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Lewd cheerleader videos, sexist rules: Ex-employees decry Washington’s NFL team's workplace

Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder, stands before a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins in Philadelphia on Sept. 8, 2019.

JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

By WILL HOBSON, BETH REINHARD, LIZ CLARKE AND DALTON BENNETT | The Washington Post | Published: August 26, 2020

In “Beauties on the Beach,” the official video chronicling the making of the Washington NFL team’s 2008 cheerleader swimsuit calendar, the women frolic in the sand, rave about their custom bikinis and praise a photographer for putting them at ease in settings where sometimes only a strategically placed prop or tightly framed shot shielded otherwise bare breasts.

What the cheerleaders didn’t know was that another video, intended strictly for private use, would be produced using footage from that same shoot. Set to classic rock, the 10-minute unofficial video featured moments when nipples were inadvertently exposed as the women shifted positions or adjusted props.

The lewd outtakes were what Larry Michael, then the team’s lead broadcaster and a senior vice president, referred to as “the good bits” or “the good parts,” according to Brad Baker, a former member of Michael’s staff. Baker said in an interview that he was present when Michael told staffers to make the video for team owner Daniel Snyder.

Snyder and the team provided no comment after they were given repeated opportunities to respond to this and other allegations in this story.

Michael adamantly denied the allegation.

“Nothing can be further from the truth. I was never asked to nor did I ask someone to compile videos as you described,” Michael said.

Baker recalls otherwise.

“Larry said something to the effect of, ‘We have a special project that we need to get done for the owner today: He needs us to get the good bits of the behind-the-scenes video from the cheerleader shoot onto a DVD for him,’ ” said Baker, who was a producer in the team’s broadcast department from 2007 to 2009.

The Washington Post obtained a copy of the 2008 video from another former employee, along with a similar outtakes video from the squad’s swimsuit calendar shoot in the Dominican Republic in 2010 that included a close-up of one cheerleader’s pubic area, obscured only by gold body paint.

In addition, a former broadcasting producer for the team told The Post that Michael ordered that the 2010 video be burned to a DVD titled “For Executive Meeting.” The former producer did not recall Michael’s mentioning Snyder. Both former employees spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation. Michael denied knowledge of any such videos.

On Aug. 18, The Post emailed the team’s public relations representative a summary of its reporting and detailed questions. The team, through its public relations firm and lawyer, requested additional days to respond and did not accept repeated offers from The Post to show team officials these videos. Ultimately, the team provided no comment, and Snyder did not agree to an interview.

In response to a Post report last month detailing allegations of widespread sexual harassment in his team’s front office, including by Michael, Snyder publicly stated that such behavior “has no place in our franchise” and hired a law firm to “set new employee standards for the future.”

But interviews with more than 100 current and former employees and a review of internal company documents and other records show that, in his 21 years of ownership, Snyder has presided over an organization in which women say they have been marginalized, discriminated against and exploited. The employees also described an atmosphere in which bullying and demeaning behavior by management created a climate of fear that allowed abusive behavior to continue unchecked.

Twenty-five women — most of them speaking on the condition of anonymity because of nondisclosure agreements or fear of reprisal — told The Post that they experienced sexual harassment while working for the team. They described male bosses, colleagues and players commenting on their bodies and clothing, incorporating sexual innuendos into workplace conversation and making unwanted advances in person or via emails, text messages and social media. Many said they were motivated to speak out because they were angered by Snyder’s comments after The Post report last month that detailed allegations from another 17 women, which they read as an attempt to distance himself from the workplace culture described.

One of the women interviewed for this story accused Snyder of directly humiliating her, the first such claim made to The Post. Former cheerleader Tiffany Bacon Scourby said Snyder approached her at a 2004 charity event at which the cheerleaders were performing and suggested she join his close friend in a hotel room so they “could get to know each other better.” Scourby’s account was supported by three friends she spoke to shortly afterward about the alleged incident, including the team’s former cheerleader director.

