it would be helpful to fans and media who have questions about what happened and why it happened to hear from someone like Pash.
So I asked the league to make Pash available.
“We appreciate the request but we will decline,” a league spokesperson told me on Thursday afternoon. I doubt the veracity of the first four words; given the events of the past few days, the league surely doesn’t appreciate any effort to jostle it toward transparency and accountability for the failure to publish any information about the WFT investigation, until the moment someone (we still don’t know who) decided that a sliver of 650,000 secret emails would be used to topple a Super Bowl-winning coach.
Not that he didn’t deserve it. It’s possible to believe both that Gruden should not be coaching and that Gruden was treated unfairly. Why was he the only person to be embarrassed, exposed, and eventually unemployed when the trove of documents quite possibly contains many other items that would result in many other people getting what they deserve, too?
Maybe it’s not many. Maybe it’s some. Or a few. Or whatever. Absent full transparency, we won’t know until they get the same treatment Gruden got. (And if they’re approached privately with a handful of damaging emails and they quietly walk away without any emails being leaked, we’ll never know.)
Back in July, the league avoided transparency as to the WFT investigation by hiding behind the flimsy notion that some of the persons who came forward requested confidentiality. Regardless of the fact that those concerns easily could have been handled by redacting or changing names, the protection of victims has nothing to do with the exposure of people who, like Gruden, sent deeply offensive and inappropriate email messages.
Put simply, the stated reason for hiding the outcome of the investigation — protecting the alleged victims — has no logical connection to the protection of the actual wrongdoers, up to and including Washington owner Daniel Snyder. The fact Gruden was the first to be wiped out professionally through the selective dissemination of otherwise secret documents becomes potentially unfair to him if others engaged in similar behavior but, for whatever reason, the league isn’t using specific pages from the 650,000-document trove to target them.
Questions arising from these troubling dynamics and inconsistencies need to be asked. Soon, the owners will have their quarterly meetings. Commissioner Roger Goodell presumably will have a press conference. (He almost always does.) He needs to be asked these and other questions.
When pressed, Goodell may be inclined to cite legal reasons, and to point out that he’s not a lawyer. Which, depending on the question, may be a fair answer.
So here’s a fair solution. Make Pash available for a one-on-one interview during which answers for which MANY are clamoring can be provided.
And here’s one last point to ponder. If enough people clamor for these answers, someone in one of the two houses of Congress may decide to invite some of the key players to Capitol Hill for a formal fact-finding meeting. At this point, that may be the only way to get to the one thing that anyone who cares about the integrity of and public confidence in the sport of professional football should be demanding.