Wednesday's NFL: Congress alleges 'shadow' probe by Commanders owner Snyder

Ben Nuckols
Associated Press

Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder conducted a “shadow investigation” that sought to discredit former employees making accusations of workplace sexual harassment, hired private investigators to intimidate witnesses, and used an overseas lawsuit as a pretext to obtain phone records and emails, according to a document released by a House committee on Wednesday.

The Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating the Commanders' workplace culture following accusations of pervasive sexual harassment by team executives of women employees. It released the memo ahead of a hearing Wednesday in Washington that featured testimony from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, appearing remotely from New York.

Snyder was invited to testify but declined, citing overseas business commitments and concerns about due process. The committee chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., announced during the hearing that she plans to issue a subpoena to compel a deposition from Snyder next week.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell testifies virtually, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, during a Hous​e Oversight Committee hearing on the Washington Commanders' workplace conduct, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Team owner Dan Snyder did not attend the hearing.

The 29-page memo alleges Snyder tried to discredit the people accusing him and other team executives of misconduct and also tried to influence an investigation of the team conducted for the NFL by attorney Beth Wilkinson's firm.

Snyder's attorneys presented the NFL with a 100-slide PowerPoint presentation including “private text messages, emails, phone logs and call transcripts, and social media posts from nearly 50 individuals who Mr. Snyder apparently believed were involved in a conspiracy to disparage him,” the committee said.

In a statement, a spokesman for Snyder characterized the report and the hearing as “a politically charged show trial” and said Congress should not be investigating “an issue a football team addressed years ago.”

Goodell told the committee that the team’s culture has transformed as a result of the Wilkinson probe and that “Dan Snyder has been held accountable.” Asked by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., whether he would remove Snyder as owner, Goodell said, “I don't have the authority to remove him.”

An NFL owner can only be removed by a three-quarters majority vote of fellow owners.

The NFL fined the team $10 million last year and Snyder stepped away from its day-to-day operations after Wilkinson presented her findings to Goodell. However, the league did not release a written report of Wilkinson's findings, a decision Goodell said was intended to protect the privacy of former employees who spoke to investigators.

Attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represent more than 40 former team employees, again called on Goodell to release a report from the Wilkinson probe, calling it “stunning and disheartening” to hear him say Snyder has been held accountable.

“Today, the committee released a damning report demonstrating that Snyder and his lawyers also surveilled and investigated complainants, their lawyers, witnesses and journalists, which Goodell knew about and did nothing to address,” Banks and Katz said in a statement.

When announcing the discipline against Snyder, the NFL said none of the people accused of sexual harassment still worked for the Washington franchise. But two separate accusations of sexual harassment by Snyder himself have since surfaced.

Former employee Tiffani Johnston told the committee that Snyder groped her at a team dinner and tried to force her into his limousine, which Snyder denies. And The Washington Post reported Tuesday that a woman accused Snyder of sexually assaulting her on a team plane in 2009, resulting in a $1.6 million settlement.

Goodell acknowledged Wednesday that he was aware of the 2009 allegation and that Snyder did not inform the league at the time, which is a violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Johnston's allegation prompted the NFL to hire former Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman Mary Jo White to conduct a new investigation of Snyder and the team, and the league plans to release her findings to the public.

Maloney has introduced legislation to curb the use of workplace nondisclosure agreements and to offer protections for employees whose professional images are used inappropriately. Among the accusations against the Commanders are that team employees produced a video of lewd outtakes from a photo shoot involving the cheerleading squad.

According to the memo, Snyder used a defamation lawsuit against an obscure online media company based in India as a pretext to subpoena emails, phone records and text messages from former employees who spoke to The Washington Post about workplace harassment. The subpoenas were unusually broad, and many of the people targeted “had no plausible connection” to the Indian media company, the committee said.

The committee also alleged that Snyder sought to blame former team president Bruce Allen for the problems with Washington's workplace culture and that Snyder's lawyers provided Wilkinson and the NFL with 400,000 emails from Allen's account, highlighting specific ones they deemed “inappropriate.” Some email exchanges with Allen included homophobic and misogynistic comments by Jon Gruden, which were leaked to reporters last fall and prompted Gruden's resignation as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.

