Feb 4, 2022 - News

Washington football's Dan Snyder faces new accusations

Two female former employees of the Washington football franchise testify before Congress

Melanie Coburn (left), and Tiffani Johnston, former marketing officials and cheerleaders for the Washington NFL team. Photo: Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images

Dan Snyder may have rebooted his football team with a new name, but old scandals still haunt Washington's NFL franchise.

Why it matters: Snyder has long been seen as the invincible owner of one of the world’s most valuable sports teams — and a villain to many in this city, surviving misconduct scandals within the organization and dismal on-field performances.

  • But new political pressure and harassment allegations are turning up the heat.

Driving the news: A former employee testified yesterday in Congress that Snyder put his hand on her thigh and tried to pull her into his limousine, a new public allegation that comes after an NFL investigation into misconduct led to a $10 million fine and Snyder to quit day-to-operations.

  • Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing official, said the incident occurred at a crowded table in a Washington, D.C., restaurant. Later that evening, she said, Snyder “aggressively pushed me toward his limo with his hand on my lower back.” Snyder only relented when his lawyer intervened at that moment, she said.
  • Snyder called the allegations "outright lies," adding, "I unequivocally deny having participated in any such conduct, at any time and with respect to any person," he said in a statement.

Occasionally through tears, the accusers said they faced sexual harassment hundreds of times and non-consensual touching. They testified about a lewd video showing the cheerleaders exposed during a photo shoot, which the Washington Post reported in a 2020 investigation.

The big picture: Snyder will now have to deal with increasing political pressure, on top of a restless fan base, a big slice of which has abandoned FedEx Field.

The testimony came during a roundtable convened by House Democrats to push for the NFL to publicly release the full findings of its investigation last year. The league levied the $10 million fine in July after announcing the independent probe found the organization's workplace to be “highly unprofessional.”

  • The NFL has released only a summary of the investigation, citing confidentiality. For context, in 2015 the league released a report more than 200 pages long on the Patriots' "Deflategate."
  • Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier floated the idea of Congress scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of the NFL if it doesn't take additional steps.
  • “They can easily force the owner out,” Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi told Axios after the hearing, referring to the NFL. “What they should do is first release the findings of this report.”

Snyder apologized again after the roundtable.

  • "I have acknowledged and apologized multiple times in the past for the misconduct which took place at the Team and the harm suffered by some of our valued employees," he said in a statement.
  • He said "real change" was made to the team culture over the past 18 months.

The NFL believes the franchise, now called the Commanders, has solved many of its toxic workplace problems, according to a third-party audit obtained by Axios.

💬 Thought bubble, from Axios business editor Dan Primack: Thursday's allegations make it even less likely that Snyder will ever be allowed by the NFL to regain control of day-to-day operations, although it remains a long shot that the league would force him to sell the team.

  • What to watch: Would Congress subpoena Snyder, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and attorney Beth Wilkinson, who led the independent investigation, to testify?

Split-screen moment: While Snyder was being lambasted on the Hill, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser made a pitch for a new NFL stadium.

  • “I would not suggest that we finance a stadium,” she told reporters, adding the city would fund the preparation of the RFK site, but the franchise would pay to construct the stadium.

Chelsea Cirruzzo and Dan Primack contributed to this report.


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