Rhiannon Walker Details Harassment by Ex-Washington NFL Staffer Alex Santos

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJuly 17, 2020

FedEx Field is seen in this general view during the National Anthem prior to an NFL football game between the New York Jets and Washington Redskins, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
Mark Tenally/Associated Press

Rhiannon Walker, an NFL reporter for The Athletic, has spoken about the harassment she received from a former employee of the Washington NFL team. 

Walker first went on the record in Thursday's report by Will Hobson and Liz Clarke of the Washington Post that featured detailed accounts from 15 female employees for the Washington football team who said they were sexually harassed by other team employees between 2006 and 2019. 

In the report, Walker said Alex Santos, Washington's former director of pro personnel, "pinched her, told her she had 'an ass like a wagon,' and repeatedly asked her to date him."

In a first-person article for The Athletic that was published Friday, Walker wrote that Santos' harassment occurred when she was covering the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and a colleague informed her via text that Santos made a comment about her hair. 

When Walker joined her colleague and a group that included Santos at a restaurant in the city, she said he approached her initially to apologize for something said earlier in the day, but the "conversation shifted" shortly thereafter when he brought up the message her colleague initially texted about:

"Then he asked if the reporter told me the rest of what he said, and I said, 'No.'

"Santos informed me that he'd told my colleague that, 'I had a little wagon for an ass,' and that this had been mentioned to other scouts on the team.

"He then said that I 'wore the f--k out of the jeans' I had on the day before, and that he found me very attractive. He asked my colleague to tell me that, because no one expected to see me out on Friday night, and he informed me that he asked my colleague not to tell me that via text messages, because he didn't want it in writing."

Walker explained she was "annoyed and embarrassed" by Santos' comments, told him they were out of line and he shouldn't tell anyone those things "because I didn’t want anyone to be under the impression that I get down like that."

Shortly thereafter, Walker noted that Santos began questioning her to see if he was the type of man she would consider dating even though he was married and she was in a relationship. 

Walker consistently and emphatically refused his advances, and she said that "I made it exceptionally clear that he isn't my type, I don't date men or women I work with, I'm not physically attracted to him, and I definitely don't entertain people in relationships."

"It felt like pretty much the worst thing in the world," Walker told Hobson and Clarke. "He didn't care. He thought it was funny."

Hobson and Clarke noted that Washington conducted an internal investigation into Santos after Walker issued a formal complaint with team management. 

Walker wrote that her bosses at The Athletic "pushed hard for the team to reprimand Santos," and she wanted there to be some punishment but didn't ask the team to fire him out of concern "that if I pushed too hard that there would be retribution" that could impact her ability to do her job. 

When the team reported for rookie minicamp at the start of last season, which Walker was covering, she had a colleague at her side when Santos issued a formal apology for his actions at which point "there were no issues from there."

Despite the apology, Walker explained her experience with Santos did lead to a change in approach with how she covered the team. 

One example she cited was a March 2019 story about Landon Collins after Washington signed the star safety to a six-year deal. 

Rather than go to Santos and members of the organization about pursuing Collins, Walker's article was about Clinton Portis telling the veteran stories about Sean Taylor. Portis and Taylor were teammates at the University of Miami during the 2001 season and in Washington from 2004-07. 

Collins wore the No. 21 for the New York Giants as a tribute to Taylor.

Walker wrote that despite receiving praise for the story, she "felt like s--t afterward" because she "played so small during last year's free agency period out of fear."

On Sunday, The Athletic's Ben Standig reported Washington fired Santos. No reason was given for the move, though Standig noted it was "quite unusual" to dismiss a member of the front office so close to the start of training camp on July 28. 

Walker is entering her third season covering Washington's NFL team for The Athletic.