News & Politics

The Redskins’ Latest Fiasco, Explained

Trying to make some sense of the team's newest fiasco, which involves former NBC4 reporter Dianna Russini.

Dianna Russini spent two years at WRC before moving to ESPN. Screenshot via WRC.

Washington’s NFL team is in even more off-field chaos Thursday following the revelation that Jessica McCloughan accused her husband, general manager Scot McCloughan, of having an affair with ESPN reporter Dianna Russini. The accusation, which ESPN and Russini flatly deny, is quickly snowballing into Ashburnistan‘s latest public embarassment, complete with debunked claims of Twitter impostors, revised statements, and turmoil in the office of the general manager who was supposed to fix this woeful franchise. Below, a brief attempt to explain the team’s latest episode:

Who is Dianna Russini?

Russini is one of ESPN’s newest reporters and studio anchors, having joined the channel earlier this summer following a two-year stint at WRC in Washington. Russini joined the NBC affiliate to succeed sports reporter Lindsay Czarniak (who also now works for ESPN), and was promoted to lead sports anchor when Dan Hellie decamped for the NFL Network. During her time at WRC, Russini built up a reputation for more aggressive reporting on the Ashburn bubble—a far cry from the days of team patsies like George Michael. Her WRC colleagues thought of her as a diligent, hard-working reporter who drove the station’s sports coverage. Russini appears to have continued building up that reputation at ESPN, like last weekend, when she broke the news that the team was finally ready to strip Robert Griffin III of the starting-quarterback role.

How did Jessica McCloughan react to the news?

Who knows what football advice Jessica McCloughan is giving? But she appears to have a low tolerance for news leaks. On her since-deleted Twitter account, McCloughan asked Russini, “Please tell us how many BJ’s you had to give to get this story?” McCloughan also sent another tweet that referred to her husband’s “new side chick (dianna).” While McCloughan’s Twitter account was locked, it was spotted Wednesday by Black Sports Online, which took screenshots and posted the inflammatory tweets.

What did the team do?

The team’s spokesman, Tony Wyllie, initially told Black Sports Online that the account that sent the tweets accusing Scot McCloughan of carrying out an affair with Russini is “definitely a fake account and they have contacted NFL security to have it shut down.”

Was it really a fake account?

Nope! A few hours later—after the fake-Twitter-account defense failed to hold up to scrutiny—the team sent out a second statement, this time attributed to Jessica McCloughan:

I deeply apologize for the disparaging remarks about an ESPN reporter on my personal Twitter account. The comment was unfounded and inappropriate, and I have the utmost respect for both the reporter and ESPN. I regret that my actions have brought undeserved negative attention to the Redskins organization and its leadership. My comments in no way reflect the opinions or attitudes of the organization and I regret that my behavior has in any way negatively impacted the team and its loyal fan base.

What does ESPN say?

ESPN is sticking by its reporter and has a statement:

Dianna is an excellent reporter who should never have to be subjected to such vulgar comments. We are obviously extremely disappointed by today’s developments.

And what about the McCloughans?

Maybe they should deliberate their marital woes in private.

Isn’t this whole episode just indicative of the rough working conditions female sports reporters endure?

Pretty much. Russini’s ESPN colleague Jemele Hill writes on Twitter that Jessica McCloughan’s accusations “reinforced a trashy stereotype about female sports journalists,” the stereotype being that women in sports journalism trade sexual favors for scoops. And the problems extend well beyond Ashburnistan.

In a recent column, Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Deitsch detailed the harrassment female reporters face routinely while covering sports teams, like baseball players trying to draw attention to their penises, advances from coaches and agents, and countless inappropriate text and social-media messages. And when University of Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague resigned amid sexual-harrassement complaints from several university employees, Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Amelia Rayno wrote candidly about the several times Teague made moves on her.

This business between McCloughan and Russini is yet another ugly example.

UPDATE, 5:33 PM:

Can this situation get any stranger?

Yes! The Gossip website Radar reports that on Wednesday evening, it asked Jessica McCloughan’s sister-in-law, Shannon Rutherford, to comment. Rutherford said she’d prefer not to get involved in a “political situation,” and then proceeded to get involved by suggesting that the apology released on McCloughan’s behalf was forced by the Washington NFL team’s front office. Rutherford also told Radar that she has known for a few weeks that Jessica McCloughan had suspected Scot McCloughan of keeping a “side chick.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.