This might be the breakthrough. For 21 years, fans have clung to every reincarnation of hope. Skeptics have couched their doubt in consideration of that possibility. Little changes, however. The past spills into the present and contaminates the future. The promise of better is the veil for worse.
This time, in light of another wave of allegations about the franchise’s history of lewd behavior and disgusting, unrelenting sexual harassment, there are no lieutenants for Snyder to fire and declare that all nastiness has been cleansed. He stands more unmistakably as the problem, and while there are no direct allegations to bring him down, he remains the lasting connection to a culture that he supposedly has empowered a fresh batch of idealists to change. His new leaders possess the integrity and diversity to signify a new day is here: Jason Wright, the NFL’s first Black team president, and Julie Donaldson, the senior vice president of media who will become a trailblazer for women in NFL broadcast booths. They join Ron Rivera, the new coach and football operations boss, who also exudes character.
Snyder owes it to them to provide more than a temporary manipulation of hope. This is a disheartening and enraging controversy, and at first thought, it comes at a terrible time for a new front office. But ponder it further, and it seems like a perfect moment for a reckoning.
Snyder has more at stake now. These newcomers, delightful and promising, cannot be mere distractions from dysfunction. Neither can Terry Bateman, a longtime Snyder associate who is now the executive vice president and chief marketing officer overseeing the team’s rebranding. They are not just the hope. They must be the change, or Snyder — who is already trying to evade trouble — will have exhausted all fraudulent uses of hope.
In essence, Snyder must fire himself for this change to occur. In reaction to a scandal involving 40 former female employees, most of the focus is on scrutinizing Snyder’s involvement and searching for a smoking gun that would lead to his ouster. It’s unlikely to happen. Owners will protect their freedom to be unaccountable. Barring new information, Snyder’s ownership stake appears safe. But even if he can’t be stripped of his magic moneymaking franchise, he can be encouraged — or forced — to minimize his toxic influence.
Is Snyder ready to take this step? Of course not. Last week, he tried to rage through a weak defense, shame a victim and press the fake-news easy button. He did this to cloud public opinion so that he wouldn’t have to do the hard work of introspection and personal evolution. He doesn’t want better, for himself or the franchise he has ruined. He wants to be left alone. So he is attempting to create a perception of improvement, which is nothing more than a shield to recommence owning with impunity.
But with the NFL now overseeing the investigation of Snyder’s franchise, there is a sense the league is in legitimate pursuit of the truth. If so, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should be entertaining, at the very least, the idea that a thorough investigation could result in greater penalties than anticipated against the franchise and its owner. For Goodell and his bosses, that means considering the middle ground between a slap-on-the-wrist fine and taking away Snyder’s ownership.
Some have speculated about a suspension for Snyder. We will see what the investigation finds. But there’s enough evidence, just through corroboration of two Washington Post stories and Snyder’s recent tantrum of a statement, to make clear that it is time for Snyder to cede power like he never has before and take his hands off the organization.
It is as nice a compromise as he should get. Keep banking the profits. Let some real adults run the show. Some of the best owners in sports function, happily, in this manner. Snyder thinks he did that when Bruce Allen served as the team president. But while Allen had some worth as a buffer between ownership and the office, he was an ineffectual and oblivious leader who perpetuated the poor culture and pretended it was “actually damn good.”
To mount his uninspired defense last week, Snyder tried to use Allen, who was fired in December after a decade of futility, as a corpse to walk over.
“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,” Snyder said in the second of a six-paragraph statement that would deserve a laugh track if it weren’t so gravely inappropriate. “Going forward I am going to be more involved, and we have already made major changes in personnel bringing in new leadership to drive cultural transformation on and off the field.”
Hide the women and children. Don’t look him in the eye. And never call him Dan. Mr. Snyder is leaving the yacht and coming to hover over workstations in Ashburn.
He lost me at “more involved.” Based on everything Snyder has shown over 21 years of ownership, a higher dosage of his control will undermine the new leadership’s ability to create lasting change. If Snyder could resist reacting with arrogance and bluster, he might realize the franchise needs less of his influence, not more.
For two decades, the cliche “change the culture” has been used almost as much as the team’s former name. No coach, executive or star player has even dented the culture. It is a Snyder-made culture, built to last. There can be no change if the man in charge has no self-awareness.
The next several months, in the shadow of an investigation, amount to a referendum on hope for Washington. It’s Snyder vs. an NFL that he represents so shamefully. Who wants to toy with hope? Who wants to inspire it?
Snyder would be wise to preempt the drama by coming to an epiphany: Ax Mr. Snyder to save Dan. Realize his net worth makes him fit for NFL ownership but his manner does not. Fire the worst of himself to allow the best of the people he hired to shine.
There’s too much heat on Snyder to shout his way to normalcy. He cannot simply include his wife’s name on statements as a ploy to look like a decent man. He cannot send unscrutinized messages through ESPN’s Adam Schefter as a way to bypass local accountability.
He has to be proactive and interested in real change. Only one convincing path exists: Back off. Back way off. For motivation, he should learn from the result of his obstinacy on the team name.
He can do it early and do it his way. Or he can be pushed. He already knows how unpleasant the latter can be.