Many of the women who have come forward in recent weeks with harassment allegations pointed to former executives named in the previous Post report: Alex Santos, the recently fired pro personnel director; Michael, the club’s longtime radio voice and a senior vice president, who abruptly retired last month; Dennis Greene, the former president of business operations, who left in 2018 amid allegations he had sold access to cheerleaders; and Mitch Gershman, the former chief operating officer, who left in 2015. Santos and Gershman declined to comment for this story. Greene did not respond to requests for comment.

Some women described an overwhelming sense of helplessness and an absence of options because the team’s one-person human resources department has been supervised by executives who appeared, to them, to condone this behavior. One former intern said she tried to lodge a sexual harassment complaint against Santos in 2016, but Stephen Choi, the organization’s chief financial officer, told her the team had a “male-dominated culture” and she would have to avoid Santos or quit. She quit. Choi declined to comment.

Many women also said gender-based official policies and informal practices limited their ability to do their jobs and denied them opportunities for career advancement.

Alicia Klein, a 27-year-old Georgetown University graduate student when she interned for the team in 2010, said she passed up a chance to extend her internship because she felt so uncomfortable about how male executives constantly remarked on her looks.

“It was pervasive,” said Klein, now a sports executive and professor in Brazil. “I didn’t tell anyone because it was embarrassing and demeaning, and I wanted to tell everyone that I had worked in the NFL.”

In 2017, at Choi’s direction, the team’s human resources staffer emailed all employees a “conduct policy” restricting the movement of women in the building to minimize their interaction with players. The email made formal what long had been an understood directive, according to several former employees, that women should avoid football operations areas out of concern they would distract players.

Several women said they endured harassment and verbal abuse that left lingering emotional damage. Some formed an informal online “support group” for former team employees. Some said they felt working for the team left them with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Brittany Pareti, a D.C.-area marketing executive who worked in the team’s community and charitable programs from 2007 to 2012, said she became so angry and depressed during her time with the team that her family staged an intervention to convince her to seek therapy.

“It was like fresh meat to a pack of wolves every time a new pack of interns would come in,” Pareti said. “It was like a frat house, with men lined up in the lobby watching women walk in and out. You constantly felt there were eyes on you.”

Pareti and Scourby are among 12 former team employees who have retained attorney Lisa Banks, partner in the D.C. firm Katz, Marshall and Banks, which specializes in civil rights, employment and sexual harassment law.

“A workplace culture this toxic and pervasive, at the highest levels of the organization, simply cannot exist without the knowledge and encouragement of the owner,” said Banks, whose firm represented Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford when she went public in 2018 with accusations of sexual assault against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who denied them.

Some former team employees were referred to Banks by the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, an initiative that connects women who are sexually harassed at work with legal and public-relations professionals.

The new allegations come at a perilous time for Snyder, 55, who recently dropped the team’s name under pressure from sponsors and critics who said it was racist. He also faces the possible exodus of his three co-owners, who are trying to sell their collective 40% stake in the franchise.

Snyder has gone to court twice in recent weeks to defend his reputation. He sued an online media company for publishing what he said were defamatory stories about him.

Snyder also is accusing former employee Mary Ellen Blair and her landlord of helping to orchestrate and bankroll those stories. The landlord is a company led by the son-in-law and daughter of Dwight Schar, one of the minority owners seeking to sell his share of the team. Blair and the company have denied the allegations. In an Aug. 21 court filing, lawyers for the company, Comstock Holdings, characterized Snyder’s pursuit of financial information to bolster his claim as a “speculative fishing expedition.”

Since the first Post report, Snyder has diversified his team’s senior leadership with two high-profile hires. Last week, he named Jason Wright, a former NFL player and partner at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, as team president; Wright is the first Black person to hold that title in the NFL. Last month, Snyder hired sports broadcaster Julie Donaldson to replace Michael as senior vice president of media, making her the team’s highest-ranking woman.

