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Washington moves pre-emptively, hires attorney to review team culture

Former Washington president Bruce Allen declared in October that the team’s “culture actually is damn good.” The team will now be examining that assertion, carefully.

The organization has hired attorney Beth Wilkinson to “review the organization’s protocols,” according to Adam Schefter or She is “expected to conduct a deep dive into the organization’s past culture.”

Schefter also confirms that the “Washington Post is preparing a story about its NFL team that is expected to highlight the culture that is existed [sic],” and that “team officials are highly upset/frustrated about speculation running amok.”

The report from Schefter is deftly worded, creating the impression that the “past culture” no longer exists. That seems to be part of a strategic effort to describe the problems as water well under the bridge, and that current management (specifically, current majority owner Daniel Snyder) has no blame for any of it, and thus will suffer no consequence.

Wilkinson confirmed to Tom Schad of USA Today that she has been retained “to do an independent review of the team’s culture, policies and allegations of workplace misconduct.”

According to her online bio, Wilkinson specializes in representing corporate interests. She previously represented the NFL in class-action litigation filed over the Sunday Ticket package. She also has represented the NCAA in antitrust litigation brought by student-athletes, and she represented Philip Morris in class actions alleging that terms like “lights” and “lowered tar and nicotine” violate Missouri law by suggesting that Marlboro Lights weren’t as dangerous as regular Marlboro cigarettes.

Earlier in her career, Wilkinson served as a prosecutor in the Oklahoma City bombing case.

Reviews like the one Wilkinson will be conducting are never truly “independent.” She will be paid by the team, and she will have a duty under the Rules of Professional Conduct that govern lawyer behavior to her client -- generally, the team, and perhaps more specifically, owner Daniel Snyder. “Outside” investigation describes the situation far better than “independent.”

A truly independent review would occur if, for example, the league were to hire someone to conduct the investigation -- and if that person were truly independent and not expected, either expressly or implicitly, to reach a certain conclusion and/or to protect or to blame certain persons. (That may sound incredibly cynical. It’s also incredibly realistic.)

Here’s the takeaway: Something serious is going on with the Washington franchise, and the team has hired an outside lawyer with the stated goal of conducting an investigation, but with the broader objective of controlling and minimizing the damage that will come from it, up to and including Ron Rivera becoming the first coach in league history to endure two involuntary ownership changes.