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NFL

Roger Goodell’s Human Shields Are Not Having It

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Two weeks after former Raiders head coach and prolific bigoted email-sender Jon Gruden resigned in disgrace, the National Football League is still refusing to make public the results of an investigation into the Washington Football Team’s workplace culture. A handful of emails were leaked in the past few weeks, which led to Gruden’s resignation, but thousands of other emails, as well as interviews with former employees, were part of the investigation as well. Calls for transparency have been intensifying: Earlier this month, the NFLPA petitioned for the rest of the emails to be released; last week Congress asked Goodell to provide the results of the investigation; and yesterday a group of former Washington Football Team employees hand delivered a letter to the Manhattan hotel where the NFL owners were meeting, demanding that they release a report laying out the findings of the investigation. “The NFL should not be allowed to encourage employees to come forward at great personal and professional risk to speak to investigators, only to sweep the results of that investigation under the rug,” the letter said.

Last night, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the issue during a press conference. He rejected calls for the league to make public the results of the investigation, which found the WFT was rife with sexual harassment and discrimination, citing the need to protect the anonymity of the “brave” people who came forward to participate in the investigation. Goodell said, “We’re very conscious of making sure we’re protecting those that came forward. They were incredibly brave and incredibly open and we respect the pain they probably went through all over again to come forward. So that was a very high priority for us.”

This, obviously, is bullshit. Not only does it ignore the wishes of the very people on whose behalf Goodell claims to be acting, but it also pretends that it is impossible to release a report that maintains the anonymity of the people who participated in the investigation. (In fact, hours before Goodell’s presser, the Chicago Blackhawks did just that, publishing a report on the organization’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations that were made by an anonymous player against a former video coach.) The most evil part of Goodell’s answer was how shamelessly he used the people he claims to be protecting, the victims of the toxic WFT organization, as human shields to protect the people he actually cares about: namely WFT owner Dan Snyder, and whichever other powerful cretins were implicated in the investigation. The people Goodell pressed into this service were not happy about their bad experiences being used as an excuse to keep the details of what happened to them secret.

Goodell gave up the game when he said in the same press conference that he thought Snyder has already been “held accountable” for nurturing a putrid workplace culture for decades. If that’s the case, and Snyder has indeed been held responsible for his role in creating and nurturing a rotten organization, there should be no issue with being fully transparent. “Until the investigation’s findings are made public, we will not know the extent of the harm that occurred, or the reasons this culture was allowed to fester for so long,” the letter from a dozen former WFT employees read. “Most importantly, we will not know whether the corrective actions taken by the WFT were sufficient to address the underlying problems that we, and others like us, reported to [the investigator].”

Goodell and the league have become well-versed in adopting the posture and language of social justice causes in service of preserving reactionary status quos. The NFL’s “action” on racial justice and its domestic violence policies are the most obvious examples of this, and dressing up as an ally who cares about equality and justice has been a relatively effective strategy for Goodell. In this case, though, the people he’s using as his props aren’t playing along.