If you were waiting impatiently for the tsunami of sexual harassment allegations to impact a sports organization, your wait has apparently ended.
Jami Cantor, formerly a wardrobe stylist for NFL Network and a 51-year-old mother of three, has sued NFL Enterprises, alleging among other things sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. If the allegations in the complaint are true, the NFL Network offices sound like a terrible place for anyone to work regardless of gender.
You needn’t bother reading the entire complaint end to end, but if you have the time you should read all of Paragraph 23 found under the heading “Facts Common to More Than One Cause of Action.” Paragraph 23 is where Cantor names names and tells the graphic stories of how eight — EIGHT — different male co-workers harassed her sexually.
It is crucial to note here that all sexual harassment is wrong and cannot be tolerated. Again with the caveat that allegations are not facts, the allegations below range from inappropriate to terrifying.
Among the lesser actors, you find Cantor’s colleague Marc Watts, a Talent Coordinator for the network. Cantor alleges that Watts “made sexually inappropriate comments” about Cantor’s body and asked “invasive and inappropriate questions” about her sex life. Again, this is the low end of what Cantor was allegedly subjected to. Perhaps the saddest part of Cantor’s claims with reference to Watts is that she apparently thought she could rely on Watts for help. When Cantor complained to Watts about sexual harassment she was receiving from other co-workers, Watts replied “(i)t’s part of the job when you look the way you do.” What a hero.
Another relatively insignificant player in this story is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle and accused woman-biter Warren Sapp. Cantor probably thought her job at the network couldn’t get much worse when they stationed her in the men’s room, but she was mistaken. “Sapp came into the restroom,” Cantor’s complaint alleges, “and urinated in front of her.” When she yelled at him to leave, Sapp shot back “sorry mama, but your office shouldn’t be our shitter.” Sapp gave Cantor sex toys for three straight holiday seasons and bragged to her about his sexual conquests. All of this is awful; when you consider that Sapp is 6’2″ and certainly north of his 300-pound playing weight these days, it gets a bit scary. And yet, Sapp isn’t really a significant target here.
It gets a lot worse.
(Photo Credit: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY)
I encourage you to review our editor’s concise summary of the allegations of Eagles Hall of Fame quarterback Donovan McNabb’s contributions to this sad story. McNabb’s fixation with Cantor’s perceived “squirter” status is: A) super-creepy; B) something he was clearly guessing about and wishing desperately to be true; and C) not appropriate to be texting to a casual acquaintance or any other average decent human being, much less a female co-worker. McNabb’s life after football has been rife with bad choices and this one will probably cost him yet another job.
It came as no surprise to me to see former NFL fullback Heath Evans’ name in this complaint. Evans is the stereotypical moron jock who was last noted in these parts for needlessly dumping on Chip Kelly. It seems that when Evans was not writing crappy takes or bloviating on NFL Network air, he was doing stupid and possibly criminal things off the air. “Current on-air talent on NFL Network, Heath Evans, sent (Cantor) nude pictures of himself on at least two separate occasions” and at one point told her that he “needed to get in you deep and hard.” Another NFL Network pundit, former Pittsburgh Steeler defensive back Ike Taylor, “sent (Cantor) sexually inappropriate pictures of himself, and a nude video while masturbating in the shower.” Such smooth operators, these guys. It’s hard to see why Cantor didn’t fall in love with both of them.
Still, at least the aforementioned (alleged) dirtbags didn’t physically assault and/or threaten and/or abuse Cantor. But two of the alleged harassers did, and their alleged actions are really disturbing.
(Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY)
NFL Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, star of the Greatest Show on Turf, seems to have had it really bad for Cantor. He asked her “deeply personal and invasive questions” about her sex life, including “her favorite sex position, whether she liked oral sex, and whether she dated black men.” Eschewing the usual greeting of “good morning” or “hey, how are you” on reaching the office, Faulk opted instead to greet Cantor by “fondling her breasts and groping her behind.” Thereafter, Faulk’s advances escalated to “stroking and pulling out his genitals in front of her” and “demanding oral sex while pulling his pants down” after he had pinned her to a wall. Yeah, that’s sexual assault. That’s criminal behavior. We’re way past harassment now.
