The District of Columbia’s outgoing attorney general, Karl Racine, announced Thursday that he has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the Washington Commanders, the National Football League and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, alleging they worked together to mislead the public about an investigation into the team’s work environment to maximize profits.
Some important context: Along with promoting itself as a D.C. team, the Commanders, led by widely reviled owner Dan Snyder, have been asking local officials to approve the construction of a new stadium. The lawsuit suggests Snyder and NFL officials withheld details about the toxic workplace investigation that were relevant to both fans buying tickets and merchandise and officials considering whether D.C. residents should foot the bill for a new stadium.
According to the suit:
Faced with public outrage over detailed and widespread allegations of sexual misconduct and a persistently hostile work environment at the Team, Defendants made a series of public statements to convince District consumers that this dysfunctional and misogynistic conduct was limited and that they were fully cooperating with an independent investigation. These statements were false and calculated to mislead consumers so they would continue to support the Team financially without thinking that they were supporting such misconduct.
In 2020, Snyder commissioned an internal investigation into allegations of rampant sexual misconduct in the team’s workplace. The NFL took control of the investigation soon after but decided not to release the final report. The league ultimately fined the team $10 million and essentially suspended Snyder from day-to-day team activities.
Goodell claimed the choice to withhold the report was done to “protect” the victims, a claim undermined by the fact that multiple victims petitioned NFL owners to release the detailed findings.
Racine’s lawsuit alleges the NFL actually came to an agreement with Snyder before the report was finalized that gave him authority to block the release of any information. And it alleges Snyder and the Commanders organization made efforts to intimidate witnesses and deter them from cooperating with the investigation.
All of this is bad news for Snyder — who, in addition to having his workplace under investigation by Congress, is reportedly facing separate financial probes from D.C., Virginia and a U.S. attorney; the Commanders have denied the allegations. In addition, the NFL is investigating sexual harassment allegations that were made against Snyder in February; he has called those claims “outright lies.”
The Commanders recently announced that Snyder has hired a bank to consider “potential transactions,” which could include Snyder selling the team he has owned since 1999. He may want to hurry, because pressure is clearly mounting.
This week, after the D.C. attorney general announced that he would hold a news conference to discuss the Commanders, a team spokesperson sent out a statement suggesting Racine should focus on violent crime in D.C. — and invoked the recent shooting of a Commanders player, Brian Robinson.
Robinson’s agent criticized the statement. So did the Commanders’ president.
Representatives for Snyder and the Commanders have since shared a less-defensive statement:
“We agree with AG Racine on one thing: the public needs to know the truth. Although the lawsuit repeats a lot of innuendo, half-truths and lies, we welcome this opportunity to defend the organization — for the first time — in a court of law and to establish, once and for all, what is fact and what is fiction.”
Snyder allegedly avoided his congressional subpoena by vacationing on his yacht. D.C.’s attorney general doesn’t seem too worried about that happening again.
“They can seek to have our case dismissed,” Racine said at Thursday’s news conference. “We will issue subpoenas. We will seek testimony under oath — [a] deposition. I promise you. Let me just give you a hunch: The depositions [are] not likely to occur on a yacht but in a conference room in the District of Columbia, OK? Because no one is above the law.”