Snyder also hired D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson to conduct a “full, unbiased investigation” of the workplace. Many former employees told The Post they hope the NFL takes over the investigation to ensure thorough scrutiny of Snyder’s conduct. Several incidents they recounted might violate the NFL’s personal conduct policy, which requires team owners, staff members and players to avoid “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League.”

“An independent investigation is needed,” Pareti said. “We cannot trust a report from this organization to be unbiased.”

 

‘She was more or less propositioned’

Cigar smoke and the laughter and chatter of more than 2,000 of the region’s wealthiest men filled the Washington Hilton ballroom as Fight Night — the bawdy, boxing-themed charity event that was discontinued after last year’s edition — got underway on a November evening in 2004.

The centerpiece of the event, which raised money for children’s charities, was a boxing ring where young fighters competed and Washington’s cheerleaders performed.

Snyder wasn’t a Fight Night regular, attendees said, but a photographer captured him in his tuxedo that night with his arm around Schar. Snyder won an auction for a limited edition Harley-Davidson motorcycle, spending $80,000.

Scourby said she had finished dancing in the ring with her teammates — wearing black bustiers, gold shorts and black fishnet arm stockings — and returned to mingling with guests and selling copies of that year’s swimsuit calendar when she saw Snyder.

“Tiffany!” Scourby recalled Snyder calling to her. Then 26, she had never spoken to Snyder before, she said, and was surprised he knew her name.

Scourby recalled a brief, awkward conversation before Snyder said, “You know, Tony is here,” and gestured to Anthony Roberts, his longtime friend, who was 40 at the time.

Roberts, an eye doctor, had performed LASIK surgery on Scourby the year before — one of her friends had recommended him — and she said she had noticed him in Snyder’s suite at FedEx Field before a game a few months later, peering through binoculars and waving at her.

The “official ophthalmologist” of the team, Roberts has known Snyder since they were classmates at a Rockville, Md., high school. As teenagers, they watched Washington games together at Snyder’s home in Silver Spring, Md., according to a 1999 Post story. When Snyder had one of his first successful business forays, at 22, he and Roberts bought Porsches together.

“We have a hotel room,” Snyder said that 2004 night, according to Scourby. “Why don’t you and Tony go upstairs and get to know each other better?”

Scourby said she laughed sheepishly and waited for a laugh from Snyder that would indicate he was joking. He didn’t laugh, she said.

“Oh, I’m working. Have a great time,” Scourby said she told him before quickly walking back into the crowd. Later that night, she confided in Donald Wells, the cheerleader director, about the conversation.

“I remember her saying, ‘Daniel Snyder offered me the suite with one of his friends,’ ” said Wells, who led the squad from 1997 to early 2009, when he was laid off with roughly 20 other employees amid the economic downturn. “She was more or less propositioned.”

Two other people supported Scourby’s recollection of that evening: her boyfriend at the time, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and a longtime friend, who said Scourby told her about the incident a few days later.

Snyder “let it be known he had a room in the hotel and Tiffany and his friend should go get to know each other better,” recalled Kristi Kelly, a cannabis industry executive who lives in Michigan. “She gracefully exited the conversation.”

Years later, Scourby said, she is still unsure whether Roberts knew about Snyder’s remark. Roberts did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Post.

“There’s a power dynamic, and Dan Snyder looked down on me,” Scourby said. “Because he’s powerful and our employer, he thinks he somehow has the right to say these things to us, to make these requests of us, and he doesn’t. It’s disgusting.”

Scourby continued to work as a cheerleader for four years after that Fight Night, serving as team captain in 2008 and representing the team at the 2009 Pro Bowl. A 42-year-old single mother of two young boys, she said she maintains a connection to the team’s cheerleaders as a sideline assistant, a volunteer coaching position.

