Day after name change, Washington football team’s Snyder faces new allegations

Snyder denied the accusations in a statement after women shared their stories on Capitol Hill

Tiffani A. Johnston, former marketing and events coordinator, marketing manager, and cheerleader, testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on sexual harassment in the workplace at the Washington football team. (Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images)
Tiffani A. Johnston, former marketing and events coordinator, marketing manager, and cheerleader, testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on sexual harassment in the workplace at the Washington football team. (Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images)
Posted February 3, 2022 at 4:41pm

Former employees of Washington’s football team brought new accusations against owner Daniel Snyder during a roundtable on Capitol Hill looking at the toxic culture within the NFL franchise. 

During speeches that at times turned graphic, several women described feeling they were used as sex objects or tools to increase sales, not human beings. They told stories of either witnessing or being personally assaulted, abused or harassed while working for the team, which this week changed its name to the Commanders. 

Tiffani A. Johnston, a team marketing coordinator and cheerleader, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that at a dinner at an unnamed restaurant after a networking event, Snyder placed his hand on her thigh and she had to discreetly remove it “to avoid a scene.”

Later that evening, "Dan Snyder aggressively pushed me towards his limo with his hand on my lower back encouraging me to ride with him to [his] car," Johnston alleged. He stopped only after "his attorney intervened and said ‘Dan, Dan, this is a bad idea. A very bad idea, Dan,’" she said in her emotional account.

Snyder released a statement after the hearing denying the accusation and repeating that he has acknowledged misconduct and harm that occurred within his organization in the past. 

“While past conduct at the Team was unacceptable, the allegations leveled against me personally in today’s roundtable — many of which are well over 13 years old — are outright lies,” the statement said. “I unequivocally deny having participated in any such conduct, at any time and with respect to any person.”

The NFL levied a $10 million fine on the team last year, and announced Snyder’s role had been reduced. His wife, Tanya Snyder, was named co-CEO. 

The team’s former director of marketing, Melanie Coburn, who also was a cheerleader,  told the House panel about another time at a drunken dinner during an “awards trip” to Aspen where she witnessed a colleague being “hazed to drink despite being a recovering addict.”

When they returned to Snyder's home, she was sent to her room in the basement and asked to remain there. “I later learned from a colleague who was there that it was because the men had invited prostitutes back.”

Coburn described the fear of Snyder and sleepless nights as she relived the trauma she experienced while working for the team. She said Snyder tried to silence accusers by offering a settlement last February and hiring private investigators to go to the homes of a dozen former cheerleaders.

“I got calls from these terrified women who didn't understand why PI's were showing up on their doorstep,” she said.  

The roundtable was a first step as the committee explores broad legislative solutions on issues plaguing American workplaces, like reining in the use of nondisclosure agreements, Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney said in her opening statement. But it also kept focus on the team’s problematic past even as the franchise tries to convince fans it is entering a new chapter.  

The Oversight Committee called on the NFL last year to produce documents related to the alleged workplace harassment that Commissioner Roger Goodell sought to keep private, though explosive stories have continued to emerge. A probe led by attorney Beth Wilkinson examined some of the same claims the women gave voice to Thursday, including that cheerleaders were surreptitiously filmed while getting undressed and unedited photos of women in lingerie were passed around among male bosses. 

Wilkinson reportedly spent months interviewing more than 150 people and collecting more than 650,000 emails, but according to reporting from the Washington Post, she was told to not file a written report and instead present the findings verbally.

Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who has led the congressional push alongside Maloney, said the committee has gotten some documents from the NFL but has not received information from Wilkinson’s investigation. 

“As long as that material is not forthcoming, it's very difficult, if not impossible to evaluate the nature of the investigation, why they arrived at the conclusions they did, and the punishment that they did,” he said. 

Asked whether the committee would ultimately use its subpoena power to dislodge documents from the NFL, he said “everything's on the table,” but wouldn’t speculate whether that would be necessary. 

As Democrats move forward on their investigation, Republicans who attended the hearing argued the Oversight Committee does not have jurisdiction over the issue and said time could be better spent. 

“To my knowledge, there's no pending litigation regarding the events we've heard discussed today. Nor does this committee have legislative jurisdiction over this issue,” said North Carolina GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx. She urged the committee not to spend its limited time on the NFL, “when there are multiple Biden-caused catastrophes that desperately need our attention and oversight.”

Krishnamoorthi pushed back, arguing the committee has held hearings on the issues the Republican members brought up, and argued sexual harassment is well within the committee’s jurisdiction, which includes the rules, regulations and laws that govern workplace safety, as well as nondisclosure agreement law.

“It’s time to talk about sexual harassment in the workplace,” he said in an interview after the hearing. “And the reason why is because, still, there are workplaces where sexual harassment is pervasive, and where it appears that their willingness and ability to correct themselves is really called into question by situations like this.”