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Law

Congresswoman: Roger Goodell ‘Part of The Problem’ With NFL

  • Rep. Jackie Speier questions Goodell's handling of initial Commanders investigation.
  • Speier co-authored legislation aimed to strip tax-exempt status for stadium bonds.
Congress Goodell
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

A high-ranking member of Congress has zeroed in on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell over his handling of the Washington Commanders hostile workplace investigation. 

And Rep. Jackie Speier told Front Office Sports that she’s prepared to mount a push to strip the league of favorable federal laws that could put the NFL’s goal of reaching $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027 in doubt. 

“I think Roger Goodell is a part of the problem,” Speier said  

Speier (D-Calif.) was among members of the House Oversight Committee who heard testimony from six former Commanders employees who detailed new allegations at a roundtable discussion on Capital Hill earlier this month. The committee has pushed for months for the NFL and Commanders to release information related to the toxic workplace iniquity led by former assistant U.S. attorney Beth Wilkinson.

Among the testimony was an allegation that dealt with Commanders owner Dan Snyder directly made by former cheerleader and marketing manager Tiffani Johnston. Johnston alleged in her testimony that Snyder invited her to a networking event “not for me to discuss business, but to allow him, Dan Snyder, to place his hand on my thigh under the table.”  Later that evening, Johnston said Snyder “aggressively pushed” her toward his limo. 

Snyder, in a statement, called claims made by Johnston “outright lies.”  He previously denied wrongdoing in other allegations linked to him, which included a sexual misconduct ciam made by a now-former employee that led to a $1.6 million settlment in 2009. 

The Removal Process

ProFootballTalk reported Feb. 13 that the allegations made by Johnston could set the wheels of potentially removing Snyder in motion.

Speier said she expects Goodell to testify in front of the committee in the coming months over the investigation. 

“My question to him is why haven’t you prohibited Snyder from having the franchise?” Speier said. “He’s not conducted himself in a manner that should allow him to continue to own the Commanders. In any other corporation, a board of directors would have booted him out a decade ago.” 

Goodell has the authority to recommend an owner’s removal if he determines an owner is “guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the league,” according to the NFL’s constitution and bylaws. From there, three-fourths of the owners would need to vote in favor of stripping an owner of the franchise — the same margin needed to approve an owner. 

The modern NFL has never removed an owner for misconduct. The last owner to face harassment claims was Jerry Richardson, the founding owner of the Carolina Panthers. Richardson, who also allegedly used racial slurs, agreed to sell his team to investor Dave Tepper for $2.275 billion in 2018 before the NFL’s investigation was complete. 

Push to End Bond, Antitrust Perks 

Speier along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and Don Beyer (D-Virginia) introduced the “No Tax Subsidies for Stadiums Act of 2022” on Tuesday. The bill, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Joe Biden, would alter the tax code to prevent the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds used to finance pro sports stadiums. 

“Super-rich sports team owners like Dan Snyder do not need federal support to build their stadiums, and taxpayers should not be forced to fund them,” Rep. Beyer said in a news release that announced the bill.

According to the bill’s sponsors, subsidizing professional stadium and arena projects have cost taxpayers $4.3 billion since 2000. 

Speier also told FOS that it’s time for Congress to reexamine the league’s federal antitrust exemption. The league secured the exemption as part of the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 that allowed them to negotiate league-wide broadcast rights deals, which are currently worth about $10 billion per season. 

“They are kind of Teflon coated,” Speier said. “Nothing seems to penetrate, but they’re in my sights. I am not going to allow one of the premier workplaces in a country to be a den for sexual predators. That’s what it is.

“We have a big lever (in revoking antitrust). The technology has advanced so much since this was put in place in the 1960s. It’s been a half a century and they’re still benefiting from this monopolistic conduct. I don’t think it [antitrust exemption] holds water.”

Latest Investigation Underway

The NFL fined the Commanders $10 million in July and laid out a series of recommendations to fix the workplace culture of the team, but Snyder wasn’t individually sanctioned. Before the report was released, NFL owners unanimously approved a debt waiver so he could buy out 40% of the team held by a trio of co-owners for nearly $1 billion. Three-quarters of the owners had to approve the waiver. 

But there was no written report released when the fine was levied, leaving Goodell open to widespread criticism from members of the Oversight Committee, several women who came forward who worked for the Commanders and others. 

“When you make a promise to protect the anonymity to make sure that we get the right information, you need to stand by that,” Goodell said in October.

The Commanders initially said it would hire the Pallas Global Group to run a probe over the new allegations before Goodell put that idea on ice. 

“I do not see any way a team can do its own investigation of itself,” Goodell said before the Super Bowl. 

On Feb. 18, the NFL announced Mary Jo White, a former U.S. Attorney and a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, would lead the investigation into allegations made at the Congressional roundtable — and the findings will be made public. 

“Based on his review of the findings, the Commissioner will determine any appropriate action which will be made public,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “A written report of the investigator’s findings will be publicly released.”

While leadership of the Oversight Committee hasn’t ruled out issuing subpoenas for more information or to compel the testimony of Goddell and Snyder, Speier already has some questions ready for Snyder. 

“Why do you treat women so poorly?” Speier said. “ Why do you think of them as chattel? What makes you think that you can put your hand on your employees and then try to force her into your limousine? What makes you think you can do that?”

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