Washington coach Ron Rivera understands the monumental task he faces in trying to change the culture of an NFL franchise many have considered toxic. Last week, the Washington Post detailed sexual harassment charges by five former employees, hammering home the need for change.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve gotta change and correct so we can go forward,” Rivera, who was hired in January, told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap on Outside the Lines. “We’re trying to create an inclusive culture, a culture where people buy in and support us, help us, we support them, we help them. We want to change it to the point where people are proud of who we are as we go forward as an organization.”
Part of that change includes finding a new name. The franchise announced Thursday that it will temporarily be known as the Washington Football Team. Chief marketing officer Terry Bateman told ESPN on Thursday that the process could take 12 to 18 months.
At one point this summer, Rivera expressed hope of having a new name in place before the season started. But after announcing on July 13 that the franchise would retire its former name, it became clear that it would be difficult to have a new one in place so soon. Owner Dan Snyder had previously attempted to trademark Warriors for a possible Arena League team, but Native American leaders have said that would be too close to the former name.
“We told everybody, we’ve learned through this process of trying to understand it that it’s gonna take us at least 12 to 18 months to do it right,” Rivera said. “We may have a decision on the name sooner. But to do it right, to produce it right, to put it out right, we’ve got to go through the process.”
That process includes not only naming a team, but applying for — and receiving — a trademark. It also means coming up with a logo. Washington can adopt a new name and start using it before it receives final trademark approval
“We’ll probably have the name a lot sooner than I think we expected,” Rivera said, “but we just want everybody to know this is going to take a little bit more than we had anticipated originally.”
The same could be said about changing Washington’s culture. Many employees have complained for years about how they’re treated in the organization; more than 40 departed after the 2018 season, although not all because of dissatisfaction. Then, on July 17, the Washington Post reported that 15 women who previously worked for the franchise have alleged sexual harassment and verbal abuse. Two female reporters also said they were harassed.
“I was surprised, disappointed,” Rivera said, “knowing that this is part of the reason why I’m here, is to change those things, is to make sure that we don’t have this type of an environment. We want to have a positive workplace environment — not just for the football team, for the players and the staff, but for the organization itself.”
Rivera and Bateman have spoken publicly about the name and, now, the allegations, but Snyder has only issued two statements about the Post article. But Rivera said he’s OK being the face of the organization. After he was hired, Snyder said the team would be coach-centric.
“Well, that’s why I took the job,” Rivera said. “This is part of my responsibilities, and it’s one of the things that I’m learning and learning how to do. And I really do appreciate that. Mr. Snyder and I talk daily — we talk about things that are going on, we talk about things that are happening. And I tell him that this is my position, this is my stance, and he’s very supportive of these things.”
Rivera said he has talked to his daughter, Courtney, and his wife, Stephanie, about the charges and improving the culture. His daughter works for Washington’s social media team; his wife is a former WNBA coach.
“Believe me, I’ve made mistakes,” Rivera said, “but I’ve tried to learn from those mistakes so that I can be better at things as I go forward. … We’ve talked about inclusion — whether we’re trying to improve the diversity of who we’re hiring, but we’re trying to include everybody. That’s probably the biggest thing that we’ve gotta do.”
His goal, he said, is to create a “sustainable, winning culture.” That would then lead to a stronger workplace environment, he said.
“We need folks to help us, as opposed to, ‘Let’s find who to blame, and let’s try to bury those people,'” he said. “No — we know what it is. We know what the situation is. Now let’s find answers, let’s implement the plan, let’s go forward with the strategy, and let’s make this work.”