Dan Snyder Facing Unprecedented Removal Calls

New comments from Jim Irsay show that the NFL may have had enough of Dan Snyder. After many years of dragging the NFL through the mud, the Washington Commanders owner may be removed from his position based on a vote from his fellow owners. Snyder’s removal would be unprecedented in the NFL, but not in professional sports. Direct action from the League may also be pressed by its sponsors, which have spoken out in similar instances.

Washington Commanders Logo – NFL

Dan Snyder took ownership of the Washington Commanders in 1999. His tenure as an owner has been consistently marked by scandals and legal battles. Most recently, Snyder has been embroiled in a workplace discrimination and harassment investigation. The investigation began after a report from The Washington Post. The report contains accounts from over a dozen women who allege various forms of harassment from their time working at the Commanders’ organization. [1] Snyder was not named as a harasser himself, but he is accused of fostering a hostile work environment.[2]

Snyder initially addressed the allegations himself. The Commanders hired a law firm to investigate the various allegations of misconduct, and whether the workplace fostered those actions. The firm answered directly to Snyder initially. However, the NFL took over the investigation and directed the firm to report directly to Commissioner Goodell. [3]

The investigation resulted in a minor response from the NFL. Commissioner Goodell levied a minor fee and issued a press release expressing his disappointment. The investigation found that the Commanders organization operated in a highly unprofessional manner that encouraged bullying, intimidation, and sexual harassment.[4]  Based on these findings, Goodell issued a $10 million fine to the Commanders. This amount was a slap on the wrist to Snyder, who one year prior purchased a $192 million yacht.[5] Shortly before the public announcement, Snyder voluntarily relinquished control of the team to his wife, Tanya. In response, Dan Snyder expressed his surprise at the findings, took responsibility as an owner, and he expressed remorse for the horrific and traumatizing experiences his workplace inflicted on women. The Commanders were also required to report to the League for a year on progress in implementing better policies. [6]

Many were not satisfied with the League’s handling of the investigation. In 2021, emails from the investigation were leaked which included racist comments exchanged by former Raiders coach Jon Gruden.[7]  After this discovery, there were calls to release all emails found during the Commanders investigation to the public. The calls were brushed aside, and the idea that emails would be released was dismissed. [8]

The investigation, findings, and sanctions appeared to end with the League. As with many issues in the NFL, the word of the Commissioner seemed final, and no additional action would be taken. However, the investigation was not over.

In October of 2021, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi wrote the Commanders to request the documents collected during the investigation. The letter cited the racist emails, the unusual request for only an oral report, reports that the NFL general counsel and an executive for the Commanders shared an unusual relationship, and reports of more troubling unaddressed emails all as reasons for serious concern about the League’s investigation. They requested all communications, findings, reports, and policies connected to the investigation. They also asked why the NFL was brought in to provide oversight to the investigation, which League representatives oversaw the investigation, and why only an oral report was requested.[9]

The documents provided to Congress proved to be fruitful. Congress released documents, including an engagement letter detailing the relationship between the investigating firm and the League, and a common interest agreement between the NFL and the Commanders. The engagement letter stated that the investigation would conclude with a written report of the findings. However, Goodell directed the report only be made orally. The common interest agreement showed that the League would not release any findings unless it had permission. from Snyder. The joint interest agreement was terminated when the congressional investigation began.  [10]

The investigation eventually brought Goodell directly before Congress. Goodell testified before the House Committee on Oversight that he believed that Snyder had received proper punishment for his actions. Goodell doubled down on the procedure of the investigation and he denied having the authority to remove Snyder from his position.[11]

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell testifying before Congress – New York Times

Snyder himself also, begrudgingly, appeared before Congress. Snyder did not attend the committee meeting where Goodell gave testimony due to a prior business arrangement. He then sailed his mega yacht to France, where he delivered testimony remotely, from his yacht, for 11 hours. He testified out of view of TV cameras, and without information being made public. [12]

Since then, the League has begun a new investigation into Snyder. The investigation is again regarding the nature of the Commanders’ workplace. However, this time the investigation is focused on directly on Snyder himself. There is no timeline for the completion of this investigation.[13]

The saga of investigations and increasing involvement is not good for the League. The NFL enjoys a unique and largely unchallenged monopoly. The NFL and its owners do not enjoy opening their books to anyone, especially the highest echelons of government. Snyder has brought increasing heat down on the League, and his mismanagement and disrespect for the process threaten to harm the League and further destroy its image. It seems some of Snyder’s fellow owners may have had enough of the sideshow the investigation has become.