This is Scourby’s second allegation of inappropriate behavior against a high-profile man. In 2017, she accused actor Jeremy Piven of sexually assaulting her in 2003 during a brief encounter in New York. Piven denied the allegation, along with similar claims of sexual misconduct by seven other women. CBS canceled the drama he was starring in at the time.

“Powerful men in powerful positions need to realize that they can’t do this,” she said.

 

‘Betrayed and violated’

The request for the unofficial cheerleader video came after a routine production meeting in 2008, according to Baker, a former production manager in the team’s broadcasting department. The cheerleaders recently had returned from their calendar shoot that year in Aruba.

Baker said Michael excused two female colleagues and asked him to stay, along with two male colleagues: Tim DeLaney, then vice president of production, and Marc Dress, a videographer.

After Michael asked for the video of “the good bits,” there was an awkward pause, said Baker, who was unsure what they were being asked to do.

“Yeah, I’ll take care of it,” DeLaney said, according to Baker.

Later that day, Baker said, he walked into the editing room to find DeLaney, assisted by Dress, assembling footage that included multiple shots of cheerleaders’ exposed nipples. His co-workers appeared visibly uncomfortable doing the work, he said.

“Nobody said anything; it was just palpable tension,” said Baker, who was among those laid off in 2009 and now lives in Nashville, Tenn.

The door, which typically would be open, was shut, Baker said. His co-workers spoke in hushed tones, he said, and when he left the room, DeLaney told him to close the door.

DeLaney and Dress disputed Baker’s account.

“I was never asked to create an outtakes video, and I have no knowledge of anyone creating one or even being asked to create one,” said DeLaney, now vice president of broadcast and digital content for the Arizona Cardinals. “I certainly would have remembered that conversation had it happened.”

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Dress, now an independent videographer in Maryland. “I was a shooter; I shot it. What happened after I turned it in, I can’t tell you.”

Megan Imbert, a former producer in the broadcast department, said she walked into an editing bay in the summer of 2008 and saw an image on the screen she learned years later from Baker was part of that video: a zoomed-in shot of a cheerleader’s bikini bottom, focused on the pubic area.

“I thought, ‘That’s a really weird place for a shot to be stopped. … I hope that’s never used for anything,’ ” Imbert said.

The 10-minute outtakes video was created June 9, 2008, according to metadata in the video file. A technical analysis by The Post and a researcher from the Infomedia Lab at Carnegie Mellon University found no evidence that it had been manipulated. It and a promotional video broadcast by the team share what appear to be identical frames from a topless photo shoot, with the official version blurred and the outtakes version in sharp focus.

The 2010 video featuring partly nude cheerleaders was created June 22 that year, according to its metadata, shortly after the year’s calendar shoot in the Dominican Republic. Both videos share the same soundtrack: The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and U2’s “Mysterious Ways.” In both outtakes videos, the cheerleaders look directly at the camera repeatedly.

The Post showed the videos to Banks, Scourby’s attorney, who also represents Baker.

“It is absolutely appalling — but perhaps not surprising — that the Washington football organization would produce these highly sexualized videos without the knowledge or consent of the women featured,” Banks said. “The videos appear to have been created to serve no other purpose than to satisfy the prurient interests of the team’s executive leadership.”

The former employee who provided both videos to The Post described seeing a producer splice the footage together for the 2010 video. According to the former employee, the producer identified the footage as “outtakes of the recent cheerleader shoot” and said the video was being compiled for Snyder.

The former employee told The Post, “I saved the video because I didn’t think anyone would believe it was real.” This former employee decided to provide the videos to The Post after its July 16 report, out of a desire to see the NFL “hold the team more accountable.”

The producer did not recall the brief exchange described by the former co-worker but said it was plausible because the outtakes were put together in a shared editing room. The producer said Michael asked for the calendar footage to be scoured for “the good stuff” — partially nude and other salacious moments — and to splice it together onto a DVD titled, “For Executive Meeting.” Michael never said explicitly that the video was for Snyder, according to the producer, who said two copies were given to Michael.