Witnesses also told the committee that Snyder sent private investigators to their homes and offered them hush money. The NFL was aware of Snyder's use of private investigators, according to documents obtained by the committee, but the practice continued, witnesses said.

Another new allegation came from David Pauken, the team's former chief operating officer, who told the committee in a deposition released Wednesday that Snyder directly ordered the firing of two female employees for having sexual relationships with a player and a coach. He also said the men involved were not disciplined.

Republicans on the committee accused Democrats of going after an NFL team to distract from more pressing issues and exceeding the scope of the committee's mission.

“A core responsibility of this committee is to conduct oversight of the executive branch, but this entire Congress, Democrats have turned a blind eye to the Biden administration,” said Kentucky GOP Rep. James Comer, the committee's ranking member. “Instead, the Oversight committee is investigating a single private organization for workplace misconduct that occurred years ago.”

Asked by Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., what authority the committee had to investigate an NFL team, Maloney responded, “We have authority to investigate anything and everything.”

“Anything and everything,” Norman said. “That's a total embarrassment.”

Maloney tried to clarify that comment in her closing remarks, saying the committee was authorized “to investigate anything within Congress' legislative power.”

NFL seeks arbitration for Flores' racial discrimination suit

New York — The NFL and six of its teams have filed for arbitration in the lawsuit that alleges they engaged in racial discrimination. If the league’s request is successful, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would be the arbitrator.

The league and the teams filed papers late Tuesday with a judge presiding over a lawsuit that was filed by Brian Flores after he was fired in January as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. The NFL said employment agreements with teams signed by Flores and other coaches contain provisions that require the arbitration of all disputes.

Flores now works as an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two other Black coaches in the league — Steve Wilks and Ray Horton — joined Flores' lawsuit, in which he alleges that the league engages in racist hiring practices despite its claims to the contrary.

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots on Jan. 9, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The NFL and six of its teams have formally moved in a New York court to force a lawsuit alleging that they engaged in racial discrimination into arbitration where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would be the arbitrator. The league and the teams filed papers Tuesday, June 21, 2022, with a judge presiding over a lawsuit filed by Flores after he was fired in January as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

The NFL has insisted the lawsuit is “without merit,” although Goodell said before the Super Bowl that “all of the allegations, whether they were based on racism or discrimination or the integrity of our game, all of those to me were very disturbing.”

A Manhattan federal judge is unlikely to rule on the arbitration issue until late summer at the earliest.

David Gottlieb, a lawyer for the coaches, said Wednesday that moving the case to the secrecy of arbitration was, in effect, “stripping our clients of their rights.”

“Arbitration is privatizing the judicial branch,” Gottlieb said. “All we're asking for is an open and fair process.”

He said lawyers for Flores and the other two coaches will argue that the lawsuit belongs in federal court because any agreements calling for arbitration were signed with the teams rather than the league.

In March, Flores' attorney Douglas Wigdor wrote a letter to Goodell, saying “arbitration is not transparent” and urging him to let the lawsuit stay before a judge.

In its papers, the NFL argued that the discrimination lawsuit's claims were not properly before the Manhattan court because multiple arbitration agreements signed by the coaches require arbitration.

The league also defended its record on fighting discrimination, saying “diversity, equity and inclusion are core NFL values.” It cited its implementation nearly two decades ago of the “Rooney Rule,” which now requires teams to interview at least two minority candidates for any head coaching opening and at least one candidate in person.

In his February lawsuit, Flores said the league remained “rife with racism” and continues to deny Black coaches positions for racial reasons, making it difficult for them to become general managers, head coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators and quarterbacks coaches in particular.

His lawsuit sought class-action status and unspecified damages. In their papers, the league — along with the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals and the Tennessee Titans — insisted that arbitration agreements will require the coaches to assert their claims individually.

The filing came hours before a House committee released a document alleging Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder conducted a “shadow investigation" to discredit former employees who claimed workplace sexual harassment. The document said private investigators were hired to intimidate witnesses and an overseas lawsuit was used as a pretext to obtain phone records and emails.

Tony Siragusa, who helped Ravens win Super Bowl, dies at 55

Tony Siragusa, the charismatic defensive tackle who helped lead a stout Baltimore defense to a Super Bowl title, has died. He was 55.

