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NFL’s reasoning for secrecy in WFT investigation does not apply to the 650,000 emails

Jon Gruden's leaked emails go beyond one specific person at one specific time and amplify the league's need for a stronger emphasis on diversity.

The passage of time often takes the steam out of a story. It shouldn’t, but it does.

Already, I find myself wondering whether and to what extent posting additional stories about the ongoing Gruden/WFT situation will prompt complaints from readers who have grown bored with the story, or who realize that the NFL will never relent in its refusal to release the 650,000 emails obtained during the workplace investigation of the Washington Football Team. Regardless, the story needs to continue to be pushed, until the league does the right thing and releases all of the emails.

As mentioned last night during Football Night in America, the failure to release all of the emails allows whoever has leaked some of the emails sent by former Raiders coach Jon Gruden and current NFL general counsel Jeff Pash to former WFT president Bruce Allen to eventually leak more of them. Or maybe someone else who has access to the 650,000 emails (and not many do) and who has yet to leak any of them will decide to leak some of them.

Beyond the troubling reality that someone from a small group of people with access to the emails has weaponized them, the emails need to be released. A slice of the real-world NFL lurks in those emails. And just enough of the poison has spilled to the media to make it fair and appropriate to demand to see the rest of the documents.

Consider the NFL’s basis for keeping information from the investigation secret. The league has justified secrecy regarding the WFT investigation as a vehicle for protecting current and former employees who shared their workplace experiences. The league explained in July, and reiterates now, that it decided that it would be most appropriate to summarize the findings of attorney Beth Wilkinson, instead of making public the information gathered during more than 150 interviews or current and former team employees.

That’s fine (even if it isn’t), but the interviews and the emails constitute two independent sources of potential evidence. The league can hide the information provided during interviews and still reveal the emails. Gruden’s toxic comments impacted no current or former employees. To the extent that any emails amount to substantive evidence of misconduct (e.g., a management-level employee browbeating a subordinate in writing), names can easily be redacted.

Would it require time and effort? Yes. But the league hasn’t said that it’s not releasing the emails because it would take too long or be too difficult. The league continues to hide behind the misguided notion that the results of interviews must completely be hidden because some employees requested confidentiality. (As explained in early August, the names of the employees could easily be changed to protect them, like they were in the public report released arising from the chronic workplace misconduct of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.)

We’re left to assume that flimsy reasons for secrecy are being advanced because the league knows that admitting the true reasons would be unacceptable. Obviously, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash didn’t want the emails released. Whether that same mindset applies to other team or league employees, it’s obvious that keeping the emails hidden ensures that there will be no consequences for anyone who sent any of them.

Indeed, if the Gruden emails had never been leaked to the media, there’s a good chance Gruden would still be coaching the team.

Thus, because the reason for keeping the emails secret is not credible or reasonable, the emails should be released immediately. Just because the NFL got through a weekend of games with no further leaks or significant developments doesn’t mean we should just move on. They want us to move on. They can’t wait for this to die down.

Isn’t that all the more reason to believe that there’s value in continuing to push for the truth to come out?