NFL misses deadline to provide documents to Congress on Washington Football Team investigation

November 5, 2021, 2:59 PM

WASHINGTON -- The NFL did not provide documents by a deadline set by members of Congress relating to its investigation of the Washington Football Team, according to a statement issued by the House Oversight and Reform Committee and confirmed by the league on Friday.

But an NFL spokesman said the league has responded to questions in the Committee's Oct. 21 letter to commissioner Roger Goodell.

"The NFL on Thursday submitted responses to the questions in the Committee's October 21 letter," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. "As we have discussed with the Committee, we are in the process of identifying responsive documents while working through issues of privilege and anonymity promised to participants in the investigation." 

The league faced a Thursday deadline to submit "documents and information" concerning the team's workplace culture and the league's investigation into it. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the committee, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., requested the documents in a five-page letter that also posed several questions to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Among the information the committee asked about: the league's role in Beth Wilkinson's investigation into the Washington Football Team's workplace culture; why there was no written report after 150 people were interviewed; what the role of the NFL's general counsel, Jeff Pash, was, during the investigation after his tight relationship with former team president Bruce Allen had been revealed in multiple emails. Allen was fired after the 2019 season.

"Commissioner Goodell said the NFL will cooperate with Congress, and we expect him to make good on that promise by producing the documents requested," Maloney said in a statement. "In the spirit of transparency, I am calling on the NFL and Washington Football Team to honor the Commissioner's public statement that witnesses to the team's hostile workplace culture are 'welcome' to come forward. Congress has a responsibility to combat harassment and discrimination in the workplace. If the NFL shares our commitment to address these issues, it will be fully transparent about the findings of the internal review and will allow all individuals to speak freely without fear of retaliation."

"While Commissioner Roger Goodell has told the press that victims and witnesses are free to take their story public, he should know many of them do not have that option," Krishnamoorthi added. "Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Football Team, has saddled them with gag orders, preventing them from coming forward due to fear of retaliation. If the NFL and the WFT are serious about addressing, among other things, sexual harassment within their organizations, they must allow these individuals to speak freely. The NFL has committed to producing documents. We look forward to seeing them."

A few of the 650,000 emails amassed during the investigation leaked to media organizations last month, leading to the resignation of  Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden on Oct. 11. He had sent emails to Allen that contained misogynistic, racist and anti-gay language.

Goodell has said no report was released after the league's nearly yearlong investigation of the WFT and Snyder because some who were interviewed wanted anonymity. The NFL announced its findings on July 2 and fined the franchise $10 million.

But since the Gruden emails were published, the league has come under public pressure, including from the attorneys for 40 women who have alleged sexual harassment while working for the team, to release the full findings, including more emails.

"The way they handle issues of race and gender and the way they treat their employees really influences the way society handles those very issues," Krishnamoorthi told ESPN last month. "We're very much interested in learning more about exactly why the NFL did what they did and the way they did it."

The committee's letter raised concerns about nondisclosure agreements that former employees signed and sought more information about Pash's role in the investigation.

Krishnamoorthi said the committee wants to determine whether new or stronger laws are needed to help employees in similar environments. He said it also wants to make sure the NFL did not cover up information via the nondisclosure agreements signed by the former Washington employees. 

The panel also has been seeking the names and job titles of everyone who oversaw the probe.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the ranking minority member of the oversight committee, said Democrats on the panel are out of touch to think Congress has a role in sorting out the WFT matter.

"Americans are currently facing an unprecedented border crisis, skyrocketing inflation, a supply chain breakdown, and an underperforming economy," Comer said in a statement. "The Democrats' latest theatrics are clearly a last-ditch effort to distract the American people from President Biden's self-inflicted crisis."

The committee is one of the most powerful in Congress. Staffers described it as having "broad powers" that enable it to investigate any industry or topic its members choose.

Democrats hold the House majority, and thus control what will happen next in the WFT inquiry. Multiple committee staffers told ESPN that the next few weeks will likely be a time of negotiation between the NFL and the panel's senior staff. One congressional source told ESPN that the league had made contact with the committee's Republican staffers at least three times before the Thursday deadline.

A couple of Republican staffers told ESPN they believed the inquiry was an overreach, arguing that Congress shouldn't get involved in an HR investigation of a private organization.

But some staffers for the Democrats said they wanted the full committee to hold a hearing regardless of what documents the NFL ultimately produces, with the hope of pressuring the league to change its culture.

When -- and if -- a hearing takes place is still being debated. The committee generally schedules hearings about three months in advance. Congress already has a packed schedule to tackle before the end of year, including voting on the president's domestic agenda and funding the government. There's also an expectation Congress will have a heavy focus on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Even so, staffers from both sides cautioned that the NFL is high-profile and newsworthy enough that they can't rule out a hearing before the end of the year.

In a hearing, Republicans would be allowed to invite one witness for every three called by the Democrats. Because of Covid-19, congressional witnesses have been allowed to testify virtually.

The committee has the legal authority to subpoena documents and compel witnesses who would prefer not to testify, similar to a court case. But subpoenas are generally considered to be a last-ditch effort if negotiations and hearings fail to satisfy the Democrats running the committee.

Since the investigation ended, Snyder has ceded day-to-day operations to his wife and co-CEO, Tanya. But he remains involved, attending games and focusing on finding a site for a new stadium.

Among notable committee members are Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Wash., who represents the team's hometown and has long butted heads with Snyder. She and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced last year that the team would never be allowed to build a stadium in the District unless the team dropped its previous nickname. It did a few months later. Snyder's desire for a new stadium could continue to give Norton leverage during the inquiry.

The team currently plays in Maryland and practices in Virginia, whose suburbs could become home to a new stadium as well. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., and Rep. Gerrald Connelly, D-Va., all sit on the committee.

There are at least 10 more Democrats on the committee from cities with an NFL team, including Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Nashville and Chicago.