LOS ANGELES, CA (AP)- The NFL moved quickly Wednesday to take over an investigation into alleged sexual harassment by Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder, saying the league, not the team, will hire an investigator to lead the probe.
The Commanders announced Wednesday morning that the team had hired an outside investigator to look into former team employee Tiffani Johnston’s claims that Snyder groped her thigh at a team dinner more than a decade ago and and pushed her toward his limousine with his hand on her lower back.
Hours later, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league, not the team, would oversee the probe, and Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated that point during his news conference at the Super Bowl.
“I do not see any way that a team can do its own investigation of itself,” Goodell said. “That’s something that we would do. We would do it with an outside expert that would help us come to a conclusion of what the facts are.”
The developments follow a familiar pattern. When former employees of Washington’s NFL team first complained in 2020 about rampant sexual harassment by team executives, the team hired attorney Beth Wilkinson’s firm to investigate. The league took over that probe and Wilkinson reported her findings to Goodell.
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The NFL fined Snyder $10 million and he temporarily ceded day-to-day operations of the franchise to his wife, Tanya. Wilkinson’s findings have not been released publicly, and leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform have pressed the league to turn over details of that probe.
“Mr. Snyder and the NFL must stop hiding the findings from the Wilkinson investigation, comply with the Oversight Committee’s requests, and commit that new allegations will not be swept under the rug,” the committee chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
Although many former team employees accused Snyder of presiding over a culture that was toxic to women, he had not been personally accused of sexual harassment until last week, when Johnston detailed her allegations against him to Congress. Johnston had declined to participate in Wilkinson’s investigation.
Snyder has denied the allegations, calling them “outright lies.”
Attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent more than 40 team employees, including Johnston, said their clients would participate in the new probe if it’s “truly independent” and its findings are released to the public.
“Apparently the NFL also recognized how absurd it was to think Dan Snyder could investigate himself. We await communication from the NFL about whether it intends to undertake this investigation independently, and without any common interest agreement with Snyder,” Banks and Katz said in a statement.
Maloney’s committee had questioned whether the Wilkinson investigation was truly independent because of a “common interest” agreement that appeared to give Snyder the power to block its findings from becoming public. But Goodell said the investigation was kept under wraps to protect the privacy of team employees who were interviewed.
“We did not make a deal with Dan Snyder to release or have his approval for release of any information,” Goodell said.
The team said Wednesday it had hired consulting firm Pallas Global Group LLC to oversee the new probe, and that the company had retained Debra Wong Yang, a former U.S. attorney and California state judge, to lead it. It was unclear whether the league would hire the same investigators.
Johnston worked for the team, then known as the Redskins, in the 2000s as a cheerleader and marketing manager. The team dropped its name, which had long been criticized as offensive to Native Americans, in 2020 amid protests of systemic racism that followed the killing of George Floyd. It was known as the Washington Football Team the past two seasons. Snyder announced the new team namelast week.