By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Roger Goodell is at it again. This time, he's hiding behind the victims of sexual harassment, bullying, and intimidation at the hands of one the NFL's cornerstone franchises. All in the name of Protecting The Shield™.
How dreadfully, repugnantly obtuse. Even for Goodell, this is a new low.
The NFL commissioner spoke to reporters on Tuesday (under the cover of night, after the daily churn of the news cycle had concluded, of course) in New York, following the conclusions of the league meetings. Predictably, Goodell was asked about the 10-month investigation into the workplace culture of the Washington Football Team, an investigation that determined the club was guilty of the accusations made against it yet resulted in zero details being shared and no written report published.
The investigation involved dozens of women coming forward to speak out against abusers. As they and their attorneys have stated numerous times, they spoke out because they want those abusers to be brought to justice.
Yet Goodell, in one of his most shameless moments as commissioner of the NFL, is claiming that the league cannot share any details of any of the abuse uncovered in the investigation, out of respect for those same victims.
"When you make a promise to protect the anonymity to make sure that we get the right information, you need to stand by that," Goodell asserted. "And so we're very conscious of making sure that we're protecting those who came forth."
Goodell added: "We don't think [we will release any details of the investigation]. We feel that this is the appropriate way to do it. We summarized the findings of Beth [Wilkinson] and made it very clear that the workplace environment at the Washington Football Team was not what we expect in the NFL and then held them accountable for that."
We held them accountable for that.
The team -- not even owner Dan Snyder personally, but the business of the Washington Football Team -- was fined $10 million. That is the equivalent of the team signing an extra receiver for the '21 season. Snyder also "voluntarily" stepped away from making all the team's decisions ... for "several months." He named his wife co-CEO to handle those duties. That was the extent of "justice" in this case. Snyder is still around to show up in an oversized sweatshirt to greet the family of the late Sean Taylor before a hastily arranged "ceremony."
Despite Goodell's claims that the victims want anonymity, that's just not the case.
Two of those victims -- Melanie Coburn and Ana Nunez -- showed up at The InterContinental New York Barclay hotel on Tuesday to hand-deliver a letter to every NFL owner, demanding that the findings of this investigation be made public.
"We write to you as members of the NFL's Social Justice Working Group to ask that during the NFL owners' meeting this week, you push the NFL to make public the findings of the investigation into the Washington Football Team," they wrote. "You also have the ability to seek justice for the hundreds of women and men, such as us, who bravely came forward to share stories of harassment and abuse we experienced while employees of the WFT. The NFL should not be allowed to encourage employees to come forward at great personal and professional risk to speak to investigators, only to sweep the results of that investigation under the rug."
That letter was signed by 12 people, and they are far from alone in making this demand.
When the NFL's "punishment" was announced in July, attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz spoke on behalf of their more than 40 clients, saying, "This is truly outrageous, and is a slap in the face to the hundreds of women and former employees who came forward in good faith and at great personal risk to report a culture of abuse at all levels of the Team, including by Snyder himself. The NFL has effectively told survivors in this country and around the world that it does not care about them or credit their experiences. Female fans, and fans of goodwill everywhere, take note."
On Tuesday night, Banks reiterated this stance, tweeting, "My clients did not ask the NFL for 'protection' when they participated in the investigation. They asked for transparency and accountability -- and received neither."
More to the point, Banks also tweeted this: "I represent 40 former employees of the WFT who participated in the investigation. Goodell's statement is false."
Speaking on behalf of the NFL, Goodell had the audacity to not only speak for the victims but to call upon their bravery in coming forward.
"We're very conscious of making sure we're protecting those who came forward," Goodell said. "They were incredibly brave, incredibly open, and we respect the pain that they probably went through all over again to come forward. [Protecting their anonymity] was a very high priority."
Contrary to Goodell's insistence, the calls for transparency and real accountability are deafening and seemingly unanimous. Yet Goodell has chosen to willfully bury his head in the sand to deny those demands from the victims while choosing to speak on the victims' behalf. If Goodell and the league actually respected the pain and bravery of these people, then it would hold the guilty parties accountable. By maintaining selective secrecy, the league is doing the exact opposite.
Outside of this one case, Goodell's claim is also entirely a lie. In all of its investigations, the NFL has never cared for protecting anyone's privacy. The NFL's hired investigator, Ted Wells, published more than 1,000 private text messages from Richie Incognito in 2014. He published the private text messages from a Patriots equipment assistant to his girlfriend in the faux deflated footballs investigation a year later. We eventually were shown all of Tom Brady's private emails, regarding his preferred color for pool covers and his private thoughts about Peyton Manning. In this very investigation, some racist/homophobic emails from Jon Gruden managed to find their way into the public eye.
Considering only the NFL and its paid investigative team would have been privy to Gruden's emails, one can reasonably deduce that the NFL can release bits of damaging information when it wants to. One can likewise see that the league has zero interest in outing one of its owners in a similar fashion.
The most recent case of an owner getting exposed publicly for creating and promoting an unsafe work environment was Jerry Richardson in Carolina. Yet the NFL did not come to those conclusions or publicize the details. Sports Illustrated did that. Richardson was only forced out of the league because a media outlet exposed him. The NFL was left with no choice -- and it was a PR decision, not one made in the name of what is "right."
When actually given an option in such a scenario, we now know beyond any doubt which choice the NFL will make.
Make no mistake: The NFL determined that the accusations made by dozens of women over many years were valid and true. These former employees claimed that some high-ranking executives were guilty of certain conduct, and the NFL agreed.
But the NFL produced no written report, and the NFL will not share who was guilty of what. That was bad enough on its own. Goodell's comments from Tuesday suggesting the league is acting this way to protect the victims is, quite frankly, obscene. And it's offensive to everyone who spoke up -- during their employment with the team and during the investigation itself, which certainly dredged up painful memories. Yet after being ignored during their time working for the team, these people chose to participate in the investigation so that those who were guilty of this toxic behavior could be exposed for who they are.
Instead they're getting nothing. And they're being told that's what they want.
Roger Goodell stood behind a microphone on Tuesday night and said this of Dan Snyder: "I do think he's been held accountable."
Snyder's victims feel differently.
Rather than listen to them, Goodell has chosen to speak for them and decide what they want.
The league circling its wagons around a team owner? Not surprising in the least. Still, for the country's richest and most powerful sports league, it is most shameful.
For Goodell, even after a career full of shameful duplicity from the commissioner, this moment feels particularly abhorrent.
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