The Washington Redskins have launched an internal investigation after 15 former female employees and two journalists who covered the team accused team staffers of sexual harassment and verbal abuse, the team told CNN.
The allegations were first reported by The Washington Post on Thursday. The newspaper obtained screenshots of text messages in which Richard Mann II – the team’s assistant director of pro personnel – made inappropriate, sexual comments to a female employee. Mann was fired in the past week.
Former employees also accused Larry Michael, the team’s former senior vice president of content and play-by-play announcer, of talking about the attractiveness of a college intern in 2018 when he was being recorded for a team video, the newspaper reported. Michael retired Wednesday.
CNN was not able to reach Mann and Michael for comment Thursday.
Owner Dan Snyder and former team president Bruce Allen were not directly implicated in the sexual harassment allegations brought by the female employees and reported by the Post. But Snyder was criticized for fostering a culture in which the behavior was permitted.
When asked by CNN about the allegations, the Washington Redskins referred to their comments to the Post, saying the team had hired attorney Beth Wilkinson of Wilkinson Walsh LLP “to conduct a thorough independent review of this entire matter and help the team set new employee standards for the future.”
Snyder said in a statement Friday, “The behavior described in yesterday’s Washington Post article has no place in our franchise or society.”
“This story has strengthened my commitment to setting a new culture and standard for our team, a process that began with the hiring of Coach Rivera earlier this year,” Snyder said. “Beth Wilkinson and her firm are empowered to do a full, unbiased investigation and make any and all requisite recommendations. Upon completion of her work, we will institute new policies and procedures and strengthen our human resources infrastructure to not only avoid these issues in the future but most importantly create a team culture that is respectful and inclusive of all.”
Wilkinson told CNN on Thursday that she was hired by the team to investigate “allegations of workplace misconduct.” She did not provide further details about the allegations.
The NFL said it would meet with attorneys after the investigation concludes and “take any action based on the findings.”
“These matters as reported are serious, disturbing and contrary to the NFL’s values. Everyone in the NFL has the right to work in an environment free from any and all forms of harassment,” an NFL statement said. “Washington has engaged outside counsel to conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations. The club has pledged that it will give its full cooperation to the investigator and we expect the club and all employees to do so.”
The Post said it conducted interviews with more than 40 current and former employees. Fourteen of the 15 accusers told the newspaper they had signed non-disclosure agreements and feared they could face litigation if their names were used.
Emily Applegate, who was named in the Washington Post report, told NBC News, “Nobody deserves to be treated like that.”
Applegate worked as a marketing coordinator for the team from February 2014 to August 2015. She told NBC her boss often talked down to her. “Any small issue that set him off, set him off like times ten, and that would be when he would curse at me. He would use derogatory slurs toward me,” Applegate said.
“Nobody deserves to be disrespected. And for any of us women that want to get into a career that is a male dominated force we shouldn’t be afraid that these are the things that are going to happen,” Applegate told NBC.
The team has been in the spotlight over the past few weeks as it faced pressure to change its name, which has been long criticized for its racist connotations.
Calls have been growing for the team to change its name in light of the recent protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Earlier this month, the team announced an internal review of the name and Monday, the team announced it will retire the Redskins name and logo.
A new name has not been announced yet.
Snyder and head coach Ron Rivera “are working closely to develop a new name and design approach,” the team said in a statement.
The decision to re-examine the Washington name came after pressure from corporate sponsors, including FedEx, and some brands, including Nike and Amazon, removed the team’s merchandise from their online stores.
CNN’s Nicole Chavez and Jill Martin contributed to this report.