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House report: Snyder had role in ‘toxic’ Commanders culture

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Washington Commanders created a “toxic work culture” for more than two decades, “ignoring and downplaying sexual misconduct” and what former female employees described as hundreds of instances of sexual harassment by men at the top levels of the organization, according to a report published Thursday by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The misconduct included Commanders owner Dan Snyder, who is accused of inappropriately touching a former employee at a dinner, having staffers produce a video “of sexually suggestive footage of cheerleaders” and ordering that women auditioning to be cheerleaders walk on the field “while he and his friends gawked from his suite through binoculars,” according to the report.

The House committee opened its investigation in October 2021 after the NFL did not release a written report of its review of the team’s workplace culture. The league’s independent review by attorney Beth Wilkinson was completed in summer 2021 and resulted in a $10 million fine to the team.

Drawing from hearings, interviews and depositions, the House report concluded Snyder interfered in its investigation and Wilkinson’s review, which stemmed in 2020 from former employees alleging rampant sexual harassment by team executives.

The team owner interfered with the House committee’s investigation by “intimidating witnesses,” “refusing to release former employees from their confidentiality obligations” and using a “secret” agreement with the NFL to block access to more than 40,000 documents collected during Wilkinson’s review, according to the report.

Snyder also conducted a separate shadow investigation, which the report said was used by his lawyers to “cast him as the victim of a defamation campaign … and deflect responsibility for the team’s toxic work culture.”

The House committee said Snyder was evasive, misleading and said more than 100 times he did not recall things during his deposition.

The NFL was not shielded from criticism in the committee’s report, which said the league “misled the public about its handling of the Wilkinson Investigation” and “has not sought true accountability for those responsible.” The report also said the NFL doesn’t ensure “that its own workplaces are free from discrimination and harassment,” citing the fact that the NFL does not require teams to report confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements to league headquarters.

The NFL defended its cooperation with the House investigation in a statement on Thursday, saying it produced “nearly a half million pages of documents,” responded to written inquiries and “voluntarily participated” in the June 22 public hearing where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answered questions.

The NFL also said the Commanders had put in place recommendations that Wilkinson suggested.

The league said it is committed to ensuring all employees at every team work in an environment “that is free from discrimination, harassment or other forms of illegal or unprofessional conduct.”

Attorneys for the Commanders and Snyder, John Brownlee and Stuart Nash, said in a statement the committee’s work was “one-sided” and there were “no new revelations” in Thursday’s report. They said the team is “proud of the progress it has made in recent years in establishing a welcoming and inclusive workplace, and it looks forward to future success, both on and off the field.”

Republicans have long considered the House oversight committee’s work on the topic a partisan affair and have said they would immediately drop the case once they take control of the House in early 2023. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the committee’s ranking Republican and the incoming chairman, reiterated those plans in a statement Thursday, adding that the investigation was “a misuse of resources” and was meant to “gain cheap headlines and ignore any information that did not align with (Democrats’) predetermined narrative.”

Women who had worked for the Commanders told the House committee in February that they were regularly subjected to sexual comments or harassment. A former director of marketing estimated it happened more than 200 times to her, a former business development employee said it was “over 100 times” — “almost a part of my everyday experience” — and a former marketing coordinator said her boss harassed her “over 500 times.”

Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who represented more than 40 ex-Commanders employees, said in a statement Thursday the “committee’s work resulted in important legislation limiting the use of non-disclosure agreements, which will help prevent this type of widespread harassment from happening in other American workplaces.”

Banks and Katz are referring to one of two bills introduced in June by ranking committee member Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York City who will be leaving the House in January after losing a primary in a redrawn district against another longtime New York City incumbent, Rep. Jerrold Nadler. The other bill stipulates that employers would need consent for taking and using images of employees; neither have gone beyond being referred to a committee.

The NFL is conducting a second investigation into the Commanders, which came about after former team employee Tiffani Johnston told the House committee at a public roundtable that Snyder groped her at a team dinner and tried to force her into his limousine. Snyder has denied those allegations.

