NEW YORK — The NFL is not going to issue a report on its 10-month investigation into allegations the Washington Football Team engaged in harassment and abuse because of its promise to protect the identities of those who testified, Commissioner Roger Goodell said on Tuesday.
Speaking around 7 p.m. after the first day of meetings for the 32 owners, Goodell said the league wanted to protect the roughly 150 former employees who spoke to outside counsel Beth Wilkinson, who conducted the NFL investigation and amassed six million pages of evidence.
“When you make a promise to protect the anonymity, to make sure that we get the right information, you need to stay with it,” Goodell said. “And so we’re very conscious of making sure that we’re protecting those who came forward. They were incredibly brave.”
Goodell sidestepped a question about releasing a redacted report, saying he felt what the league did was appropriate. He said the league looked forward to responding to inquiries from Congress.
Goodell said the NFL did release a summary of its investigation and that Washington owner Daniel Snyder has not been allowed to handle any of the day-to-day operations of the franchise since July.
“I do think he has been held accountable and the organization has been held accountable,” Goodell said.
Goodell said the most important thing for the league was that the situation not happen again with any team.
“So we think protecting the people that helped us get to that place, the people that unfortunately have to live through that experience, if we respect them and make sure we protect them,” the commissioner said.
The league has released reports in other high-profile investigations into Tom Brady for deflating footballs in an AFC title game, offensive lineman Richie Incognito for alleged racial slur and Ray Rice for domestic violence.
Earlier in the day, members of the NFL’s Social Justice Working Group and the owners were given a copy of a letter by two former employees of the Washington Football Team asking them to make a report public.
“I love for this to be a learning point, not just for the NFL, but for leagues and teams all across that this shouldn’t be hidden,” said Ana Nunez, who worked in the team’s business department until 2019. “There shouldn’t be, no workplace is perfect which is understandable, but there has to be a level of accountability when it comes to toxic culture and sexual harassment.”
Addressing other topics, the commissioner said there has been progress made on getting a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. He believes the current location in Orchard Park, New York, is the likely one but the final decision is up to local officials.
The commissioner said the league has not made a decision on the future of quarterback Deshaun Watson because of pending legal issues from civil cases still being considered. The league is waiting to see all the information gathered in the suits.
The three-time Pro Bowler is facing allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior in 22 active lawsuits and has been inactive for Houston’s first seven games this season.
In other news, the league said earlier in the day it was encouraged by the progress made in preventing any major spread of COVID-19 among its teams, while concerned about an increase in soft tissue injuries.
Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, noted at the first in-person owners’ meetings since December 2019 that a low positive COVID-19 rate between .04% and .06% is due greatly to vaccinations and protocols working. Nearly 100,000 COVID-19 tests have been taken, 1,200 a day on average across the league.
So far, 94.1% of players are vaccinated, as well as 100% of team and league staff.
“We’re continuing to work with the players association on the goal of 100% vaccination,” Sills said. “The CDC has been in contact with us about how that is achieved, a vaccination success story, and is pointing to the NFL as a model for other parts of society.”
Sills mentioned a recent mini-outbreak with the Arizona Cardinals that included coach Kliff Kingsbury.
“Of the first seven cases in Arizona, five were different strains of the virus,” he said, which indicated those people were exposed outside the team facility. “Definitely the impact of vaccinations, we’re not seeing the clustering or uncontrolled spread of the virus. Nor are we seeing the uncontained, unexplainable, uncontrolled spread we saw last year.”
The league is undertaking a voluntary study of antibody levels to measure and compare who was vaccinated when and which medication, and whether the person had COVID-19. Sills called it a “unique study because of size and the frequent testing.” Players can participate but are not the focus; club employees are.
In the meantime, Bills co-owner Terry Pegula was required to leave the league’s first in-person meeting in 641 days for precautionary reasons after being deemed to have had close contact to a person who tested positive for COVID-19 at his daughter’s wedding over the weekend, as first reported by The Buffalo News earlier in the day.
Members of the Pegula family, including co-owner and team president Kim Pegula, are not experiencing any symptoms.
As for the soft tissue injuries (hamstring, groin, calf, et al), the numbers are up to a five-year high even though the overall amount of preseason injuries went down. Of course, 30 teams played only three preseason games, down from four in previous years.
Sills cited the amount of work required of players in a short timeframe, and expressed a need for significant load management to combat the problem.
“There’s a lot to unpack there and we will have more to say about this, I think, as we approach the combine (in late winter),” he said. “This year (such injuries) were particularly noteworthy.”
The 2022 combine will be in Indianapolis, but the 2023 event will be put up for bidding, with Dallas, Los Angeles and Indianapolis interested.
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