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NFL partially responds to congressional inquiry over Washington Football Team investigation

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WASHINGTON — The NFL submitted answers to questions posed by the House Oversight and Reform Committee Thursday night, but have yet to submit documents requested by members of Congress.

An NFL spokesman said the league is cooperating with the investigation and had submitted responses to questions in the Committee’s Oct. 21 letter to commissioner Roger Goodell.

“The NFL on Thursday submitted responses to the questions in the Committee’s October 21 letter,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “As we have discussed with the Committee, we are in the process of identifying responsive documents while working through issues of privilege and anonymity promised to participants in the investigation.” The league faced a Thursday deadline to submit “documents and information” concerning the team’s workplace culture and the league’s investigation into it. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the committee, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., requested the documents in a five-page letter that also posed several questions to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Among the information the committee asked about: the league’s role in Beth Wilkinson’s investigation into the Washington Football Team’s workplace culture; why there was no written report after 150 people were interviewed; what the role of the NFL’s general counsel, Jeff Pash, was, during the investigation after his tight relationship with former team president Bruce Allen had been revealed in multiple emails. Allen was fired after the 2019 season.

In an interview with ESPN, Krishnamoorthi said they’re looking forward to eventually seeing the documents.

“It’s a first step,” said Krishanmoorthi. “We really try to enlist the voluntary cooperation of parties and produce the information. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

He said the next step depends on how many documents are produced as well as their substance.

“I’d like to see what they initially produce to understand the complexity of what they claim to be the challenge,” Krishnamoorthi said, referring to requests for anonymity. “We need to see the documents and get a sense of what’s going on before we can get our arms around that question.”

“Commissioner Goodell said the NFL will cooperate with Congress, and we expect him to make good on that promise by producing the documents requested,” Maloney said in a statement. “In the spirit of transparency, I am calling on the NFL and Washington Football Team to honor the Commissioner’s public statement that witnesses to the team’s hostile workplace culture are ‘welcome’ to come forward. Congress has a responsibility to combat harassment and discrimination in the workplace. If the NFL shares our commitment to address these issues, it will be fully transparent about the findings of the internal review and will allow all individuals to speak freely without fear of retaliation.”

Krishnamoorthi reiterated via phone what he said in a statement about his desire for the NFL and the Washington Football Team to release people from their non-disclosure agreements so they can tell the truth and “speak freely.”

When asked about the likelihood of a Congressional hearing, Krishnamoorthi said his office has received multiple calls from “a variety of people and they very much want to tell their side of the story and they want the public to know what really happened….witnesses are already coming forward. They know they have specific detailed information about what’s happening. There is great interest in this and folks want to be heard.”

A few of the 650,000 emails amassed during the investigation leaked to media organizations last month, leading to the resignation of Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden on Oct. 11. He had sent emails to Allen that contained misogynistic, racist and anti-gay language.

Goodell has said no report was released after the league’s nearly yearlong investigation of the WFT and Snyder because some who were interviewed wanted anonymity. The NFL announced its findings on July 2 and fined the franchise $10 million.

But since the Gruden emails were published, the league has come under public pressure, including from the attorneys for 40 women who have alleged sexual harassment while working for the team, to release the full findings, including more emails.

“The way they handle issues of race and gender and the way they treat their employees really influences the way society handles those very issues,” Krishnamoorthi told ESPN last month. “We’re very much interested in learning more about exactly why the NFL did what they did and the way they did it.”

The committee’s letter raised concerns about nondisclosure agreements that former employees signed and sought more information about Pash’s role in the investigation.

Krishnamoorthi said the committee wants to determine whether new or stronger laws are needed to help employees in similar environments. He said it also wants to make sure the NFL did not cover up information via the nondisclosure agreements signed by the former Washington employees.

The panel also has been seeking the names and job titles of everyone who oversaw the probe.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the ranking minority member of the oversight committee, said Democrats on the panel are out of touch to think Congress has a role in sorting out the WFT matter.

“Americans are currently facing an unprecedented border crisis, skyrocketing inflation, a supply chain breakdown, and an underperforming economy,” Comer said in a statement. “The Democrats’ latest theatrics are clearly a last-ditch effort to distract the American people from President Biden’s self-inflicted crisis.”

Krishnamoorthi said, “We have to walk and chew gum at the same time. I know Congressman Comer well and I know he knows we’re capable of juggling multiple priorities. I also earnestly hope he and everyone else cares as much about fighting sexual harassment as I do. There’s intense public interest in this situation because the culture of sexual harassment was intense and pervasive and widespread and yet people are still asking the question: Why isn’t the owner [Dan Snyder] being held accountable? Why was there no documenting of the finding of the investigation? Why are they still being held to the NDA?

