Women in Sports Deserve Better

Rather than being in the news about preparing to report to Training Camp and getting ready for another football season, Washington's NFL Team has been in the spotlight recently for much more unflattering reasons. First, about two weeks ago, yet another push began for the team to change its disgraceful name and logo; for the very first time, Washington finally acknowledged the need to re-brand itself. In recent days, however, word began to spread that The Washington Post would soon unveil a more serious news story: one revolving around the team and accusations of impropriety. Yesterday, The Post brought that story to light.


As the last week or so progressed, the anticipation grew for the impending release of this article. Rumors began to circulate, as they often do in cases like these and many people started speculating as to the severity of the forthcoming allegations. Finally, around 5:30 eastern standard time Thursday, The Washington Post revealed the much awaited story: 15 women had formally accused several Washington's now-former team executives of sexual harassment. As reactions started pouring in, some called for Dan Snyder to sell the team, others expressed their disgust and the rest reacted with "uhh...that's it?"


Sure, on paper, accusations of sexual harassment do not appear to carry the same level of severity as other infractions. However, women should not have to experience this type of behavior on a constant basis as they enter a male dominated field.


Although some may dismiss the severity of a sexual harassment claim, these experiences have lasting effects on those who've gone through them. One female Redskins employee described a particular incident with her former Chief Operating Officer (COO) as verbally abusive. That man, Mitch Gershman (no longer with the organization), was accused by three female staff members of verbal abuse and sexual harassment. One employee recalled an incident where Gershman called her "f--ing stupid," then asked her to "wear a tight dress so the men in the room have something to look at."


There is absolutely no reason why any employee should be put down in that manner, not to mention objectified on top of it. Gershman left the team in 2015, but he wasn't the sole source of impropriety in Washington. Alex Santos, the team's former Director of Pro Personnel, was accused of similar behavior by six employees and two reporters who covered the team. Just last year, one woman accused Santos of pinching her, then saying "you have an ass like a wagon." Following an internal investigation, Santos was abruptly fired by Washington within the last week. At least three more team executives were involved in these sexual harassment claims as well and, as you're reading this post, are now no longer involved with the team.


As more of them begin to enter a field as male dominated as professional sports, it feels all too common for women just like those in Washington to experience repeated harassment. As reported in The Washington Post's article, a male employee claimed that there were "about 1,000 people out there who would take those jobs in a heartbeat," seemingly excusing the conduct. And yes, there are many women would love to have a front office position with a sports team, but neither they -- nor those who currently hold these roles -- should be belittled this way. There is absolutely no reason why any of the women who experienced this type of harassment should have to "tolerate" such abuse just to keep a job. A career is something that should bring a sense of joy and accomplishment to people; no sort of belittlement or objectification should have to be "tolerated" in order to be able to do what you love. The work these women put in so that they could get to this point in their lives should speak for itself.


Although Washington's owner, Dan Snyder, was not personally accused of any harassment, responsibility does ultimately roll up to him. However, Snyder claims that he was completely unaware of these allegations. To recap, though, FIFTEEN women came forward with complaints, with several of them saying that the team had no real process to report sexual harassment. As an owner, especially one as heavily involved as Snyder, how do you not know what's going on inside your own building? Aside from player acquisitions, owners are supposed to oversee everything, including the hiring and firing of team personnel.


I feel as it it's safe to assume that Dan Snyder must have at least known something -- but ultimately chose to do nothing -- which could be the problem itself. If Snyder indeed knew of what was happening within his organization and, not only did nothing, but also allowed it to continue, then that shows me he was complicit in his employees' conduct. Should Dan Snyder sell the team? Probably. But will he actually do so? That remains to be seen.


After reading this article, I found myself wondering just how commonplace this type of behavior is in these settings. It would be very naive to believe that Washington is the only NFL franchise where this type of behavior goes on, or that it's the only franchise from a major sports league to conduct itself this way, for that matter. What we do know for sure is that the women who were involved in these various cases deserved far better. Teams (and all types of organizations, to be honest) absolutely must do better so that this type of behavior is completely eradicated and that future employees can feel truly safe in the workplace.


- Gabby

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