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House Committee on Oversight and Reform Roundtable: Examining the Washington Football Team’s Toxic Workplace Culture – February 3, 2022
Roundtable examines ‘toxic workplace culture’ at Washington football team
Friday, January 28, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Leaders of a U.S. Congressional committee will host a roundtable next week to examine what they are calling the “toxic workplace culture” within the Washington professional football team.

The February 3 roundtable is being convened by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Last fall, leaders of the panel launched an investigation into reports of harassment and discrimination among employees of the NFL team.

“For more than twenty years, employees of the Washington Football Team were subjected to sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and other misconduct,” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-New York), the chair of the committee, said in a news release on Thursday. “It is becoming increasingly clear that not only did the team fail to protect employees, but the NFL went to great lengths to prevent the truth about this toxic work environment from coming to light.”

“We launched this investigation because the NFL has not been transparent about the workplace misconduct issues it uncovered within the WFT,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy. “These victims are bravely coming forward with their stories, sharing details of despicable abuse in their workplace. The WFT and NFL had a responsibility to protect these employees, and they failed.”

The roundtable takes place a day after the NFL team has scheduled a major announcement. The franchise is expected to reveal a new name, new uniform and other imagery after dropping the offensive “Redskins” mascot that the owners had kept despite widespread opposition in Indian Country.

“This moment has been 87 years in the making, and we have reached this moment thanks to decades of tireless efforts by tribal leaders, advocates, citizens, and partners to educate America about the origins and meaning of the R-word,” President Fawn Sharp of the National Congress of American Indians said in June 2020, when the team finally begun to walk away from the racist origins of the name.

The Washington franchise subsequently confirmed plans to avoid any imagery that calls to mind its racist legacy. The trademarks associated with the prior mascot were deemed “disparaging” to Native people — though the U.S. Supreme Court later struck down the law that tribal citizens were using as part of a long-running battle against the offensive name.

The Washington team, with support from the NFL, actively worked to get the law overturned in hopes of holding onto the racist trademarks. More infamously, both entities also stood behind a debunked story of a former coach, William Dietz, having Indian ancestry.

Dietz appropriated the name “Lone Star” and stole the identity of James One Star, a Lakota man who was a student at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a former Indian boarding school in Pennsylvania, according to independent researcher Linda Waggoner. As part of his long-running ruse, he married an Indian woman and even claimed he was a “noncitizen Indian” in hopes of avoiding the U.S. military draft during World War I.

The false assertion led to a federal indictment and a trial that made national news in 1919. One Star’s sister, Sally Eaglehorse, testified through a Lakota language interpreter that Dietz wasn’t her long-lost brother. But still he was not convicted, as the jury could not agree on a verdict.

A second indictment led Dietz to plead guilty but the charges didn’t center on his pretend Indian identity, allowing him — and the Washington NFL team — to perpetuate the false claims for decades.

And, sadly, One Star never heard from again. He left Carlisle in 1892 and enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he was part of the regiment that guarded Geronimo and other Apache people who were held by the federal government as prisoners of war. According to Waggoner, the last known record of his whereabouts comes from 1894.

'We are not your mascot'
A protest against racist mascots in professional sports. Photo: Fibonacci Blue

Despite the tragic history, the mascot is only one of the NFL’s controversies. Women who have worked for and with the team in various capacities, including as members of the formerly-named “Redskinettes” cheerleading squad, have cited repeated incidents of sexual harassment that went unaddressed or were kept from public view.

The Congressional roundtable, titled “Examining the Washington Football Team’s Toxic Workplace Culture,” takes place at 10am Eastern on February 3. A list of participants follows, though “additional witnesses” are possible, according to the committee:

Emily Applegate
Former Marketing Coordinator, Premium Client Services Coordinator, Ticket Sales Representative
Washington Football Team

Melanie Coburn
Former Director of Marketing, Marketing Coordinator, Cheerleader
Washington Football Team

Rachel Engleson
Former Director of Marketing and Client Relations, Director of Client Services, Manager of Premium Client Services, Customer Service Representative, Intern
Washington Football Team

Ana Nunez
Former Coordinator of Business Development & Client Service, Account Executive
Washington Football Team

Brad Baker
Former Video Production Manager, Producer
Washington Football Team

A day after the roundtable, the Washington team plans to “celebrate the reveal of the team’s name and brand” with an event at FedEx Field, which was originally named after former owner Jack Kent Cooke. The team plays at the stadium in Maryland, about 10 miles from the U.S. Capitol. Training facilities and headquarters are located in suburban Virginia.

The team hasn’t played at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C., since 1996. The adamant refusal of current owner Dan Snyder to change the mascot was cited in the refusal of the then-Barack Obama administration to consider a lease agreement with the franchise, which was said to have been shopping around for a new location to play at the time.

The stadium itself is currently owned by the District of Columbia, while the land underneath is owned by the federal government. The National Park Service, which is part of the Department of the Interior, manages the land.

Previously, the federal government owned the stadium as well — during the administration of Democratic president John F. Kennedy, then owner George Preston Marshall was forced to integrate his team, which had barred Black Americans from playing. The team was the last to eliminate the racist practice of segregation.

House Committee on Oversight and Reform Notice
Roundtable: Examining the Washington Football Team’s Toxic Workplace Culture (February 3, 2022)

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