Last July, the NFL concocted a flimsy, disingenuous excuse for hiding all facts, findings, and recommendations regarding the 10-month investigation of the Washington Commanders by attorney Beth Wilkinson. The league explained that, because some current or former employees requested anonymity, the full extent of the investigation had to be kept secret.
It’s ludicrous, with all due respect. The NFL simply had to ask Wilkinson to change the names of the employees who asked to be kept anonymous. It’s a common method for striking the balance between the privacy interests of some and the broader interests in transparency and truth.
To little surprise, Commissioner Roger Goodell will double-down on this illogical position when he testifies before Congress on Wednesday. Here’s the relevant excerpt from his prepared remarks:
“We did not receive a written report of Ms. Wilkinson’s findings for compelling reasons that continue to this day. A critical element of any workplace review is broad participation by both current and former employees. Encouraging employees to come forward and share their experiences, which were frequently painful and emotional was essential to identifying both the organization’s failures and how to fix them. To encourage this participation, Ms. Wilkinson promised confidentiality to any current or former employee. For this reason, shortly after we assumed oversight of Ms. Wilkinson’s work, we determined that a comprehensive oral briefing would best allow us to receive the information necessary both to evaluate the workplace as it was, and to ensure that the team put in place the policies and processes to reform that workplace — all while preserving the confidentiality of those who participated in the investigation. Oral reports are often used by the NFL and other organizations in conducting internal investigations and for other issues. If appropriate, we will make public a summary of the key findings, as we did here. We have been open and direct about the fact that the workplace culture at the Commanders was not only unprofessional, but toxic for far too long.
“I am aware that some victims, including those who appeared before this Committee, each of whom was invited to participate in Beth Wilkinson’s investigation, have chosen to share their experiences publicly and I fully respect that choice. Many others made a different choice and it is my responsibility to honor the commitment to protect their confidentiality. I am confident that should there be another investigation at the NFL or our clubs where similar discretion is desired, future witnesses will feel comfortable sharing their experiences knowing that we do not go back on our word. When the Committee has asked questions or requested documents which could violate witnesses’ privacy, we have asserted privilege. We will continue to do so to safeguard our commitment.”
Again, the NFL can honor its word without brushing the truth under the rug. In this case (and perhaps in future cases), the NFL will seize upon one or more persons seeking secrecy as a blank check to bury the relevant information in a hermetically-sealed jar. The members of the House Oversight Committee should make it unmistakably clear to Goodell on Wednesday that the league should not be allowed to parlay a promise of anonymity to specific witnesses into a shield that keeps anyone from finding out the facts.