If Cantor only had the foregoing allegations to work with, this would still be a huge story and it would still be a very pricey lawsuit for the league (via its asset, NFL Enterprises) to litigate or settle. Unfortunately for the league, it wasn’t only colleagues and men who were arguably not in positions of power over Cantor who engaged in this behavior. It was the big boss man.
Eric Weinberger is (at least as of this writing) president of Bill Simmons’ media group which includes The Ringer. Before taking that job, though, Weinberger was the Executive Producer of NFL Network, i.e., he who had to be obeyed. Weinberger’s alleged conduct toward Cantor was consistent with the culture of harassment that swirled around Cantor. Looking at the allegations against Weinberger, you might even conclude that the others watched Weinberger lasciviously pursuing Cantor at work and figured it was open season. “Weinberger asked (Cantor) to meet him in the back bathroom because he needed to see her and was ‘super horny,'” the complaint states. In case his intentions weren’t clear, “Weinberger pressed his crotch” against her shoulder and asked her “to touch it.” He also put his hands on her behind, crotch and breasts and put his hands down Cantor’s pants to “check if she was wearing underwear.” At work. As her boss. Sexual assault. Criminal behavior.
Big if true, and The Ringer knows it:
UPDATE: The Ringer has released a statement about Eric Weinberger, and he has been placed on leave indefinitely: https://t.co/JBGnOZP40F
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) December 12, 2017
So does the league:
Breaking news from @soshnick below. The NFL Network confirms to @SInow that Marshall Faulk, Ike Taylor, and Heath Evans have been suspended from their duties at the NFL Network. pic.twitter.com/UE6pzvekeW
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) December 12, 2017
The NFL Network has pulled the talent bios on its website from those involved in the allegations of sexual harassment: https://t.co/iXsWgJHXzH
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) December 12, 2017
Probably the saddest part of this whole tale is that some of you are going to look at what happened to Cantor and figure that even assuming it’s true, well, so what. Cantor didn’t get sexually assaulted to the extent that medical treatment was needed, the way Matt Lauer’s colleague allegedly did. Cantor wasn’t raped, the way some of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers have alleged. A lot of smoke but no fire, some will be tempted to say about Cantor’s case.
Don’t you believe it.
Cantor’s complaint sets forth obvious violations of her rights as a human being and a citizen to work in a place where colleagues are respected and treated equally and fairly. On that basis alone, if the allegations are proven true, all of these men should lose their jobs. But even though it isn’t likely to go further than that into criminal proceedings, it’s imperative to understand that the actions of some of these men (if proven in court) were definitely criminal and worthy of prosecution. Because here’s the ugly truth: A moment like Faulk pinning a woman to a wall and demanding oral sex or another moment like Weinberger summoning a woman to the rear bathroom because he’s “super horny” can’t be fully understood without realizing that those moments had the very real chance of turning into violent sex crimes under the right circumstances. It’s crass to say Cantor got lucky, but at some level it’s hard to say she didn’t.
As for the NFL, Cantor’s lawsuit is another example of how the league continues to pretend that everything is all right even though ratings are plummeting and players are suffering debilitating injuries at a frightening pace. The NFL’s typically tone deaf response to the league’s ongoing self-immolation was to extend the contract of its wildly unpopular commissioner.
We can safely assume that the NFL will eventually buy its way out of Cantor’s lawsuit. Disproving all of her allegations in court would not only be nigh on impossible, it would be costly and it would also be a public relations black eye that the league obviously does not need now.
But given the breadth of the league’s business operations and its male-dominated culture, Cantor’s suit almost certainly won’t be the last of its kind. At some point, one way or another, there probably won’t be enough money to make reports of similar conduct and its sickening consequences just go away.