ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. had a story out Wednesday about a $2.4 million settlement that the Dallas Cowboys paid to four members of the team’s cheerleading squad. The settlement came after four cheerleaders all said they saw longtime Cowboys executive Richard Dalrymple in their locker room in 2015 while they were changing for a team event, and one of the cheerleaders added that she saw Dalrymple holding out his iPhone. That’s not all. Van Natta’s story also recounts a separate time, also in 2015, when a Cowboys fan said he saw Dalrymple taking an upskirt photo of team executive Charlotte Jones Anderson inside the team’s draft war room.
The details uncovered by Van Natta are stomach-churning, and if you were to consider them outside of any larger context, you might wonder how the hell Dalrymple, up until now, managed to keep his job and his reputation intact. This was not just any Cowboys job. His duties, as described by ESPN, were as team owner Jerry Jones’ “chief spokesman and confidant.”
What’s described in Van Natta’s story is so oafish and brazen that it almost feels like Dalrymple must have been trying to get caught. One cheerleader who had been in the locker room described Dalrymple as standing on the other side of a partial wall, his arm extended around the corner with an iPhone in his hand. The war room accusation happened while a live stream of the room was being broadcast by the team. A lifelong Cowboys fan named Randy Horton wrote on TV station’s Facebook page that he saw Dalrymple taking the upskirt photos of Anderson, who is Jerry Jones’s daughter, while watching the live stream. Horton later signed a sworn affidavit testifying to what he saw.
Van Natta’s story also provides the context necessary to understand how and why the Cowboys kept Dalrymple employed and his name out of the news for so long—and it’s these parts of the story that are perhaps the most revelatory. Through his reporting, Van Natta was able to provide a detailed timeline and account of how the Cowboys organization and its HR department became aware of, investigated, and then neatly sewed up the allegations against Dalrymple.
According to the story, the four cheerleaders immediately alerted a security guard after catching Dalrymple trying to record them. Some sources remember the security guard suggesting that the cheerleaders should call the police, but the cheerleaders were already late for their appearance and cops were never called during the chaos. After the event, the cheerleaders spoke to the cheerleading program’s director, Kelli Finglass, who suggested that they speak to the team’s HR department. The women gave initial statements over the phone to an HR official that day, and then eight days later were invited to the team’s headquarters to speak to the team’s HR chief as well as the organization’s general counsel, Jason Cohen.
At this meeting, the women were told that Dalrymple acknowledged walking into the cheerleaders’ locker room, but he insisted that he did so by mistake and never attempted to record anything. They were told that Dalrymple’s work phone was examined and that there were no incriminating photos or videos on it, and that a forensic team confirmed that no photos or videos had been deleted. When asked if the team had examined Dalrymple’s personal phone, the women were told that Dalrymple insisted he did not have a personal phone. And then Cohen and the HR chief got around to doing what they were always meant to do:
Cohen told the cheerleader that “[Dalrymple] understands he was this close to being fired and still will be fired if anything even remotely like this comes to light,” according to the notes, and that Dalrymple did not deny being in the locker room. “At no point did he deny anything up until the video part,” Cohen said, according to the notes.
“Could he have lied to me? Of course,” Cohen told the cheerleader, according to the notes. “But I said to him point blank, ‘Is this the phone you had yesterday and he said ‘yes.'”
The HR chief, the notes said, told the woman the team “examined the phone thoroughly. … There was no evidence of any videos, there was no evidence of anything that was sent out, no evidence of photographs.”
Team officials repeatedly assured that they were taking the allegation seriously, according to the notes. “This is a huge deal,” the HR chief said, and later, “We care about you guys. We don’t want you feeling awkward at work.”
HR also offered the woman resources, including “professional resources,” according to the notes. And Cohen offered to connect the cheerleader with a friend who is an attorney, the notes said.ESPN
It’s generally understood that HR departments and general counsels exist to protect the company at all costs, but it’s still instructive to see exactly how this game gets played. If there was a Corporate Guide To Covering Up Harassment Scandals, it would map pretty neatly onto the description of this meeting: Assure the victims that even though no explicit wrongdoing was discovered, the executive in question got a stern talking to and knows he’s on thin ice? Check. Assure everyone in the room that the investigation was incredibly thorough and that the alleged harasser really had his feet held to the fire? Check. Reiterate how much the company cares about and is willing to support anyone who has suffered harassment that may or may not have happened? Check. Personal phone?? What personal phone??? Check.
Everything that happened next followed a familiar script. The cheerleaders lawyered up and, after threatening legal action against the team, they were offered a settlement. They were, of course, required to sign strict nondisclosure agreements before getting their money, and to this day they all are barred from speaking about what happened in the locker room or what happened in the draft war room.
One of the only exceptions for the cheerleaders to remain silent is if they were forced “to respond to subpoena by federal, state or local regulatory authorities or governmental agencies.” The agreement also gives strict instructions on how the cheerleaders and their spouses should respond if asked about their voyeurism allegations: They “may only respond with ‘No Comment.'”ESPN
Meanwhile, Dalrymple went on enjoying his position near the top of the Cowboys’ hierarchy for years. And it’s likely that he would still be enjoying his job today had Van Natta not gotten a tip from a former Cowboys executive about the allegations made against Dalrymple. And it just so happens that on Feb. 2—just a few weeks after ESPN started asking people in the Cowboys organization about the settlement—Dalrymple, who had worked for the team for 32 years, suddenly announced his retirement.