The producer viewed the 2010 video obtained by The Post and confirmed its authenticity. In an interview, the producer expressed shame for taking part in its production. “It was extremely unprofessional and perverted, the kind of culture that would only exist in a world where there were barely any women in powerful positions, no human resources and no accountability,” the producer said.

Contacted by The Post, Michael had no explanation for who edited the videos reviewed by The Post and said he could not explain why multiple, lower-level employees who worked for the team in different years said managers had ordered the videos for team executives. The former employee who provided the videos to The Post reached out through a newsroom tip line. Baker separately told The Post what he recalled about the 2008 version. Post reporters then contacted former employees from the same time period, including the one who confirmed making the 2010 video.

In interviews with The Post, as they learned about the unofficial videos for the first time, several former cheerleaders said they felt exploited by an organization that, at the time, paid them each about $1,000 per year.

Heather Tran, who posed for the 2008 calendar, said she asked for a “closed shoot,” in which only essential staff, the photographer and the videographer were allowed to attend.

“I feel betrayed and violated,” said Tran, who was 29 when she posed topless. In the authorized version of the video, several beaded necklaces covered parts of her breasts; in the unauthorized version, her nipples are briefly exposed.

Now a 41-year-old business analyst, she cheered for the team from 2004 to 2010 and has worked as a sideline assistant since then. Shown the 2008 outtakes video, she said she was sure it was compiled from the same footage as the promotional videos broadcast on television and online.

Scourby was involved in both shoots: in 2008 as a cheerleader and in 2010 as a volunteer helping to coordinate the shoot. She also viewed the videos and said she was certain the footage came from the team’s videographers.

“I’m horrified. I’m nauseous,” Scourby said. “The video was a huge violation of my sisters and I.”

Wells, the longtime cheerleader director, was so taken aback by the news of the videos that he cried.

“I worked so hard to protect them,” he said. “They are daughters and wives and mothers. This is disgusting.”

Another former cheerleader, Brittni Abell, whose nipples were visible through body paint in the 2010 outtakes but were airbrushed in the official promotional videos that year, issued a statement through lawyer Gloria Allred: “If these allegations are true, the use of my image in such an inappropriate manner, without my knowledge or consent, is reprehensible and appalling.”

 

Culture of fear

Shortly after reporting for their first day of work at team headquarters in Ashburn, Va., dozens of employees said, they learned several unwritten rules: Always call the owner “Mr. Snyder” or “Sir,” never “Dan.” Never look him in the eyes. And if he comes walking your way, turn around and head in the other direction.

“The fear is instilled in employees from Day One,” said Imbert, who worked for the team from 2008 until 2011. “The organization is led by fear.”

Susan Miller, a retired former president of a Virginia employee referral agency, said she stopped sending people to work for the team in the early 2000s after growing appalled by how Snyder treated his employees.

“He denigrated people. He treated women like servants,” Miller said. One time, in 2000 or 2001, Miller recalled, she got a phone call from Snyder’s executive assistant informing her Snyder had fired a woman Miller had referred there because he thought she looked “frumpy” or “dowdy.”

“He’d just passed her in the hall once … and then just said, ‘Get rid of her,’ ” Miller said. The executive assistant did not respond to requests for comment.

Former executive assistants to Snyder described a high-pressure job with high turnover that requires two or three staffers to ensure, among many other duties, that his bar has an ample supply of Crown Royal XR and that the end of the toilet paper in his private bathroom is folded in a hotel-style point.

Those who work directly for Snyder heed a long list of protocols, according to three former executive assistants: Don’t speak too loudly; never eat in front of him; don’t go to the bathroom unless another assistant is available to cover the phones; don’t take a lunch break, but if you must eat at your desk, make sure the food doesn’t smell; clean the owner’s desk each morning, ensuring that his calendar and daily kitchen menu are in the proper locations and that his paper clips all face the same direction.

