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On Tuesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell met with reporters and answered a variety of questions about the Washington Football Team investigation. He repeated the league’s position that no specific findings would be made public, and he reiterated the NFL’s message that, because some current or former WFT employees requested anonymity, everything about the investigation (other than the broad conclusions) would be kept secret.
Lawyers Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represented 40 individuals who allege mistreatment at the hands of the Washington Football Team, have challenged Goodell’s attempt to justify silence, both in a letter to Goodell and a press release.
Goodell’s “claim that it would be ‘difficult’ to produce [an investigation] report because of some participants’ desire for confidentiality is . . . false,” they explain. “Many reports, including the 168-page report issued in August by New York Attorney General Letitia James regarding the allegations of sexual harassment against former Governor Andrew Cuomo, have shown that it is possible to publicly release findings while omitting, redacting, or anonymizing names when needed.”
We made that point when the Cuomo report was released, pointing specifically to and quoting from footnote 2: “Many of the individuals we interviewed during our investigation expressed concern and fear over retaliation and requested that, to the extent possible, their identities not be disclosed. Thus, we have sought to anonymize individuals as much as possible, while ensuring the Report’s findings and the bases for our conclusions can be fully understood. We have not anonymized individuals whose identities are already publicly known, individuals whose conduct is implicated in the sexual harassment and retaliation allegations, or those who did not raise any concerns about retaliation. In certain instances, we have named individuals in one context but sought to anonymize them in others where, in our judgment, the specific identity was not necessary to understand the context.”
Moreover, and as Lisa Banks said on Twitter regarding Goodell’s position, “Contrary to his disingenuous comments yesterday, there is no reason he can’t release an investigatory report and, at the same time, protect anonymity for those who want it. It happens all the time.”
Some of the many PFT readers and PFT Live viewers who are supporting the quest for transparency (and many are making their voices heard via emails and tweets), believe that reporters should have challenged Goodell on Tuesday, when he said that redaction of names wasn’t feasible. That’s impossible, however. During a press conference, presence at which requires a credential from the NFL, the prospect of getting into a public pissing match with the Commissioner would violate basic protocol and result in no future credentials being issued.
It’s not for the reporters to accuse him during the press conference of not telling the truth. It’s for the reporters to ask questions that lead to answers that can then may cause others to say, for example, that what he said isn’t believable.
Ideally, someone would have asked Goodell about the Cuomo report or other instances of actual redaction. But that’s now how press conferences work. It’s a shotgun with limited shells, and the reporters who are trying to ask questions already have a question in mind that they want to ask. The chances of coming up with an on-the-fly follow-up for an answer coming from someone else’s question are slim.
It would be better for Goodell to sit down for a one-on-one interview with someone who understands the issues involved. That most likely won’t happen. (We asked to interview Pash before his emails were released, and the league declined. We did not ask to interview Goodell. If we did, well, we have a feeling we know what the answer would be.)
Even in that setting, it’s not easy to call BS in real time. If, however, Goodell finds himself testifying before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, he’ll be far more likely to be asking pointed, direct, and/or aggressive questions from members of Congress who feel no compulsion to tiptoe on eggshells when dealing with the most powerful man in the NFL.
And that, frankly, could be happening. Many would say it needs to. Because it does.