One last regular-season Sunday and the NFL heads into the playoffs, the start of a second season that promises to bring drama, excitement, unpredictability, and eventually, a Super Bowl champion.
For those shut out of the postseason, however, a different kind of second season starts, one that might include a coaching change, a quarterback change, a complete rebuild, or minor tweaks.
For a certain football franchise in our nation’s capital, the offseason should include one more thing: accountability.
For a certain league office in New York, the offseason should include one other thing: transparency.
Of all the issues I’d love to see addressed in the coming non-football months, let’s start with the Washington Football Team and that seemingly endless investigation for systemic workplace sexual harassment, start with its owner Daniel Snyder and the inexplicable Teflon suit he continues to wear, and start with stonewalling commissioner Roger Goodell and his ongoing insistence in shielding the details of what went on around the WFT.
Release a report.
The same league office that gave us 139 pages about Deflategate, the same league office that issued 96 pages filled with new personal conduct policies in response to Ray Rice’s domestic assault, that league office somehow suddenly went silent after Beth Wilkinson’s supposedly comprehensive look into the WFT. No written report, oral summaries only delivered to Goodell, no paper trail whatsoever on what went on in Washington despite a promise to uncover problems and prevent them in the future.
To date, the only person who really paid any price? Former Raiders coach Jon Gruden, when, mysteriously, enough of his ugly e-mails were leaked to force his resignation. Sure, Snyder was fined and also forced to retreat from being the public face of his team. But $10 million is akin to chump change for the billionaire. His wife, Tanya, was handed the franchise reins in his place, and even while the investigation was ongoing, the NFL approved his buyout of his minority ownership partners. In other words, Snyder comes out of all of this mess even more entrenched than he was before.
What is the NFL hiding? Because logic tells us it is hiding something.
Shame on Goodell for trying to sell us on being motivated to protect the anonymity of accusers, saying in December, “We’re very conscious of making sure that we’re protecting those that came forward. They were incredibly brave, incredibly open, and we respect the pain that they probably went through all over again to come forward.”
Just read the searing first-person piece by one of those accusers, Rachel Engleson, who worked for eight years in the team’s marketing department. More than willing to be public with her experience, she wrote this Dec. 23 in the Washington Post:
“But Goodell’s claim that the NFL cannot produce a written report without jeopardizing witness confidentiality is simply incorrect. The report could omit or redact the names of witnesses and remove identifying details. The league is simply choosing not to release one.”
One of the lawyers representing the 40 employees charging harassment, Lisa Banks, also wrote this on Twitter: “My clients did not ask the NFL for ‘protection’ when they participated in the investigation. They asked for transparency and accountability — and received neither.”
Perhaps there is hope, with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform still looking for documents and promising to hold a hearing on this topic. Whatever it takes, the NFL shouldn’t slide. This all reeks of cover-up, smells like deflection, and stinks from the stench of power and money silencing those who spoke up against the franchise.
There were many facets to the ugliness around the team, from the sexist treatment of the team’s cheerleaders to ongoing harassment of female employees in the building, and, lest we forget, the enduring pressure to change a racist nickname. Snyder finally succumbed to that pressure, but he has managed to draw out the process for more than a year, thus leaving us with the banal and ridiculous “Washington Football Team.”
The team’s latest attempt to duck and cover is its tease to a Feb. 2 nickname reveal, an announcement that may have already been ruined if a recent report that WashingtonAdmirals.com was, for a while, redirecting users to the team’s official website. Somehow, incompetence around this franchise seems the most believable thing of all.
Here comes another Sunday, but when this one is over, the playoffs are upon us. After a season that has, as usual, produced more than enough story lines to keep the NFL news cycle spinning, the march toward a champion begins. The season was played under the overarching shadow of the pandemic, with ever-evolving COVID-19 guidelines for vaccinated versus unvaccinated players and quarantine times for players who test positive, but week to week, something else always added to the drama.
The latest saga around Antonio Brown. The vaccination status of Aaron Rodgers. The utter flame-out of Urban Meyer. The ongoing age-defying wonder of Tom Brady. The resurgence of the rebuilt Patriots.
Those stories will surely fuel the postseason and offseason alike. But here’s a plea that we not forget another one: What the heck was going on with the WFT?
Release a report.
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.