On Thursday November 10th, Washington, D.C. Attorney General’s office announced a new investigation into possible violations of consumer welfare laws by the Washington Commanders. The legendary NFL team has already been under several investigations in recent years for faking financial records and concealing a toxic work environment for women. The latest lawsuit alleges that the internal NFL investigation was sabotaged in order to deceive D.C. residents and maintain the public image of the team, estimated to be currently worth around $5.6 billion.
One of the most valuable sports assets in the world, the Washington Commanders (formerly ‘Redskins’) has been owned by the Synder family since 1999, with the full purchase of remaining outside shares materializing in 2021. However, the public image of the team has rapidly deteriorated under the new leadership, particularly due to its long-time resistance to changing the culturally-offensive name to its current form, which occurred only earlier this year.
The team is currently undergoing several investigations by the Congress, the NFL, and the Office of the Attorney General in Virginia. In March 2022, the House committee investigating the team’s financial records reportedly discovered disparities between the pay of male and female employees with similar jobs.
But the sexism in Washington Commanders goes far beyond the wage gap. According to the latest allegations, the team’s workplace culture experiences rampant toxicity and sexual harassment with full knowledge of the administrators and owners. The NFL promised to investigate the matter thoroughly. Since then, however, the league has not only resisted the public release of any of the investigation’s findings, but even gone as far as to deny sharing vital information with the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Attorney General Karl Racine of D.C. has now decided to step in. While the investigation started last fall, the office’s decision was first made his public this Thursday on Twitter, followed by a detailed press release, and a formal lawsuit against the team management. The A. G. Office in the District of Columbia is primarily focused on protecting consumer welfare under the Consumer Protection Procedures Act. In keeping with this mandate, the D.C. investigators will prosecute the Commanders for deceiving the city residents by lying to the public about the NFL investigation, instead of testing the allegations directly. According to the lawsuit, the NFL investigation was deliberately rendered meaningless by giving the Synder family broad sway over its proceedings.
The Commanders initially alleged, without evidence, that the Attorney General’s lawsuit was a publicity stunt meant to divert attention away from a rise in violent crime in the city, before backtracking on the comments within hours. In several separate statements, the Commanders counsels John Brownlee and Stuart Nash, along with communications vice president Brian McCarthy, acknowledged that the A.G.’s concerns about the toxic atmosphere of the team were valid, but rejected the allegations about obstruction of the NFL investigation as baseless.
Racine, the first Black Attorney General of D.C., is known for his aggressive prosecution of monopolies over antitrust issues. He did not seek reelection and will retire later this year. The Commanders lawsuit will likely be one of his last significant actions in office.