Six former employees of the Washington Commanders spoke at a congressional roundtable on Thursday and accused the NFL of failing to crack down on the team’s fratty, free-for-all work environment — including a former employee who accused longtime team co-owner Daniel Snyder of trying to shove her into his limo after a work-related dinner.
Speaking publicly for the first time, Tiffani Johnston, who worked for the team for eight years as a cheerleader and marketing manager, accused Snyder of placing his hand on her inner thigh under the table at a work dinner and, after the meal, “aggressively” pushing her toward his limo.
“The only reason Dan Snyder removed his hand from my back and stopped pushing me towards his limo was because his attorney intervened and said, ‘Dan, Dan, this is a bad idea … a very bad idea,’” she said. “There was no one to go to about Dan Snyder’s advance, no path to report the incident … so I learned to move on.”
Another former employee said that on a trip hosted by Snyder at his Aspen home, male employees invited prostitutes over; the employee, a woman, was told to stay her in room in the basement.
The roundtable was the opening shot in a wide-ranging investigation by the House Committee on Oversight into how the NFL under commissioner Roger Goodell has handled long-running complaints about the team’s toxic and abusive workplace. It took place the day after Daniel and Tanya Snyder, his wife and co-CEO, announced the team would be renamed the Washington Commanders. (For years, the Snyders resisted calls to change the team name to something other than a racist slur for Native Americans.)
In 2020, more than a dozen female former employees spoke to The Washington Post about a culture of harassment and verbal abuse, prompting the team to hire attorney Beth Wilkinson to conduct a probe based on their allegations. The NFL took up oversight of Wilkinson’s investigation after the publication of a second Post story containing allegations against Snyder himself. After Wilkinson concluded her investigation, the NFL fined the team $10 million. But it did not fine Snyder individually and it has refused to release Wilkinson’s report.
Congressional Democrats are now demanding that Goodell release Wilkinson’s findings and any documents and communications that would illuminate why the NFL mothballed her report.
“The team and the league have tried to sweep all this under the rug,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the oversight committee chair. “As one of the most prominent workplaces in America, the NFL’s attempt to cover up this conduct and avoid accountability sets a dangerous precedent for workplaces across the country. … Ultimately, there must be accountability for these actions.”
Thursday’s roundtable — in which the former employees angrily and tearfully accused Snyder of sexually harassing female employees and of emboldening his top lieutenants to follow his example — was an attempt to make sure that Snyder himself did not escape blame for his alleged role in creating the team’s toxic workplace.
The team’s former vice president of sales and customer service, Jason Friedman, sent a letter to the committee to corroborate the accusation shared by Johnston, the former cheerleader and marketing manager, about the night Snyder attempted to coerce her into his limo.
Maloney read aloud from it: “I witnessed Dan Snyder grab the arm of my coworker Tiffani Johnston and attempt to pull her into his limousine. This took place over a dinner in Washington, D.C. I was shocked. Thankfully, Tiffani was able to pull away.”
Johnston also accused a senior vice president (whom she did not name) of demanding that an enlarged copy of her photo from a lingerie calendar shoot conducted by the team be sent to Snyder. The executive wanted the photo “urgently,” before it was edited to obscure her “personal areas,” she said.
In a different incident, Johnston’s boss (whom she also did not name) tossed her in the air in front of a client while she was wearing a skirt so she could perform a cheerleader stunt; she said a high-level executive told her to do whatever her boss asked.
Johnston’s remarks echoed earlier accusations, first reported by The Washington Post, that the team’s broadcaster and senior vice president Larry Michael asked producers to take video footage of a 2008 swimsuit calendar shoot and make a supercut of “the good bits” for Snyder. Producers ultimately made a 10-minute compilation of moments in which the women’s nipples were accidentally exposed.
Michael has forcefully denied the accusations, saying “Nothing can be further from the truth.”
Melanie Coburn and Ana Nunez also provided statements. The two women, both former team employees, appeared at last year’s NFL owner’s meeting in Manhattan to demand the release of Wilkinson’s report. Thursday was the first time both spoke extensively on the record about their experiences of harassment on the team.
Coburn, a former marketing director for the cheerleading squad, said 14 years of harassment and misogyny drove her out of her job.
It was Coburn who gave remarks about the booze-fueled work event in Aspen, where male employees brought prostitutes to Snyder’s home and one of her coworkers, who was in addiction recovery, was “hazed to drink.”
“Under Dan Snyder’s leadership, women were used as sex objects and tools to increase sales, rather than dignified human beings,” Coburn said. She alleged that one year, Snyder ordered the squad director to parade auditioning cheerleaders onto the field while Snyder and his friends “gawked from his suite through binoculars.”
In other years, Coburn claimed, Snyder requested binders with cheerleaders’ photographs so he could have final say over who made the team and its lingerie calendars. In once incident, Coburn said Snyder cut 10 veteran cheerleaders “because they weren’t the prettiest, in his opinion.”
Nunez, who worked in the team’s sales office for four years, said sexual harassment “was almost a part of my everyday experience,” and that she experienced harassing remarks and inappropriate text messages from two different high-level executives.
Snyder fired most of his front office after the first allegations of sexual harassment, including some of the executives the witnesses referenced in their remarks. On Thursday, Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) accused him of dodging personal responsibility, saying, “Everyone seems to have been fired except the owner.”
Spokespeople for the NFL and the Commanders could not immediately be reached for comment.
Other employees who spoke at the roundtable included Brad Baker, a former producer who previously spoke to The Washington Post about “the good bits” video, and Rachel Engleson, who told the Post how the team’s slap-dash process for reporting sexual harassment repeatedly failed her.
Emily Applegate, the first former employee of the team to speak publicly about her experiences of sexual harassment, issued an adamant call for Congress and the NFL to take responsibility.
“This issue is big enough that if handled properly, it will positively affect people’s lives across the country,” Applegate said. “Today, the same as every day, I am asking for transparency and accountability.”