The NFL has had its share of uncomfortable truths about life as an employee in the sports clubs, mainly the Washington Commanders. Still, an NFL human resources employee recently filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination. Former NFL Films employee Victoria Russell, fired by NFL Films last year, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the NFL in New Jersey in January.
Russell was employed by the NFL between 2018 and 2022 and was fired shortly after making discriminatory complaints about instances of unfair treatment as a Black woman. The suit is a perfect storm of racial discrimination and sexually explicit allegations, which harken back to the Washington Commanders email scandal and toxic workplace issues.
Allegations on Allegations
The lawsuit details the “sexualized and offensive descriptions of women” that she witnessed. Russell claims that NFL Films categorized video clips using timestamps for footage that included suggestive imagery of NFL cheerleaders. Per Russell, “cheerleaders buttocks,” “cheerleaders rear end,” “female fan in bikini top,” “naughty camera work,” and “close up of cheerleader’s breasts, cleavage shot and shot of endowed woman,” were noted, and stored by the actual time they would appear in a video.
The NFL is going on defense, claiming that Russell should not have been able to know that this footage even exists.
“NFL Films logs and stores every frame of footage shot by its cinematographers, freelance camera people, and the broadcast networks,” Brian McCarthy, chief spokesperson for the NFL, told The New York Post. “That footage inevitably includes images of fans, cheerleaders, and even players that may not be appropriate for inclusion in the content that NFL Films produces.
“Those frames are logged as ‘sensitive’ so that they can be removed from circulation, meaning they will not be accessible to employees whose job it is to locate footage for productions. Ms. Russell did not have credentials for the logging system, nor did any aspect of her responsibilities involve accessing footage,” McCarthy continued.
The league says that the videos were never rebroadcast and flagged. Still, per The Wall Street Journal, Russell claims she found a chat room log during a 2018 audit that tracked the timestamps in question, linking them to timestamps of “sexualized and offensive descriptions of women captured on that footage. The commentary associated with the timestamps included approximately 14 pages of sexually degrading remarks about women.”
During her four years with the NFL, Russell believes she didn’t receive promotions. Her claims include being denied workspace and even pay raises, more than white and male employees. She alleges her firing came without warning after complaining to the league’s diversity officer. Russell was also pregnant when she was up for the promotion; she believes she was given the runaround and received no notice of poor performance.
“We are committed to providing all employees a workplace that is respectful, diverse, inclusive and free from discrimination and harassment,” McCarthy said about Russell’s work discrimination allegations. “The NFL didn’t discriminate or retaliate against Ms. Russell during her time as a temporary staff member. We will vigorously defend against these claims.”
The NFL is distancing itself from Russell and highlighting what they label as her “temporary staff member” status as the league is yet again roiled in another scandal rooted in toxic workplace culture.