Former federal prosecutor and Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman Mary Jo White is running the NFL investigation, which also involves allegations by a former vice president of sales that the team committed financial improprieties. The NFL has said White’s findings will be made public.

The District of Columbia recently filed two civil lawsuits against the team — including one over what the D.C. attorney general called a scheme to cheat season-ticket holders out of money. The Commanders settled with the state of Maryland, agreeing to return security deposits to former season ticket holders and pay a $250,000 penalty.

All of the workplace scandals and investigations have led other team owners to question whether Snyder should be a peer, with Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay saying in October there’s “merit to remove” Snyder, but that it’s “something we have to review.” He added: “It’s gravely concerning to me the things that have occurred there over the last 20 years.”

Snyder and wife Tanya recently hired Bank of America Securities to explore selling part or all of the team he has owned since 1999. The Commanders are worth an estimated $5.6 billion, according to Forbes — a sevenfold increase over the then-record $800 million Snyder paid for the team in 1999.

Washington is in the playoff race for an NFC wild-card spot with a 7-5-1 record.

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AP Sports Writers Stephen Whyno, Rob Maaddi, Ben Nuckols and Erica Hunzinger contributed to this report.

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Source: https://apnews.com/article/washington-commanders-nfl-sports-sexual-misconduct-dan-snyder-453dcd6f6b82b63819ad6f628aefe2f7

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Stewart heads to New York on 1st day of WNBA free agency

Breanna Stewart couldn’t turn down a chance to play in New York and potentially help the Liberty win their first WNBA championship.

The most coveted free agent this offseason, who won the WNBA MVP award in 2018, announced on social media that she was going to New York with a photo of her in a Liberty shirt on Wednesday. Stewart had spent her entire career in Seattle since the Storm drafted her No. 1 overall in 2016. She won championships with the team in 2018 and 2020.

“I decided to go to New York as I wanted to continue to be great. And I wanted to go to the place where I think I can help this league become better, to raise the standard,” Stewart said in an interview on ESPN. “I feel like why not go to the biggest market in all of sports. I’m excited to go after their first championship.”

The 28-year-old wing has averaged 20.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in her WNBA career. She missed the 2019 season with an Achilles tendon injury.

“New York is a basketball city and I can’t wait to be a part of it,” Stewart said.

Coming to New York brings Stewart closer to home. She grew up in Syracuse, which is an hourlong flight away. She’ll also have a shorter flight to Spain to visit relatives of her wife, Marta.

New York representatives, including coach Sandy Brondello and co-owner Clara Wu Tsai met with Stewart in Turkey last week. Stewart had narrowed her choices to Seattle and New York before choosing the Liberty.

The move turns the Liberty into an instant championship contender. New York, one of the WNBA’s original franchises, has never won a championship. The Liberty already added 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and Kayla Thornton through a three-way deal to complement 2020 No. 1 draft pick Sabrina Ionescu.

“I think this group has a ton of potential, a lot of amazing players,” Stewart said. “The selflessness helps us set ourselves apart from everyone else.”

The news was met with elation on social media by Jones, Ionescu and Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, who said on a podcast that he had reached out to Stewart to get her to come to New York.

Stewart was the second big-name free agent to announce her intentions to play for another team. Candace Parker said last weekend she was going to sign with the Las Vegas Aces and did so on Wednesday.

“As I’ve gone through free agency this time around, of course I’m thinking of where I can compete for my third championship, but the words home and family are what I kept coming back to,” said Parker, a longtime Southern California resident. “After evaluating the landscape together with my family, we’ve decided the Las Vegas Aces are the right organization for us at this point in our lives. To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

Wednesday was the first day that free agents could sign contracts. Other moves announced included:

— Brittney Sykes and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough with Washington.

— Lexie Brown and Stephanie Talbot with Los Angeles.

— Teaira McCowan with Dallas.

