NFL Responds to 'Disturbing' Sexual Harassment Claims Against Washington Team Staffers
Fifteen women said they were subjected to sexual comments and harassment during their time with the team formerly known as the Redskins
Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington, D.C. NFL team formerly known as the Redskins, said he is focused on creating a "new culture and standard" after a group of women claimed they were subjected to sexual harassment from staffers during their time with the franchise.
The comments come a day after 15 women who previously worked for the team described the alleged sexual harassment they experienced in a Washington Post article published on Thursday. Fourteen of the women chose to remain anonymous because they had signed non-disclosure agreements with the franchise, they told reporters Will Hobson and Liz Clarke. The Post reported that the team declined to release the women from the agreements so they could freely discuss their experiences.
Emily Applegate, who was hired by the team in 2014, spoke on the record and called her time with the team "the most miserable experience of my life."
"We all tolerated it, because we knew if we complained — and they reminded us of this — there were 1,000 people out there who would take our job in a heartbeat," she told the Post.
Applegate said she and another female co-worker would regularly meet in a bathroom during their lunch breaks to cry about the sexual harassment and verbal abuse they experienced. She claimed the former chief operating officer of the team, Mitch Gershman, called her "f—cking stupid" and asked that she wear a tight-fitting dress to meetings with clients so they could "have something to look at."
The Post reported that Gershman — who did not immediately return PEOPLE's request for comment — said he both denied and didn't recall the communications Applegate mentioned.
Applegate said complaints about the abuse were ignored, and sometimes "condoned" by team executives. None of the women said Snyder participated in the harassment, but "expressed skepticism that the men were unaware of the behavior they allege," the Post reported.
"The behavior described in yesterday’s Washington Post article has no place in our franchise or society," Snyder said in a statement to the newspaper published on Friday.
"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 [Ron] Rivera earlier this year," he continued.
The team deferred to the comments made in the Post when reached by PEOPLE. The team told the Post that it had hired attorney Beth Wilkinson to conduct a "thorough independent review of this entire matter and help the team set new employee standards for the future.”
The NFL also responded to the allegations, calling them "serious, disturbing and contrary" to their values.
“Everyone in the NFL has the right to work in an environment free from any and all forms of harassment," they said in the statement posted by ESPN reporter John Keim.
"Washington has engaged outside counsel to conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations," they continued. "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. We will meet with the attorneys upon the conclusion of their investigation and take any action based on the findings.”
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Before the Post's report, the team had announced they were retiring the Redskins name and would be announcing a new one in the coming weeks. The name had long been criticized for being a racial slur against Native Americans.
The change came after sponsor FedEx alerted the franchise in a two-page letter that it would pull its name from stadium signage following the 2020 NFL season if the team did not agree to a name change, the Post reported.