The top prosecutors in New York and California states have launched an investigation into allegations of discrimination against the National Football League (NFL), the most popular sports federation in the United States.
New York Attorney General Letitia James and California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the probe on Thursday, following an array of discrimination allegations against the league in lawsuits and media reports.
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“No person should ever have to endure harassment, discrimination, or objectification in the workplace,” said James. “No matter how powerful or influential, no institution is above the law, and we will ensure the NFL is held accountable.”
In paired press releases, James and Bonta both noted that more than 1,000 NFL employees work in offices in their two states.
No matter how powerful or influential, no organization is above the law.
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) May 4, 2023
“California will not tolerate any form of discrimination,” Bonta said. “We have serious concerns about the NFL’s role in creating an extremely hostile and detrimental work environment. No company is too big or popular to avoid being held responsible for their actions.”
The announcement cites a New York Times article from February 2022, in which more than 30 female former employees alleged discrimination at the NFL and retaliation for human resources complaints.
The prosecutors also pointed to several recent lawsuits, including one filed by Jennifer Love, a former high-ranking manager in the corporation’s media wing who alleged she was laid off in retaliation for complaints over the league’s “boy’s club” mentality.
They also referenced a race discrimination lawsuit filed by a Black female employee and a sexual harassment lawsuit issued by a female wardrobe stylist.
California will not tolerate any form of discrimination.
— Rob Bonta (@AGRobBonta) May 4, 2023
“Despite reports and allegations of abuse perpetrated by both players and male staff, allegations that the NFL has not taken sufficient effective steps to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation from occurring in the workplace persist,” James and Bonta said in their statements.
Last year, James and Bonta were among five state attorneys general to call on the league to address gender-based discrimination. A US Congressional committee also launched an investigation last year into allegations of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct within the league.
The NFL’s alleged discrimination was further cast into the spotlight last year when Brian Flores, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, filed a high-profile lawsuit.
A Black man, Flores was let go despite leading the team through two winning seasons, though the Dolphins failed to make the playoffs during his tenure. Flores alleged “systemic racism” in the NFL, likening the league to a “plantation” where “the owners watch the games from atop NFL stadiums in their luxury boxes, while their majority-Black workforce put their bodies on the line every Sunday”.
Critics have for years noted the lack of diversity among the upper echelons of NFL coaches, despite the fact that about 71 percent of NFL players identified as races other than white in 2021, according to data from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.
Responding to the latest New York and California investigations, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement to the Reuters news agency that the allegations of bias and harassment were inconsistent with the league’s values and practices, but that it would cooperate with the investigation.
“The NFL is committed to ensuring all employees of the league are respected, treated fairly, and have equitable pay and access to developmental opportunities,” McCarthy said.
Questions of race and power also surfaced in 2016, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested police violence and racial discrimination by kneeling instead of standing during the traditional pregame performance of the national anthem.
Other players soon followed suit in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. While the league initially moved to punish players who kneeled, it later did a complete about-face on the issue, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying in 2020: “We were wrong”.
Kaepernick, however, went unsigned by any NFL teams the following season, leading to allegations of retaliation. He and fellow player Eric Reid filed grievances against the league, leading to a confidential settlement in 2019.