Actually, that’s not entirely true — not just of Snyder’s team, but of all major sports teams. The owner may collect the profits, decide whom to hire and fire and, in Snyder’s case, arrogantly defend his team’s name until corporate pressure forced him to finally cave on the issue, but he isn’t the only person who owns the team.
The public does, too. Technically, the only publicly owned NFL team is the Green Bay Packers. The other 31 teams are owned by individuals such as Snyder. But when one owns a professional team in any major sport, he or she takes on a public trust that goes beyond wins and losses.
Some of this is certainly financial: In many cities, stadiums and arenas are built with taxpayer dollars. The stadium where Snyder’s team plays was built largely by former owner Jack Kent Cooke, but the state of Maryland chipped into the $250 million cost with $70 million in infrastructure funding.
There’s more: Fans help underwrite teams by purchasing tickets, parking, concessions and licensed team gear. (Snyder stands to make a windfall profit from sales of gear with his team’s new name on it.) NFL teams make a majority of their money from the massive rights fees TV networks pay them — massive because so many people watch the NFL.
But that’s not the most important part of an owner’s public trust. Sure, fans want to see their team win. Snyder’s major defense of his consistently awful behavior during the past 21 years has been this: No one wants to see this team win more than he does.
That certainly makes sense, because he has the most to gain in every possible way when the team is successful. But it doesn’t begin to excuse the way he treats people (including those slurred by the team’s name) or the fact that he allowed a mentality to exist in the team headquarters that led to The Post’s story last week chronicling a horrific pattern of alleged sexual harassment involving 15 female former employees and two female reporters.
This isn’t the first time Snyder’s organization has been down this sort of rutted road. Several years earlier, according to the New York Times, a number of the team’s cheerleaders had to pose topless during a photo shoot in Costa Rica, with clients of several sponsors in attendance. The team delivered a remarkable non-denial/denial of the story, citing all the community and charity work the cheerleaders did without ever addressing the allegations.
In the wake of The Post article, Snyder — who last spoke in public when he hired Ron Rivera as the team’s new coach almost seven months ago — issued a statement saying, “The behavior described in [Thursday’s] Washington Post article has no place in our franchise or society. This story has strengthened our commitment to setting a new culture and standard for our team that began with the hiring of Coach [Ron] Rivera.”
As if Rivera doesn’t have enough on his hands trying to rebuild a 3-13 team without somehow being responsible for changing the frat-boy mentality that has existed inside the organization. There was no sign of an apology of any kind in Snyder’s statement.
Snyder has failed as miserably as you can fail in living up to his public trust. It isn’t about the team being consistently lousy; it’s about the embarrassment he has brought to every fan who ever cared about this team. Once, Washington was a revered franchise. Now, it has become cringeworthy in every possible way.
And yet, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the other owners seem content to stand by and hope this will somehow go away. They have allowed Snyder to handpick a law firm to undertake an “investigation,” of The Post’s story — an “investigation” paid for by the team. They issued a tepid statement on Friday. When the “investigation,” is over, they’ll decide on punishment — no doubt a meaningless fine and the loss of a draft pick or two. The owners are taking this almost as seriously as they took charges against the New England Patriots of deflating footballs a few years back.
Almost. But not quite.
Goodell and the owners can force Snyder to sell the team if 24 owners vote to demand that he do so. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and his owners forced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell his team six years ago after Sterling was caught on tape making racist remarks. Running an organization that for years has allowed this sort of behavior directed at women isn’t in the same category?
Apparently not, according to the (mostly) good old boys who run the NFL. They are failing their public trust every bit as much as Snyder has. And that’s flat-out disgusting.