“People have to be held accountable. That’s incredibly important.”

The committee is one of the most powerful in Congress. Staffers described it as having “broad powers” that enable it to investigate any industry or topic its members choose.

Democrats hold the House majority, and thus control what will happen next in the WFT inquiry. Multiple committee staffers told ESPN that the next few weeks will likely be a time of negotiation between the NFL and the panel’s senior staff. One congressional source told ESPN that the league had made contact with the committee’s Republican staffers at least three times before the Thursday deadline.

A couple of Republican staffers told ESPN they believed the inquiry was an overreach, arguing that Congress shouldn’t get involved in an HR investigation of a private organization.

But some staffers for the Democrats said they wanted the full committee to hold a hearing regardless of what documents the NFL ultimately produces, with the hope of pressuring the league to change its culture.

When — and if — a hearing takes place is still being debated. The committee generally schedules hearings about three months in advance. Congress already has a packed schedule to tackle before the end of year, including voting on the president’s domestic agenda and funding the government. There’s also an expectation Congress will have a heavy focus on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Even so, staffers from both sides cautioned that the NFL is high-profile and newsworthy enough that they can’t rule out a hearing before the end of the year.

In a hearing, Republicans would be allowed to invite one witness for every three called by the Democrats. Because of Covid-19, congressional witnesses have been allowed to testify virtually.

The committee has the legal authority to subpoena documents and compel witnesses who would prefer not to testify, similar to a court case. But subpoenas are generally considered to be a last-ditch effort if negotiations and hearings fail to satisfy the Democrats running the committee.

Since the investigation ended, Snyder has ceded day-to-day operations to his wife and co-CEO, Tanya. But he remains involved, attending games and focusing on finding a site for a new stadium.

Among notable committee members are Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Wash., who represents the team’s hometown and has long butted heads with Snyder. She and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced last year that the team would never be allowed to build a stadium in the District unless the team dropped its previous nickname. It did a few months later. Snyder’s desire for a new stadium could continue to give Norton leverage during the inquiry.

The team currently plays in Maryland and practices in Virginia, whose suburbs could become home to a new stadium as well. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., and Rep. Gerrald Connelly, D-Va., all sit on the committee.

There are at least 10 more Democrats on the committee from cities with an NFL team, including Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Nashville and Chicago.

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Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel suffers setback before Man United clash

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Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel said on Friday that Ben Chilwell has suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury and the next six weeks will determine whether he needs surgery which could rule him out for the majority of the season.

The 24-year-old was forced off midway through the second half of Tuesday’s 4-0 Champions League win over Juventus with a knee problem following a challenge by midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

– ESPN’s Notebook: The inside stories in football

Reports had suggested Chilwell was set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines but Tuchel was upbeat about the possibility of the England international avoiding an operation.

“Ben has a partial ACL tear and the decision is to treat it conservatively,” Tuchel said. “The next six weeks will tell the story if he makes it and will be fully available within this six weeks, or after the six weeks or needs surgery after that.

“Now I only care about the six weeks. The first reaction of his body is very positive so hopefully it stays like this.

“This is the decision after all the examinations and it is a very responsible decision, there is no rush in it and no pressure. This is the reasonable way to do it so all the focus is on the next six weeks.

“We need to talk about it again in six weeks. Maybe we don’t need to talk about it again because everything is fine because this would be the best case. There is a worst case and some shades of grey in between. We have to wait. It does not help if we start now speaking about worst-case scenarios because there is also a best-case scenario.”

Chilwell was in a rich vein of form having forced his way into the first team, scoring three goals in four matches during October and Tuchel added: “There is never a good moment for big injuries and for injuries in general but this for him personally is a very bad moment because he was so involved, so good and so full of confidence.

“He was a huge part in our performances and victories in the last weeks. We are very sad but he is actually at the moment very positive. I just spoke to him some minutes ago. He is very positive because his body reacts very positive to the first treatment and the injury. After a while, you have to refocus on the positive things which is now the next weeks.”

Chilwell later posted a message on his Twitter account and wrote: “Very frustrating picking up an injury in a moment like this when I am really enjoying my football and playing in this team.

“I will do everything I can to get back on the pitch as soon as possible. Thank you for all the messages of support.”

N’Golo Kante is also set to miss Sunday’s visit of Manchester United after suffering a twisted knee against Juventus. Tuchel said it would be “almost a miracle” if he makes the game and instead the midfielder is likely to be sidelined for a few days.

