When it comes to the NFL’s stubborn and nonsensical refusal to document and disclose the findings made by lawyer Beth Wilkinson during her 10-month investigation of the Washington Football Team, I believe the league is hiding something. Something big.
Who benefits from the clumsy effort to bury the evidence, concealing it under the illogical and disingenuous claim that the privacy and anonymity of some employees who provided information can be protected only by keeping all factual conclusions secret? Most obviously, Washington owner Daniel Snyder. Less obviously, the other 31 owners, any, some, or all of whom could end up in a similar predicament in the future.
Least obviously, the NFL itself. The league office, more specifically. It’s quite possibly trying to avoid a Ray Rice-style probe regarding what 345 Park Avenue knew and when 345 Park Avenue knew it regarding rampant workplace misconduct in Washington and, in turn, why the league didn’t put an end to it sooner.
The notion that the league may be protecting itself from the fallout of the WFT probe resides between the lines of a new column from Rachel Engleson, a former employee of the Washington Football Team who goes on the record regarding persistent, pervasive, and continuous sexual harassment within the club.
“[M]y eight years working for Washington in my 20s were excruciating, full of sexual harassment and verbal abuse,” she writes. “There was no way to avoid the team’s culture of rampant harassment — at FedEx Field, at the practice and office facility then known as Redskins Park, at the preseason training camp in Richmond, or at off-site gatherings such as rallies, dinners and client events. It was everywhere and anywhere there was a team executive.”
In the Rice case, the notion that the Commissioner had received the notorious elevator knockout video before TMZ published it nearly brought the house down. In this case, it wouldn’t be a question of someone secretly alerting the league to the situation. It would be a question of the situation being so open and obvious that the league office either deliberately turned a blind eye to it (which is bad) or was sufficiently inept to notice it (which also is bad).
Here’s the closest thing to a smoking gun that could tie knowledge of the situation back to the league office, from Engleson: “I reported this harassment to my boss, and to other team executives and lawyers, but no one did anything to stop it. Those who tried, like Brian Lafemina, the team’s former president of business operations, were fired.”
Lafemina. His short tenure with Washington started after EIGHT YEARS with the league office. Surely, Lafemina had one or more (or more) conversations with people in the league office about what was happening within the organization, and how to deal with it. He worked for the team in 2018, two years before the situation finally resulted in the hiring of Wilkinson to investigate.
So why didn’t the NFL take action sooner? What did Lafemina know? How much of it did he share with employees of the league office? Engleson’s column subtly cries out for answers to these questions, questions that hadn’t previously crystallized because the attention previously has centered on other issues.
Did Wilkinson interview Lafemina? Did Wilkinson explore with Lafemina or anyone else the question of whether the league office has complicity in the situation by knowing about the rampant harassment and not stopping it sooner?
With no report from Wilkinson, there’s no way to know whether this angle was pursued. Which could be the primary reason why there’s no report from Wilkinson.
Fortunately for those who believe that the truth must be pursued no matter the consequences, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform already has started exploring the situation. The questions raised by the Lafemina angle need to be added to the list of other items the committee is investigating.
Ultimately, fear of what Lafemina said to former league-office colleagues during (or even after) his short stint with the team could be the real reason why the NFL willingly continues to advance with a straight face the crooked claim that the league is staying silent to help current and former Washington employees. No, the league is staying silent to help itself.