Siragusa's broadcast agent, Jim Ornstein, confirmed the death Wednesday. The cause of death was not immediately available.

“This is a really sad day,” he said. “Tony was way more than my client, he was family. My heart goes out to Tony’s loved ones.”

Siragusa, known as “the Goose,” played seven seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and five with the Ravens. Baltimore's 2000 team won the Super Bowl behind a defense that included Siragusa, Ray Lewis and Sam Adams.

Tony Siragusa, defensive tackle for the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens, holds the Vince Lombardi trophy as he rides with his wife, Kathy, in a parade in his hometown of Kenilworth, N.J. on March 4, 2001. Siragusa, the charismatic defensive tackle who helped lead a stout Baltimore defense to a Super Bowl title, has died at age 55. Siragusa's broadcast agent, Jim Ornstein, confirmed the death Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

Siragusa was popular with fans because of his fun-loving personality, which also helped him transition quickly to broadcasting after his playing career.

Siragusa came to Baltimore as a free agent in 1997 and teamed up with Adams to form an imposing defensive tackle tandem. In the Ravens’ 2000 championship season, the 6-foot-3, 340-pound Siragusa was sixth among Baltimore defenders with 75 tackles.

He finished his career with 22 sacks.

The news of Siragusa's death came on what was already a tragic day for the Ravens. The death of Jaylon Ferguson, a linebacker for Baltimore, at age 26 was announced earlier in the day.

Ravens linebacker Jaylon Ferguson dies at age 26

Jaylon Ferguson, who set an FBS record for career sacks while at Louisiana Tech and then played the past three seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, has died. He was 26.

Baltimore Ravens rookie linebacker Jaylon Ferguson walks off the field after an NFL Football rookie camp, Saturday, May 4, 2019, in Owings Mills, Md. Ravens linebacker Jaylon Ferguson has died at age 26, his agent confirmed Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

Police said Wednesday the cause of death was still to be determined.

“On June 21, 2022, at approximately 11:25 p.m., Northern District patrol officers responded to a home in the 400 block of Ilchester Avenue for a report of a questionable death,” Baltimore police said. “Once there, officers located 26-year-old Jaylon Ferguson, unresponsive, being treated by medics. Ferguson never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead on the scene by medics. No signs of trauma was found or foul play suspected at this time.”

Ferguson, nicknamed “Sack Daddy,” was drafted by the Ravens in the third round in 2019 and played his whole pro career with them. He appeared in 38 games and had 4 1/2 sacks.

“Jaylon was a good-hearted, gentle person who loved his family and his team. He was a joy to talk with and be around every day," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “You always wanted to see and talk to ‘Ferg.’ Our prayers and our help go to his family.”

Born Dec. 14, 1995, in St. Francisville, Louisiana, Ferguson played high school football and basketball at West Feliciana. At Louisiana Tech, his 45 sacks were one better than another Ravens linebacker, Terrell Suggs, achieved at Arizona State.

Ferguson was a third-team AP All-American in 2018.

“The LA Tech Family mourns this morning’s tragic news of the sudden death of former Bulldog great, Jaylon Ferguson,” the Louisiana Tech football program tweeted. “We will remember his God-given talents on the field and his infectious personality off of it. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”

Ferguson made nine starts as a rookie for the Ravens in 2019, and he also started the team's only playoff game that season. The linebacker spent time on the COVID-19 list early last season but ended up appearing in 10 games.

“Me and ‘Ferg’ went through some of the same struggles when it came to making a name for ourselves in the league," linebacker Tyus Bowser said. “From that, we were able to gain an understanding and help each other build and grow as players. From the playbook, to the field — and even outside of work — we created a strong bond amongst ourselves. Whether I was having a bad day or vice versa, we encouraged each other, and that’s what I appreciated most and what I’ll miss about him.”

The Ravens finished minicamp last week and are off until training camp. Wednesday was a tragic day for the franchise, with news breaking that both Ferguson and former defensive tackle Tony Siragusa had died.

“‘J Ferg’ had the most genuine energy I’ve ever been around," safety Tony Jefferson said. “Before I left after minicamp in the locker room, he expressed how he was ready to have a big year, and I believed it was going to be his best season as a Raven. He will be watching over us, I know it, and he will bring the team closer just from his mark he left.”