— Alysha Clark and Cayla George with Las Vegas.

— AD Durr and Nia Coffey with Atlanta.

Many free agents were waiting for Stewart to make her decision, including Courtney Vandersloot.

Vandersloot announced on social media late Tuesday night that she wasn’t returning to Chicago, where she had spent her entire career. She has led the league in assists six times during her 12-year career and helped the Sky win the 2021 WNBA championship.

“To the Sky organization who drafted the little guard from a mid-major and believed in me from the jump, I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Vandersloot wrote on Instagram. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have realized my dreams because of you. Although I never planned for this day to come, I have decided it is time for me to pursue a new beginning.”

Stewart and Vandersloot are currently playing together in Turkey.

“My message to Sloot is she knows I love to play with her, but I’m going to support her in any decision she makes,” Stewart said. “Free agency is hard. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for everybody. It’s not only basketball these decisions are made behind. It’s life.”

While Stewart and Vandersloot will be playing for different WNBA teams, Brittney Griner, who is also a free agent, announced in December when she returned home from her 10-month ordeal in Russia that she planned to remain with the Phoenix Mercury. Her long-time Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi is also a free agent, but she too is expected to go back to Phoenix.

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Pat Riley: Kareem never had potential, ‘only greatness’

Pat Riley remembers just about every detail surrounding the events of Dec. 29, 1961. It was a cold night in Schenectady, New York. A little snowy, the roads a little icy. And when the bus carrying the opposing team from New York City arrived, all of Riley’s Linton High teammates peered out the window.

They saw a giant.

Long before Riley and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were winning NBA championships together as coach and player with the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s, they were opponents. Riley and Linton beat Power Memorial and Lew Alcindor — Abdul-Jabbar’s name before converting to Islam — 74-68 that night.

Abdul-Jabbar, then a 6-foot-10 freshman, was held to eight points because he spent virtually the entire game in foul trouble. He has told Riley several times over the years that Linton won because Riley’s father — a lifelong baseball man — had his umpiring friends refereeing the game.

“Which we did,” Riley acknowledges.

Riley knew it then and came to appreciate it even more years later — there were only a few ways to stop the player who would eventually spend nearly four decades as the most prolific scorer in NBA history. Abdul-Jabbar is on the verge of being passed by the Lakers’ LeBron James, the 38-year-old who was nearly nine months from being born when the unforgettable center made one of his signature sky hooks on April 5, 1984 to overtake Wilt Chamberlain and become the league’s scoring leader.

“Kareem was a guy that never had any potential. He just had greatness,” said Riley, now the president of the Miami Heat and one of the few who has worked with both Abdul-Jabbar and James. “You could see that. When you can bypass potential and you move right to greatness as a high school player, and then college and then the pros … there are very few like him. There’s a handful. Two handfuls, at the most.”

James is one of them, going from high school straight to the NBA, and now in his 20th season, he is now just 89 points away from passing Abdul-Jabbar’s record. The Lakers play Thursday in Indiana, then Saturday at New Orleans.

The most realistic target for the record-breaker is Tuesday in Los Angeles against Oklahoma City or — perhaps symbolically — next Thursday in L.A. when the Lakers play host to the Milwaukee Bucks, the team that Abdul-Jabbar started his NBA career with.

This past October, Abdul-Jabbar — on his Substack page where he discusses and offers opinion on a variety of topics, often nothing to do with sports — wrote that when James passed Kobe Bryant for No. 3 on the all-time scoring list in 2020, he “knew it was just a matter of time before he passed me too.”

Abdul-Jabbar added that every time a record is broken, all people are elevated.

“When I broke Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring record in 1984 — the year LeBron was born — it bothered Wilt, who’d had a bit of a one-sided rivalry with me since I’d started doing so well in the NBA,” he wrote. “I don’t feel that way toward LeBron. Not only will I celebrate his accomplishment, I will sing his praises unequivocally.”

