ESPN opens up a window to Redskins owner's true persona

Long before he was Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder was a fan.
Long before he was Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder was a fan. (Espn)
Dan Steinberg
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Not long into the lengthy Daniel Snyder profile that will run on ESPN Tuesday night, the much-discussed topic of Snyder's childhood Redskins fandom is raised.

"I think from when I was six, I started wearing Redskins gear and belt buckles and all sorts of stuff, and just fell in love with it," Snyder says.

Nothing we haven't heard there. But when his interviewer, ESPN's Rachel Nichols, then pulls out a youth Sonny Jurgensen jersey with "Danny" on the back - and when Snyder blushes and tries to toss the jersey away, saying "we're just gonna put this over there" - well, that's about the definition of "how to humanize your owner."

"Don't embarrass me," Snyder pleads as the jersey comes out and he starts laughing. "I'm gonna kill my wife. Okayyyyy. That's embarrassing."

To produce the 12-minute piece for "E:60," its prime-time news magazine, ESPN conducted three hours of interviews with Snyder, talked to well over a dozen NFL figures, and followed the mic'ed up Snyder at multiple events. Much of the material shows a more reflective and relaxed Snyder than we've seen in recent years - he jokes about his age and inexperience when he bought the franchise, talks at length about his father, explains his shyness around the media and repeatedly apologizes for the team's performance in recent years.

This profile continues a recent trend in which Snyder has been considerably more visible. He's spoken at charity events, appeared on ESPN 980, sat down with two writers from the blog Hogs Haven, appeared in a Papa John's TV spot with Dallas owner Jerry Jones and another spot for NFL gear with his wife, scored the cover of Montgomery Life magazine and been profiled at length in Forbes magazine.

E:60 producers and reporters had long talked about attempting a Snyder piece, and they got the go-ahead within the last month. Between covering Heat training camp and her ongoing reporting on Ben Roethlisberger, Nichols accompanied Snyder to a charity event and conducted two lengthy interviews in his office, asking the owner about buying the team, the challenge of following Jack Kent Cooke, his regrets and his mistakes.

"I let people down. I've done a lot of things wrong . . . " Snyder says in the piece. "It's awfully embarrassing. It's a hard feeling and it takes a little time to realize that I made a mistake, and a lot of mistakes, and big mistakes."

Nichols, a former Post reporter who grew up in the D.C. area and has been following the Redskins "since I was sentient," had met Snyder several times before this project but had never interviewed him. She encountered the same skittishness among media members we've often seen - Snyder repeatedly said he didn't like walking around while mic'ed, and said "every step of the way with this story there was discussion on what he felt comfortable showing on camera."

Her goal, she said, was to offer a "snapshot at this point" of a man who could be involved with this franchise for three or four more decades.

"He talked about wanting to dive in and fix issues" when he first bought the team, Nichols told me. "And he learned it doesn't work that way with an NFL team. That's sort of an interesting window to his first five years, first 10 years, why he did some of the things. We'll have to see how they turn out, clearly, but to him, hiring [Mike] Shanahan and hiring [Bruce] Allen and taking a more long-term approach is something he learned along the way, something that didn't come naturally."

Indeed, Snyder tells Nichols in the piece that there's "no instruction manual" for owning the Redskins and that his first instinct was to find all the things he could fix. And it's an urge that will not go quietly.

Near the end of the segment, Nichols asks Snyder what his dad would say about recent years.

"Wow. What a disaster," Snyder guessed with a laugh. "And then he'd say, 'Gotta fix it.' "


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