New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, in his current post as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, “sometimes made inappropriate or insensitive comments” that could be deemed a violation of Equal Opportunity Laws, according to a U.S. State Department report obtained by ESPN.
The report, released Wednesday morning by the Office of the Inspector General, recommended a more thorough review of the matter and that “appropriate action” should be taken, if necessary.
Allegations came to light last month, when CNN reported that Johnson was under investigation because he was accused of making racially insensitive remarks overseas.
The 39-page OIG report, which covers a vast number of topics and based its finding on interviews and questionnaires with embassy employees, didn’t cite specific examples.
Johnson issued a strong denial in the OIG report.
“If I have unintentionally offended anyone in the execution of my duties, I deeply regret that, but I do not accept that I have treated employees with disrespect or discriminated in any way,” Johnson said. “My objective is to lead the highly talented team at Mission UK to execute the President’s policies and to do so in a way that is respectful of our differences, with zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.”
Johnson added that, in order to address “real or perceived” concerns in the report, he reviewed a course on work-place discrimination and instructed his entire staff to do the same. He noted that no official complaints were filed against him during his three-year tenure as ambassador.
As noted in the report, the OIG referred the matter to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, which disagreed with OIG’s recommendation and sided with Johnson, saying he “set the right tone” in his mission. The bureau concluded that a formal assessment wasn’t required but recommended the London Embassy continue to work with the Office of Civil Rights to heighten awareness of the issues.
However, the OIG, in response to the bureau, stuck to its original recommendation, saying Johnson should be investigated on whether he was compliant with the Department of Equal Opportunity or leadership policies.
Johnson accepted the post in August 2017, leaving the day-to-day operations of the Jets to his younger brother, Christopher. Johnson likely will return later this year at the conclusion of his three-year term as ambassador.
The NFL hasn’t commented on the matter, referring questions to the State Department.
The CNN report said Johnson allegedly made racist comments about Black men and questioned the purpose of Black History Month. He allegedly argued that Black fathers don’t remain with their families, calling that the “real challenge.”
Johnson also commented on women’s appearances at the embassy and public events and said he preferred working with women because they are cheaper and work harder, the CNN report said. Johnson reportedly would hold gatherings at a men’s-only club, preventing female diplomats from attending, before he was told by another diplomat to stop the practice.
The Jets have backed Johnson, releasing a statement last month that said, “Since the Johnson family became owners of the New York Jets, the organization has consistently and actively supported, engaged and encouraged the development of many different social justice, diversity, women’s, and inclusion initiatives.
“One of our fundamental principles is treating employees, players, coaches and fans with respect and dignity, regardless of their race, color, religion, or gender. These principles have been established by the Johnson family, which Woody implemented in our organization over the past 20 years.”
Team captain Steve McLendon commented recently on the allegations, saying, “I’m not going to speak on him or any comments he said or made, and I don’t pass judgment on anybody. At the end of the day, he will be held accountable for his actions.”