Female assistants said additional directives often put them in no-win situations: Wear heels but don’t let your heels clack loudly. Wear smart business attire but be prepared to run down two flights of stairs and up again for ice from the kitchen in the basement, which Snyder preferred over the ice from the kitchen on the executive floor.

“When he wants something, he wanted it 10 minutes ago,” a former executive assistant said. “I can’t tell you how much running I did. … I was drenched in sweat more often than not. For ice cubes. I felt like part of my job description apparently was cocktail waitress in the evening.”

 

Fresh meat to a pack of wolves

Former employees from across Snyder’s tenure, in interviews, scoffed at what they considered the team’s inadequate human resources department: one full-time employee who reports to the chief financial officer. While the team’s code of conduct forbids “unwelcome or unsolicited sexual advances” and conduct that “creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment,” dozens of women said they routinely experienced unwelcome advances.

“Things that go on there would never go on in a normal office,” said Michelle Tessier, the team’s public relations director from 2000 to 2004. “Being friendly was taken as an invitation to make comments. I was cornered in offices. … There would be no one else around, and the flirting and the innuendo starts, and they take it too far.”

Since 2016, the team’s lone human resources staffer has reported to Choi, the chief financial officer, whose handling of two situations described by former employees deepened a sense that the team’s code of conduct regarding sexual harassment and gender equality existed only on paper.

Choi, who has worked for the team since 2009, declined an interview request through a team spokesman.

In early 2016, Shannon Slate, a 22-year-old college intern at the time, said she met with Choi to try to file a complaint against Santos, then 40.

In a phone interview, Slate described her increasing level of discomfort as Santos pursued her throughout her internship. It started with daily visits to her desk and unwanted gifts such as a team visor or a water bottle.

It was like fresh meat to a pack of wolves every time a new pack of interns would come in.

One day after work, Slate said, Santos called her, asking about her favorite bars and whether she would date him. Santos would stop by daily and comment on her clothing, she said, including a day she wore a blue dress she considered professional and Santos told her, “That’s a little too short for me not to look at.”

Counseled by two female supervisors, Slate said, she went to Choi. His reaction marked an end to Slate’s career in professional sports.

“He basically said, … ‘This is a sports organization; men dominate it,’ ” Slate recalled. “ ‘You have two options: Keep your distance from Alex, or you can end the internship early.’ I ended the internship early.”

Slate’s account was supported by a college roommate she told at the time as well as by Slate’s older sister.

“I guess they kind of wanted to sweep it under the rug,” said Ashley Slate, a nanny in Monmouth Beach, N.J. “I wanted to call them and ask them what the hell was wrong with them.”

Santos declined to comment.

Under Choi, an email sent to all employees in 2017 sparked outrage among women. The Post obtained a copy of the email.

The email, sent by Julie Kalmanides, the team’s sole human resources employee, included a list of “conduct policies.” Among them, Kalmanides wrote, “It has also been requested that, if at all possible, females are not present in any football areas while the players are here.”

The implication, made clear in follow-up instructions by team executives, according to four women, was that they were “a distraction” to players.

They said executives told female employees that, as a practical matter, men generally should perform any task that required going to the first floor at team headquarters — where the locker room, weight room, training room and team dining room are located. If women were assigned such tasks but could not delegate, they were told, they could go downstairs only if accompanied by male employees.

Kalmanides, who now works in human resources for D.C. United, Washington’s Major League Soccer club, said in a statement to The Post that the email was written by senior executives she declined to name. Kalmanides reported directly to Choi.

“At their request, I distributed the email to all staff. … I had no involvement in the creation of this instruction,” she wrote.

Women in the team’s sales, marketing and sponsorship departments who might be escorting clients from the front lobby to the practice fields said the policy presented three options: Lead their guests around the side of the building and down a hill on a path used by golf carts to reach the field, direct clients to walk by themselves down the staircase and out to the field while explaining that they would have to walk around the building and meet them outside, or violate the policy and escort guests down the staircase their male colleagues were allowed to access.