On Tuesday, Colts owner Jim Irsay said there was merit to removing Snyder as an owner. He also said that Snyder has a longstanding issue with workplace misconduct and that the owners must act to set an example of what the League stands for. Irsay does not believe Snyder is representative of the League and that he presents the wrong image. [14] Irsay’s comment comes only a few days after a report that Snyder had compiled “dirt” on a number of owners and Goodell which could “blow up” the League and its owners.[15] Spokespeople for the Commanders condemned Irsay’s comments.[16]

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay – Forbes

Removing an owner is possible, but unprecedented in the NFL. While Goodell is unable to terminate an owner by himself, he may do so with the approval of a 2/3 vote from the owners.[17]  This move would be unprecedented in the League, as no owner has ever been removed before. However, owners have been temporarily suspended from their teams, including Dolphins owner Stephen Ross[18] and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo.[19] In 2017, former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson stepped down as an owner and sold the team amid workplace misconduct allegations.[20]

There is precedent for the removal of owners from other professional sports teams. In 2014, Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA after he was recorded making horribly racist comments to his girlfriend. [21] In 1990, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was banned from the MLB for life for associating with a known gambler to smear the reputation of a player.[22] The ban was later reduced to two years.[23]

Owners may not be the only ones fed up with enduring Snyder’s propensity for harassment. League sponsors may be another source of pressure for change. This movement has been growing in the NFL in particular. In 2014, increasing pressure from sponsors like Anheuser-Bush and The Raddison helped lead to the removal and suspension of Adrian Peterson.[24] With Snyder in particular, sponsors Nike, FedEx, and Pepsi threatened to cut ties with Washington unless the team name was changed to something other than a racist slur. [25] Despite years of saying the name would “NEVER” change, Snyder relented under mounting sponsor pressure. [26]

Dan Snyder has threatened the NFL in all the wrong ways. His actions and the actions of his organization have irreparably harmed women, threatened sponsorship relations, and brought the entire League under legal scrutiny. It is no surprise that an owner has now spoken publicly about his removal. Removing Snyder would likely finally put an end to the congressional inquiry, and is an opportunity for the Leauge to make a statement that its owners will be held accountable.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/07/16/redskins-sexual-harassment-larry-michael-alex-santos/?arc404=true

[2] https://sports.yahoo.com/15-women-allege-culture-of-sexual-harassment-among-management-at-washingtons-nfl-team-in-wa-po-report-223408766.html

[3] https://www.nfl.com/news/nfl-taking-over-investigation-of-washington-football-team

[4] https://www.nfl.com/news/nfl-fines-washington-football-team-10m-following-investigation-into-team-culture

[5] https://www.forbes.com/profile/dan-snyder/?sh=4667499eb193

[6] Id.

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/14/sports/football/nfl-washington-emails-jeff-pash.html

[8] https://nypost.com/2021/10/14/https-nypost-com-2021-10-11-raiders-coach-jon-gruden-to-resign-over-email-scandal/

[9] https://oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/Final%202021-10-21.CBM%20RK%20to%20Goodell-NFL%20re%20WFT%20Investigation.pdf

[10] https://www.si.com/nfl/2022/02/04/dan-snyder-investigation-misconduct-washington-commanders-congress

[11] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/22/sports/football/roger-goodell-congress-dan-snyder.html#:~:text=Goodell%20testified%20under%20oath%20for,of%20the%20team’s%20female%20employees

[12] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/29/sports/football/will-anyone-hold-daniel-snyder-accountable.html

[13] https://www.si.com/nfl/2022/09/14/nfl-investigation-into-commanders-dan-snyder-still-ongoing

[14] https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34824686/colts-owner-jim-irsay-says-merit-oust-owner-daniel-snyder

[15] https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34778123/washington-commanders-owner-dan-snyder-claims-dirt-nfl-owners-roger-goodell

[16] https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2022/10/18/daniel-snyder-fires-back-at-jim-irsay/

[17] https://www.onlabor.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/co_.pdf

[18] https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/02/us/nfl-miami-dolphins-suspend

[19] https://www.foxbusiness.com/sports/nfl-team-owner-fines-suspensions

[20] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/panthers/2017/12/18/jerry-richardson-carolina-panthers-owner/962581001/

[21] https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/27414482/when-donald-sterling-saga-rocked-nba-changed-forever

[22] https://calltothepen.com/2017/07/30/yankees-history-george-steinbrenner-suspended-for-life/

[23] https://yanksgoyard.com/2020/08/03/yankees-revisiting-george-steinbrenner-banned-baseball/#:~:text=Steinbrenner%20was%20banned%20from%20partaking,three%20years%20later%20in%201993.

[24] https://www.vanityfair.com/news/daily-news/2014/09/vikings-pull-adrian-peterson-sponsors

[25] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-football-nfl-was-nickname-challenged/report-investment-firms-lobby-sponsors-to-cut-ties-with-redskins-idUSKBN2430L4

[26] https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/jul/06/dan-snyder-washington-nfl-team-name-change

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