Washington Commanders – The ownership in crisis

(Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) Dan Snyder
(Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) Dan Snyder /
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(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

As Daniel Snyder’s ownership in Washington comes under increasing scrutiny, Riggo’s Rag writers weigh in on the situation. Now: Jonathan Eig’s viewpoint. 

The year I was born, the professional football team in Washington went 1-12-1, which remains the worst record in franchise history. This came in the middle of a dismal 20-year span which saw the team win just 35% of its games. Two winning records from 1949-1968. Year after year. Loss after loss. And still, throughout all the those losses, the fans kept coming, first to Griffith Stadium, and then to DC Stadium. Through all those losses, I myself became a fan.

I mention that because the adversity that has befallen the Washington Commander franchise in recent years has little to do with its on-the-field record. The 156-212-1 record compiled during the ownership of Daniel Snyder is actually better than what the team managed during the dark days of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Fans will always make their displeasure known when their team performs poorly on the field. But when a team performs shoddily off the field – when it repeatedly displays a lack of morality, a lack of honesty, a lack of common decency – that behavior threatens the heart and soul of not just a sports franchise, but of the fan base that supports it.

The Washington Commanders, after 23 years of Daniel Snyder’s ownership, face an existential crisis.

Truth be told, this is the third time I have attempted to write about this subject in the past two weeks. Given the lag time between writing and publishing, I cannot keep up with events as they race ahead. What I wrote two weeks ago was dated before it ever could have gone up. Even as I write this version, allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of a high-ranking Dallas Cowboys executive are coming into greater focus. News such as this may or may not have direct bearing on Mr. Snyder the Washington Commanders, but it is essential to understanding the environment in which some powerful men are taking major decisions about the future of professional football.

Hints of sexual misconduct have been floating around the executive suites of the Washington Commanders for quite a while now. They eventually resulted in the recently-completed investigation by attorney Beth Wilkinson into workplace culture, and they further resulted in the franchise parting company with a number of high-ranking executives and managers.

The subsequent overhaul looks good on paper. The Washington Commanders have women in significant roles throughout their administrative hierarchy. The Co-CEO and three of four Senior Vice Presidents are women.

But recent events suggest it is all a sham – a sophisticated PR maneuver which is rather quickly unravelling. Over the past few weeks, we have learned that Mr. Snyder, with the apparent support of the NFL, went to great lengths to prevent anyone from seeing Ms. Wilkinson’s full report. And then new allegations came out in an open round table discussion conducted by the United States congress – allegations which directly implicate Mr. Snyder in wrongdoing.

The team’s now-standard move – to commission an investigation – does not appear to be convincing anyone that it can function as an honest broker in trying to find the truth.

This should go without saying – and it appears it is finally getting through to people who have the power to take action: the alleged wrongdoer does not get to control the investigation into his alleged wrongdoing. He does not get to choose the investigator. He does not get to decide what pieces of the investigation will be made public. Why anyone ever would have considered this appropriate is beyond me. But it certainly is not appropriate anymore.

I don’t think it accomplishes anything for me to call for Daniel Snyder to sell the Washington Commanders. Fans have been calling for that for more than a decade. They have written letters. They have called sports talk radio programs. They have been shouting out obscenity-laced tirades in living rooms and barrooms across the DMV. I’ve heard them. I’ve joined them.

Simple truth – fans genuinely do not matter in this arena. Not unless they boycott en masse – not just the Washington Commanders but the entire NFL product. Don’t hold your breath.

But there are some things that do matter, and fans can have an input into this.

Government intervention matters. The Washington franchise under the ownership of George Preston Marshall only integrated its roster in 1961 when the federal government threatened to prevent them from playing in the newly constructed DC Stadium. The Kennedy administration, with the tacit consent of the other owners, rightly deemed Marshall’s blatant racism as anathema to American values.

Corporate intervention matters. Daniel Snyder did the one thing he swore he would never do and changed the name of his beloved childhood franchise when Frederick Smith, CEO of FedEx, galvanized other major corporate sponsors to force the change.

And the other owners matter. Up until now, it has been commonly assumed that the other 31 NFL owners would not enforce any severe sanctions against Mr. Snyder – up to and including forcing him to sell the team – for fear of establishing a dangerous precedent. As recent news out of Dallas and Miami suggest, a lot of owners might be worried about skeletons in their own closets. But the apparent split between Mr. Snyder and the league over the most recent investigations into alleged abuse suggest that this protection may be eroding.

All of this may mean the NFL could actually step in and force a sale. It has never really done this before. Some analysts think this happened when Jerry Richardson chose to sell the Carolina Panthers in 2018, and it is likely that pressure from other owners did influence that decision. But Richardson’s circumstances were very different from Snyder’s (you can read about those differences here).

If fans want to have an impact, I’d suggest directing letters to those entities – members of congress, corporate executives with ties to the NFL, and the other owners themselves.

The first version of this essay called on Daniel Snyder to stop hiding behind carefully crafted statements of contrition and shields of bogus confidentiality, and to release the Wilkinson Report in its entirety. But as I have said, events have rocketed beyond that. I’d still like to believe that an open and honest consideration of his leadership is possible. However, everything in Mr. Snyder’s past suggests he will barricade himself behind lawyers and PR teams, and try to ride this storm out with promises of changes to come.

That has always worked in the past. I think it may not be good enough anymore.

Next. All the latest on NFL's investigation into Dan Snyder. dark