Roger Goodell could have quite the magnificent warm-up act next week on Capitol Hill.
The NFL commissioner is expected to accept the invitation by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to testify at a congressional hearing on June 22 that will further delve into the hostile workplace culture of the Washington Commanders, including allegations of sexual harassment.
While it is unlikely that Commanders owner Dan Snyder, without a subpoena, will agree to testify, Goodell could make his first appearance on the Hill since 2009, when he was grilled by lawmakers about head injuries.
Since the invitation was announced on June 1, representatives for Goodell have had “constructive talks” with the committee, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity. The person did not want to be identified due to the fluid nature of the talks that presumably include parameters regarding the scope and structure of the hearing.
If Goodell declines to show up, the optics would be so damning for the NFL. The league, with Goodell as the official mouthpiece, has repeatedly professed its concerns for the treatment of women. It would be a horrible look for Goodell not to avail himself for questioning in the Commanders probe, all amid unrelated case involving Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, investigated by the NFL and facing possible discipline stemming from accusations from 24 women pursing civil cases while alleging sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions.
And the congressional committee hearing could be just the beginning of Goodell being called on the carpet in the coming months to testify about sticky NFL issues.
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Last month, a Nevada judge ruled against the NFL’s motion to have former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden’s lawsuit against the league dismissed or forced into arbitration. Barring a settlement, Goodell will likely be called as a witness in the case, in which Gruden alleges a “malicious and orchestrated” campaign to force his resignation from the Raiders in the wake of heinous emails from Gruden that were leaked from the investigation into the Commanders.
Of course, the emails from Gruden that extended to more than a decade ago uncovered a dark side – Gruden hit the bigotry bingo jackpot, if you will, in addition to disparaging Goodell and NFL health and safety initiatives – yet also raised serious questions about the integrity of the investigation of the Commanders that the NFL entrusted to former US Attorney Beth Wilkinson.
Then there’s the discrimination lawsuit against the NFL led by former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores (currently a Pittsburgh Steelers assistant). As was the case with Gruden’s lawsuit, attorneys for Flores and the other plaintiffs, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, are seeking for the case to be settled in open court rather than in arbitration, the NFL’s preferred method for settling labor disputes.
In arbitration, Goodell could ultimately determine the verdict, which raises questions about conflict of interest. While Goodell has been proactive in pushing for and supporting diversity and inclusion measures, the league’s discouraging shortcomings in hiring Black coaches over recent years and questions about the enforcement of the Rooney Rule under his watch have drawn skepticism.
Also, as it is inherent in Goodell’s position to protect the “The Shield,” as it’s called, it’s natural to suspect that the scope of discovery allowed in arbitration would be severely limited compared to a judicial case. That’s another reason why such cases beg to be heard in an open forum, with the arguments, evidence and testimony presented in public as opposed to concealed behind closed doors. Of course, the NFL will likely argue that its standard contracts with coaches dictate arbitration.
The decision on whether the Flores case will proceed in open court – which would likely result in Goodell being called as a witness – won’t be known until later this year, following a series of legal motions and responses over the next two months.
The common thread to the three cases? Transparency.
In the Commanders case, oversight committee chairwoman Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Chairman of the subcommittee on economic and consumer policy, have publicly chastised the team and league for stonewalling their investigation.
Although Goodell has repeatedly pledged the NFL’s cooperation, the committee is frustrated that it hasn’t received documents from Wilkinson’s probe and has sought to have witnesses released from non-disclosure agreements. In April, the committee sent evidence to the Federal Trade Commission that it contends revealed potential financial misconduct.
The committee isn’t the only party that has sought more details from Wilkinson’s probe. Multiple NFL owners have also expressed frustration that Wilkinson’s report from the investigation into the team-which led to a $ 10 million fine from the NFL and Snyder at least temporarily turning over day-to-day control of the franchise to his wife, Tanya-lacked the paper trail that other NFL probes generated.
Wilkinson presented her findings to the league orally, a stark contrast to the extensive written reports that came after the conclusion of other high-profile NFL-related cases in recent years such as the “Deflategate” saga that led to a Tom Brady suspension and a bullying scandal that rocked the Dolphins.
Why not a written report in Washington’s case? That would be one of the basic questions that Goodell would face in the hearing. But it would only be the beginning.
Goodell is often criticized for wielding the power that comes with his position, which has allowed him to rule as the ultimate judge in many matters. Make no mistake, Commissioners need the power to make the tough decisions.
Yet some matters need to be aired in public with the Commissioner serving as a necessary witness.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Roger Goodell under pressure to provide answers from NFL to Congress