The relationship between Abdul-Jabbar and James seems complicated. Abdul-Jabbar was outside of the Cleveland locker room during the 2016 Eastern Conference finals as James was jogging by; the two embraced and shared a few kind words, prompting James to discuss the respect he has for Abdul-Jabbar and others who paved the way in his postgame remarks.

Abdul-Jabbar also has lauded James “as a community leader and athlete.” But he criticized James for not doing more with his platform to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. And earlier this season, James said he has “no relationship” with Abdul-Jabbar.

There are ties that bind them, though. Both are champions. Both have worked to promote social justice and spoken out against racial inequality. Abdul-Jabbar played 20 years in the NBA; James is in Year 20. Abdul-Jabbar set the record while playing for the Lakers; James will do the same.

And If nothing else, James’ pursuit of the record may have exposed a generation or two that never saw Abdul-Jabbar play to how great he was.

“We have to always acknowledge those who come before us, those who’ve paved the way,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “You think of all those points Kareem scored and he had, what, one 3-pointer? You think about all of that, and these kids get to learn about a different era. It’s high, high-level education in the game of basketball, particularly NBA basketball.”

When Abdul-Jabbar broke the record, Riley said Magic Johnson — then the Lakers’ point guard — made sure he was the one who got the assist on the play. Johnson nearly put himself back into the game against Utah in Las Vegas that night when Abdul-Jabbar was two points away.

Years later, when the Lakers from those championship teams of that era gathered in Hawaii last summer for a reunion, Abdul-Jabbar was a day late because of personal matters. The Lakers in 2022 celebrated his arrival the same way they did the record-setter in 1984.

“He felt special because he was special, because he is special,” Riley said of the man who once stood shoulder-to-shoulder alongside an embattled Muhammad Ali during the boxing champ’s legal troubles in the late 1960s, and counted Bill Russell — another basketball giant and social-change champion — as a mentor. “He was treated as the patriarch by all the players. It was a great week for him. He was engaged, came to everything we did, gave some spontaneous talks. And he’s a shy guy, but he felt very comfortable in his group.”

Riley coached Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles and later lured James to Miami for a four-year run starting in 2010. He sees in James much of what he saw in Alcindor when that bus pulled into Schenectady in 1961.

“It’s all about LeBron right now, and it should be, with his unique career and unique opportunity to do this,” Riley said. “Training, travel, personal chefs, personal trainers, all that stuff has come into play since Kareem. I hope people realize Kareem’s story as well and how different it was. He went to college for four years; LeBron came out of high school. But they both dominated from Day 1. They both turned potential into greatness from Day 1.”

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Eagles reserve lineman accused of rape ahead of Super Bowl

CAMBRIDGE, Ohio (AP) — Josh Sills, a reserve offensive lineman for the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, has been indicted on rape and kidnapping charges that stem from an incident in Ohio just over three years ago, authorities said Wednesday.

Sills, an undrafted free agent who appeared in just one game this season, was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. That means he can’t practice, play or travel with the team as it prepares for the Super Bowl.

The NFL announced the move Wednesday and said the issue is being reviewed under the league’s personal conduct policy.

The rookie, who played at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, was indicted Tuesday by a Guernsey County grand jury in Ohio and ordered to appear in court on Feb. 16, four days after the Eagles are to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

His attorney, Michael Connick, said the allegations are false and that Sills will be aggressively defended.

Sills was listed as a backup guard and played just four snaps on special teams against the Cardinals on Oct. 9, the one game he played. He was on the inactive list for most of the year, including this past Sunday in Philadelphia’s conference title victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

“The organization is aware of the legal matter involving Josh Sills. We have been in communication with the league office and are in the process of gathering more information. We have no further comment at this time,” the Eagles said in a statement.

The indictment accuses Sills, who is from Sarahsville, Ohio, of engaging in sexual activity that was not consensual and holding a woman against her will on Dec. 5, 2019.

A statement issued by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the incident was immediately reported, and that the county sheriff’s office conducted a detailed investigation.

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