“We are adults in a workplace,” one female former marketing employee said. “Women were professionally dressed. … That’s on the men for not being able to keep it professional.”

 

Hoping for change

In May 2018, Snyder made a decision that, for a few months, gave many younger staffers hope the team’s culture was finally about to change: He hired Brian Lafemina, then a senior vice president at the NFL, as the team’s president of business operations and chief operating officer.

Lafemina, whom Snyder publicly praised for “fresh thinking and big ideas,” got to work.

He publicly acknowledged that a season ticket waiting list the team once claimed included 200,000 people no longer existed. He offered discounted tickets to government employees, scouts and service members. And he pledged to “treat [fans] the way they ought to be treated.”

Internally, Lafemina distributed copies of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” to front-office managers, hoping to spur a cultural shift based on the leadership manual’s lessons on trust, commitment and accountability. When he learned how female employees had been treated, he responded swiftly.

Rachel Engleson was the messenger. A 2010 Maryland graduate, she said she endured years of sexual harassment from Michael during her ascent from unpaid intern to senior director of marketing and client services.

It started with comments about her hair and outfits, she said, and it escalated to kisses on the cheek, a suggestive email and unwelcome hugs. Nearly all of those overtures were in front of others, she said, making her humiliation worse.

Because Engleson had no faith in the team’s human resources office, she said, she informed her supervisor at the time, Jason Friedman, who offered to tell Michael to leave her alone. According to Engleson, Friedman did so, and it helped for a time — until Michael, who was more than 30 years older and a senior vice president, resumed his unwelcome overtures at training camp in 2013.

In an interview with the The Post, Michael denied repeated instances of harassment and any improper touching but acknowledged making one inappropriate remark in her presence, which he declined to detail.

“There were things that were said and done in public involving Rachel that I have apologized for,” Michael said.

Friedman did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Several years later, after Lafemina’s arrival, Engleson requested a meeting with his new deputies, Steven Ziff and Jake Bye, to tell them how the team treated women.

“They needed to know what they were getting into,” said Engleson, now 31. “And I needed to know, for my own future, if the place was going to change.”

Engleson said she told Ziff and Bye about Michael’s harassment. She also told them about the team’s inadequate process for reporting harassment and her wariness of confiding in any executive close to Snyder.

“They were horrified,” said Engleson, who wept while recounting the conversation. “I could not look them in the eye. I was looking at the ground the entire time. They both said, ‘This is not normal, and this is not OK, and this is not what it’s like anywhere else.’ ”

Lafemina followed up once he was informed, according to Engleson. He brought in a consultant from New York to lead workplace training on sexual harassment — the first such training arranged by the team, she said, during her eight-year tenure.

Lafemina and Ziff declined to comment for this story. Bye could not be reached to comment.

Not everyone shared Lafemina’s vision for a new era. His three-year business plan, which included limiting the number of FedEx Field tickets available to opponents’ fans on the resale market, predictably resulted in short-term financial declines in exchange for what he envisioned as long-term gains. But after one financial quarter showed a steep revenue drop, Snyder fired him and two of his deputies Dec. 26, 2018, after less than eight months on the job. Bye had resigned Dec. 21.

Employees were informed that afternoon in a hastily called meeting led by Terry Bateman, a former team executive whom Snyder had rehired recently. The team declined to make Bateman available for an interview.

According to Engleson and several others who attended the meeting, Bateman sought to allay concerns, explaining that the organization would be “going back to how things were.”

“What do you mean, ‘Back to how things were?’ ” Engleson recalled asking.

Within six months, Engleson was among more than 40 employees — one-fourth of the team’s non-football staff — who left the team, convinced the culture change they had been counting on would never come.

The Washington Post’s Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Seen in Washington on July 25, 2020, Julie Donaldson was hired by Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder in July to replace Larry Michael as senior vice president of media.
ASTRID RIECKEN/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

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