The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The walls are closing in on Daniel Snyder, and his tone-deaf response made things worse

Daniel Snyder, shown in 2019, issued his own response to a Washington Post investigation. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

A lesson in how to apologize, for Daniel Snyder, who needs one: Start with the victims. Start with the victims who worked and suffered under you because, at minimum, they need to be acknowledged.

“I’m sorry.” Would it be that hard?

There’s so much to digest in Wednesday’s Washington Post report about the environment Snyder oversaw. The women who worked for Snyder’s organization say they were leered at, propositioned, demeaned and marginalized. The baseline reaction has to be: You were mistreated, and we’re sorry, and even if we can’t make it right, we’re going to make it better for every single woman who walks into this place going forward.

Instead, Snyder’s response — after he declined repeated interview requests before the story’s publication — was obfuscation. He issued a statement, tweeted out by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Where to begin? I would say with the women who were wronged, but the only mention of them by Snyder is to question the validity of their claims.

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The allegations in the story are more than just tawdry. They’re serious. Snyder certainly believes he confronted them head on because in the first paragraph of his response, he says, “I take full responsibility for the culture of our organization.” And then he distances himself from the creation of that culture.

It’s breathtaking, really, how a boss can be accused of fostering such an environment — repeatedly, over years, by women who knew each other and who didn’t, many of whom who spoke bravely about their experiences — and essentially dismiss the accusations as either relics from the past or invalid because a particular accuser didn’t put her or his name to it. Never mind all the courageous people who did, people who understood — maybe even expected — retribution yet spoke out anyway.

But that’s how you would react if the walls were closing in on you, which they clearly are on Snyder. The strategy here is reprehensible: Make a passing reference to responsibility, then attack and deny, deny and attack, with no mention of the people who were harmed along the way.

It’s striking that the team — Snyder’s team — issued a separate statement that included the following: “Our first concern is for the safety and security of our teammates, and we have encouraged any employees who have endured similar experiences, now or in the past, to report it immediately.” How difficult was that? It’s both logical legally and empathetic emotionally — a base human reaction.

But that’s not what Snyder himself said, because he was too busy feeling the walls of the corner and thrashing out. There appears to be a two-level strategy where the owner is concerned: Say that the accusations are outdated and, therefore, invalid, and admit to some level of detachment from the franchise, as if to say, “If I hadn’t been on my yacht, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Both denials are abhorrent. Do some of the accusations go back decades? Absolutely, and the one that sticks out is the tale of former cheerleader Tiffany Bacon Scourby, who said Snyder asked her to go to a hotel suite with one of his closest friends at a 2004 charity event. Snyder’s denial carried with it not just a claim that the interaction didn’t happen but a further dismissal that because Scourby “did not report this alleged incident to anyone at the team in 2004, during her 8 years as a cheerleader, or at any time in the past 16 years,” it must not have happened.

If Snyder believes that such an exchange didn’t happen, it’s his right to defend himself. But the claim of an arbitrary statute of limitations is specious at best. Women who endure such hostile environments can live in fear that raising objections could impact their ability to rise and thrive. That’s not just for cheerleaders. That’s for videographers and executive assistants and public relations interns and marketing executives. That fear was clearly part of the culture in Ashburn, so the disappointment shouldn’t be that Scourby didn’t come forward but that the environment Snyder created made her — and others — uncomfortable to do so.

Understand the absolute fear these women would have in sharing their experiences because who knows how they will be cast by the men who are in power? The very men who already have demeaned them by commenting on their legs or their blouses.

Any woman — any employee — who steps forward and says the environment was unprofessional and unacceptable should be, at bare minimum, listened to. Snyder’s statement indicates that won’t be the case.

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Now, to the absentee issue: Snyder said in his statement to Schefter that he should have been around more.

“I have admittedly been too hands-off as an owner and allowed others to have day-to-day control to the detriment of our organization,” he wrote. “Going forward I am going to be more involved.”

Put aside the palm-to-the-forehead reaction any Washington football fan would have to the notion that Snyder’s lack of involvement is the problem.

Rather, do the math. From 2008 to 2011, four seasons, I covered Snyder’s team, driving to the Ashburn facility every day players and coaches were available. Almost daily during that period, Snyder was in the building, announced by his car parked up on the curb alongside the offices, if not left running in the spot for “Mr. Snyder.” He was there at practice. He was there overseeing the culture.

Those were precisely the days when former members of the video department allege they were ordered to make special outtake reels of the cheerleader swimsuit calendar shoots, smut that the women involved had no idea they were subjecting themselves to.

If Snyder was “too hands-off” recently, then that would include the period of just more than two years ago, when he hired a respected executive, Brian Lafemina, as the team’s chief operating officer. One employee, Rachel Engleson, who rose from intern to senior director of marketing and client services, complained to Lafemina’s top two deputies about what she considered constant harassment from Larry Michael, the team’s radio play-by-play voice who oversaw all in-house media.

Lafemina’s deputies were reportedly horrified by Michael’s reported behavior. Yet what was the outcome? Lafemina, one of the organization’s only hopes for change, was fired just eight months into his tenure — not for the culture he was trying to create but because revenue had fallen on his watch. If Snyder was indeed so distant as not to know what was going on, why was he engaged enough to fire an executive whose people were advocating for change?

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Which brings us to today and tomorrow and the next day.

“I’ve spent the day talking to our @WashingtonNFL family,” tweeted Jason Wright, the new team president Snyder hired this month. “We are all feeling weighed down by the hard to read accounts. We are now setting a new culture, we will take swift and decisive action, and we will lift the heaviness my colleagues are feeling today. Our journey starts now.”

That’s exactly correct in tone and substance, and it’s striking that it differs so vastly from the owner’s own words. Maybe Wright, with fresh eyes and an outsider’s perspective, is the person to lead the franchise on this journey.

But Daniel Snyder has shown again and again that it’s a journey he’s not willing to take.

The environment he created and even fostered should be enough to make his fellow owners want to cleanse their hands of him. Snyder’s response — full of denial, absent of empathy — makes the situation worse. The dysfunction in Ashburn isn’t just on the field. It’s pervasive, ingrained in all levels of the franchise. Over the years there’s only one constant: the owner, who must go.