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In WFT letter to Roger Goodell, Congress points to NFL’s “prominent platform” and “national implications” of its actions

Mike Florio and Chris Simms walk through the latest from the WFT email leak, which revealed that former WFT president Bruce Allen and NFL general counsel Jeff Pash exchanged more than 1,000 less than flattering emails.

Many will say, as many often do, that Congress has better things to do than to poke around the private investigation conducted by one of the private companies belonging to a private sports league. The NFL, however, isn’t some mom-and-pop operation with limited influence on a small circle of people. The NFL has become a dominant force in American life, with the ability to gather larger live audiences than any other sports or entertainment product.

That’s why Congress is exercising its prerogative, indeed its obligation, to explore the top-secret (except when trying to bring down Raiders coach Jon Gruden) investigation of the Washington Football Team. As explained in Thursday’s letter from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to Commissioner Roger Goodell, “The NFL has one of the most prominent platforms in America, and its decisions can have national implications.”

The NFL also enjoys a broadcast antitrust exemption, granted decades ago by Congress. This allows the league to sell to the networks the rights to all games in a 32-team bundle, instead of letting (for example) NBC buy the rights only to the home games of the Dallas Cowboys -- and relegating less attractive teams to far less lucrative deals. With that Congressional dispensation as to the laws preventing 32 separate companies to behave as one, the NFL would be a far less competitive (and thus far less compelling) product.

Although the Washington Football Team is indeed a private company, it and other teams receive significant public benefits and funding. The teams also rely on intense interest, loyalty, and financial support of the general populace. Thus, the goings-on in the WFT workplace become a matter of clear and obvious public concern.

“The Committee is seeking to fully understand this workplace conduct and the league’s response, which will help inform legislative efforts to address toxic work environments and workplace investigation
processes; strengthen protections for women in the workplace; and address the use of nondisclosure agreements to prevent the disclosure of unlawful employment practices, including sexual harassment,” the letter to Goodell explains.

As the saying goes, the coverup is worse than the crime. In this case, Congress wants to explore both. What happened within the Washington Football Team, and what if anything did the NFL do to minimize the potential consequences that would have flowed from the kind of transparency that we’ve seen in other investigations conducted by the NFL?

When the NFL announced on July 1 the stunning decision to punish WFT owner Daniel Snyder but to reveal no specifics about the investigation, it was reasonable to conclude that full disclosure would make his ongoing ownership of the team untenable. Indeed, disclosure of some of Gruden’s emails made it impossible for him to continue as the head coach of the Raiders.

If Congress can compel the NFL to cooperate, the information that comes to light could force dramatic changes to the landscape of the Washington Football Team. It also could impact those responsible for trying to brush the matter under the rug -- with consequences possibly reaching as high on the organizational chart as the person to whom Thursday’s letter was sent.