NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at his Wednesday news conference ahead of Super Bowl LVI that the league will conduct an independent investigation into new workplace misconduct allegations made last week against Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder by Tiffani Johnston, a former team employee.
“I think we treat that very seriously, and we need to look into that,” Goodell said. “We’ll obviously do an investigation. We’ve said that from Day 1, that we will look into this and do an investigation. We need to understand what really, truly happened in those circumstances, and treat that in the best and most serious way we can to make sure we preserve the type of culture we want in the NFL.”
Earlier Wednesday, the Commanders said in a statement that they had appointed an investigative group to look into the allegations made by Johnston. However, shortly after the announcement, the NFL said the “league, not the team, will conduct an independent investigation and will be retaining an investigator to determine the facts shortly.”
Goodell reiterated the NFL’s stance during his news conference, saying he doesn’t “see any way that the team can do its own investigation of itself.”
“[An investigation is] something that we would do,” Goodell said. “We would do it with an outside expert that would be able to help us come to the conclusion of what the facts were and what really, truly happened, so that we can make the right decision from there.”
In response to Washington announcing its investigation, Johnston’s attorney, Lisa Banks, issued a statement saying Johnston would not participate and called it a “sham” and a “desperate public relations stunt.” After the NFL’s initial statement, Banks said, “Apparently the NFL also recognized how absurd it was to think Dan Snyder could investigate himself. … If the investigation is truly independent, and the NFL commits to make the findings public, my clients will be happy to participate.”
In July 2020, Snyder commissioned an investigation into the team’s workplace environment that was taken over by the NFL at the end of August of that year. The results of attorney Beth Wilkinson’s investigation were delivered to Goodell orally and there was no written report released beyond a summary. NFL Network’s Judy Battista asked Goodell on Wednesday whether the league’s planned investigation would have a written report and whether it would be released to the public.
“When the investigation originally happened, we wanted to make sure that any employee or anyone who had anything to offer about what was happening in the Washington football club could come forward and do that on a confidential basis if that’s how they preferred,” Goodell said Wednesday in response to Battista’s question. “Some have chosen that they’d be willing to go public; we saw those witnesses last week in Congress and there are others. But the vast majority of the people who participated did it knowing that they would not have their names presented publicly. And that’s really important in an investigation, in the integrity of an investigation, is to give them that ability. Otherwise you’re not gonna get the information you really want. So we made that pledge to those employees: If you wanted to come forward and keep your identities confidential, we would do that. That was the core reason why the report was given to us orally. We summarized that report. We accepted all of the recommendations that our independent investigator had with respect to the workplace at the Washington football club.”
As a result of Wilkinson’s investigation, the league fined Washington $10 million and Snyder temporarily ceded day-to-day operations of the team to his wife, Tanya.
“We also put in, as you know, not just the discipline against the team because we felt that the environment and culture there was toxic, but they made a lot of changes as an organization,” Goodell said. “They made the additional changes that Beth had recommended. More importantly, we put in a system of checks and audits to make sure that the changes that they made were attained and that they’re continuing to be effective in the organization, and we just got an audit back last week, by chance, that demonstrates actually that they are working.
“That’s really where we want to be. We want to be in an organization where everyone can come and work there and work there free of harassment, free of discrimination and make sure that we have the infrastructure to be able to deal with it when it does happen and make sure that the club and the league is responsible for making sure they acted properly and respectfully so that people can be there and work in the right kind of environment that encourages people to be successful and take advantage of opportunities.”
Johnston, who worked for the team for eight years starting in 2002 as a cheerleader and marketing manager, alleged on Feb. 3 at a congressional roundtable in Washington, D.C., that Snyder placed his hand on her thigh without her consent at a team dinner, and that he pushed her toward his limousine with his hand on her lower back. She had not previously disclosed those allegations to the media or investigators. Snyder issued a statement following the roundtable, apologizing for “misconduct” that previously took place within his organization but said any allegations “leveled against me personally” were “outright lies.”