United will be managed be caretaker boss Michael Carrick after the club sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday and although they arrive 12 points behind leaders Chelsea, Tuchel said they could still be considered contenders.

“I was [expecting them to challenge for the title] and maybe I still am,” said Tuchel. “I will never write anybody off, not in this league and not in this game because it is a big club, first of all, but a very experienced and individually a top level group of players.

“This is still the case. Part of the performance from us is to not let them perform because once we let them perform you can see within seconds and minutes in every game the full potential and talent of these players.”

Tuchel also hailed the tactical influence of Ralf Rangnick, who is set to become United’s interim boss but not in time for Sunday’s game.

Rangnick gave Tuchel his first coaching opportunity with Ulm Under 15s when he was forced into early retirement as a player aged 24 due to a knee injury and the Blues boss offered a curious endorsement of Rangnick’s methods.

“He helped me a lot,” Tuchel said. “He was my coach and then one of the main figures to convince me to try coaching.

“He had a huge influence on all of us at this time because he showed us that it is not necessary to follow people to the toilet in football games.

“That was the belief in those days, that the defenders follow their strikers wherever they go. He showed us that it is possible to defend everybody in a zone.”

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Lakers superstar LeBron James doesn’t feel suspension was warranted for altercation with Isaiah Stewart

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Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James doesn’t believe a suspension was warranted for his involvement in the altercation with Detroit big man Isaiah Stewart.

James made a dominant return to the lineup against Indiana, pouring in 39 points to go along with five rebounds and six assists in the 124-116 OT win.

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Postgame, he gave his account of what happened in the incident that incensed Stewart.

“It was a box out in the free-throw line. His elbow got kinda high, if you watch the film it got me off-balance a little bit,” James explained.

“I tried to swimdown on his arm and when I swung down on his arm he got off-balance and the left side of my hand grazed his face. I knew right away, I knew right away I had caught some part of his head so I went over to apologize to him and obviously you guys seen what happened after that. Definitely accidental.”

Stewart made repeated attempts to get at James, requiring multiple staff members to hold him back as blood streamed down his face. Stewart received a two-game ban for the reaction, while James was sidelined for one game.

The Lakers would lose that one game without James, 106-100 at Madison Square Garden to the New York Knicks. LeBrondoesn’t believe he should have missed the contest.

MORE: LeBron James gets couple ejected in Indiana

“I’m definitely not that type of player. I hate to see that, what escalated after that.

“I didn’t think itwarranted…I thought it warranted an ejection because of what happened after that. Having me in the game, the excitement from the fans, what could possibly happen after that, but a suspension I didn’t think was warranted but the league made that call.”

Los Angeles climbed back to .500 at 10-10 on the season with the win against the Pacers, as they try to shake off a slow start to the season. Fellow star, Anthony Davis missed the game against Indiana with a fever.

Davis will have one night to recover before the Lakers host Sacramento at STAPLES Center – tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson cleared for full team activities; still no return timeline

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New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson has been cleared to participate in full team activities, the team announced on Friday evening.

Williamson, who is recovering from a fractured right foot, had his latest set of scans on Wednesday. They were evaluated by Pelicans team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Scott Montgomery and by Dr. Richard Ferkel, a surgeon who has worked on NBA players in the past.

“It’s been a long road to get him to this point,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Anyone that’s ever dealt with any type of injury like that, it’s hard to come back from. It’s hard mentally. He’s done a great job pushing through. Z has an opportunity now to be a full go in practices, and we’ll have a practice soon. Hopefully that’ll add some juice to our team. He’s a huge part of what we do there.”

The Pelicans said Williamson went through 4-on-4, full-court work on Friday while the team is in Utah for a back-to-back. New Orleans plays Utah on Friday and Saturday before heading to Los Angeles to play the Clippers on Monday. The team will travel back to New Orleans on Tuesday and then play the Dallas Mavericks the following day.

Because of the team’s schedule, it’s likely the Pelicans won’t have a full practice for Williamson to participate in until Thursday.

In a news release, New Orleans said it has yet to determine when Williamson will return to game action.

“It’s more about how he responds to practices,” Green said. “How he responds to the physicality of playing against his teammates. How he responds to getting up and down. Just giving a timeline is tough on that. We want him back as soon as possible. But it’s all predicated on how he feels after workouts, and the medical team will work diligently with him and we’ll go from there.”

Williamson has yet to play in a game this season because of the fractured foot. In his absence, the Pelicans have gotten off to a 4-16 start.

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