The Washington NFL franchise (formerly the Redskins) has begun an internal investigation after a Washington Post article came out on Thursday revealing that 15 former female employees have accused former members of their personnel department of sexual harassment.
In the article, Emily Applegate, along with 14 other former employees (the unnamed spoke on the condition of anonymity, as some had signed non-disclosure agreements with the team that could cause legal retribution) brought up allegations of inappropriate touching, exhortations to wear revealing clothing and verbal abuse. The team refused a request from The Post to release the former employees from their agreement. Over the course of the last week, The Post revealed detailed allegations and findings to the team; two employees were fired and a third retired within that same time frame, though it is unknown over Team owner Daniel Snyder declined multiple interview requests from The Post, instead putting out a statement regarding what the team has done in place.
“The Washington Redskins football team takes issues of employee conduct seriously … While we do not speak to specific employee situations publicly, when new allegations of conduct are brought forward that are contrary to these policies, we address them promptly,” the team said. The team has also hired D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson and her firm, Wilkinson Walsh, “to conduct a thorough independent review of this entire matter and help the team set new employee standards for the future.”
The article, which involves interviews from over 40 spoke about the allegations – some of which go back to 2006 – and implicate five former employees directly:
- Larry Michael, senior vice president of content and the team’s longtime radio personality: abruptly retired on Wednesday after seven former employees said he routinely discussed the physical appearances of female colleagues in disparaging and sexual overtones. He was caught on a “hot mic” in 2018 discussing a college-aged intern and how attractive she was, according to six former colleagues. Michael refused an interview request.
2) Alex Santos, director of pro personnel: accused by six former employees and two reporters who covered the team of making inappropriate remarks about their bodies and making advances towards them. Santos was the subject of an internal investigation last year after Rhiannon Walker of The Athletic had informed club management that Santos had pinched her, told her she had an “ass like a wagon”, and repeatedly asked her on a date despite knowing she was in a committed relationship. Santos, who was fired last Sunday, declined to comment.
3) Richard Mann II, assistant director of pro personnel: also fired on Sunday with Santos. In a text message obtained by The Post, he told a female employee he and his colleagues debated whether her breasts had been surgically enhanced and in another text message told another female employee to expect an “inappropriate hug … And don’t worry that will be a stapler in my pocket, nothing else.” Mann also declined to comment.
4) Dennis Greene, former president of business operations: resigned from the team in 2018 after 17 years; was implicated in a 2013 scandal that revealed he sold access to Redskins cheerleaders as part of purchasing premium suite packages. In The Post article, five former employees alleged that Greene implored female sales staff to wear low-cut blouses, tight skirts and flirt with wealthy suite holders; Greene declined to comment.
5) Mitch Gershman, former chief operating officer: Applegate said that Gershman routinely berated her for trivial problems such as printer malfunctions while also complimenting her body. Two other former female employees supported Applegate’s account of her sexual harassment and verbal abuse. Gershman left the team in 2015.
Applegate told The Post that her year as a marketing coordinator (2014-15) was her worst experience as a professional.
“It was the most miserable experience of my life,” Applegate, now 31, said. “And we all tolerated it, because we knew if we complained — and they reminded us of this — there were 1,000 people out there who would take our job in a heartbeat.”
Gershman, the only former employee to grant an interview, denied that those allegations were true, and said that hardly remembers Applegate even working for the team.
“I barely even remember who she is,” Gershman said. “I thought the Redskins was a great place to work … I would apologize to anyone who thought that I was verbally abusive.”
While Snyder and former team president Bruce Allen (who was fired at the end of the 2019 season) were not implicated in the article, the former employees did hold them accountable for not addressing their complaints in a professional manner; the article alleges that Snyder’s attitude toward his top executives set the tone for how the executives treated their employees.
Former female employees spoke about how during their first few weeks at Redskins Park, a contingent of veteran female employees would hold a private orientation and warn them of what parts of the park they should avoid. One such part of the park they were warned about was the staircase near the entrance to team headquarters. Lined at the top with transparent plexiglass, the stairs descended from the lobby to the locker room and training area. which someone standing at the bottom could look up the skirt of a woman standing above; this happened to a former member of the executive staff.
Rhiannon Walker, the Redskins beat writer for The Athletic, detailed in The Post and in a first-person article her encounter with Santos at the 2019 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Walker had arrived to Prime 47, a popular steakhouse amongst league executive and journalists. Among arriving, Walker had learned that Santos had been asking her colleagues if they thought she would date him; those whom he asked had tried to discourage him but Santos was determined to make an effort. When he approached her, he started some small talk with her which hen went to flirting. After Walker had made pretty clear that she was not interested, he pinched her on the hip in full view on employees and her colleagues.
“It felt like pretty much the worst thing in the world,” Walker said. “He didn’t care. He thought it was funny.”
Walker filed a complaint with the team, which The Athletic confirmed in a statement that showed the company’s attorneys spoke with the Redskins.
“The Athletic unequivocally stands by Rhiannon Walker’s account of the harassment she endured from Mr. Santos,” the company said.
Walker was not the only reporter who had issues; Nora Princiotti, who covered the team for the Washington Times in 2017, said that Santos drove by her car on two to three occasions and spoke about her physicality. She was even told by a member of the communications staff that she had a nickname around Redskins Park, “Princihottie”. Princiotti had spoken to Tony Wyllie, the former vice president of communications, about her concerns. Wyllie, who resigned from his position in 2019, declined to comment.
Both Santos and Mann were fired after The Post revealed the allegations from former female staffers. However, in a phone interview last week with The Post, new head coach Ron Rivers declined to explain why they were dismissed, instead focusing on the future of the team.
“We’re trying to create a new culture here” Rivera said. “We’re hoping to get people to understand that they need to judge us on where we are and where we’re going, as opposed to where we’ve been.”
Michael, who had been the team’s play-by-play broadcaster for the past 16 years as well as the senior vice president of content, had grown a reputation around the team for his off-color commentary about female colleagues. According to sic former colleagues, Michael had been the subject of a complaint in 2018 after being recorded discussing one female intern during practice. A female employee had complained to the team’s legal department about the video; a team attorney took the hard drive from the employee who had discovered the video. When the lawyer returned the hard drive, this employee said, the file had been deleted. The team confirmed that the legal department filed the video and maintained it in its legal records file.
Michael abruptly retired on Wednesday, hours after The Post informed team officials about the comments attributed to Michael and requesting an interview with him.
Emily Applegate, who was the only person willing to go on the record with The Post, said she had no plans to go back into professional sports again – which was why she had no concern about speaking to The Post.
“I don’t see what I have to be afraid of,” she said. “I’m just telling the truth.”
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation’s Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women’s basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, “The Triple Double”. A self-described “foodaholic”, Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, “Conscious Cravings”, where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.