The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

We see how Dan Snyder treats customers. Who would build him a stadium?

Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder has denied allegations of financial impropriety. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
5 min

What governor, mayor or legislator could stand on a dais with Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder for a stadium ribbon-cutting ceremony and assure constituents that they will get fair returns and not be fleeced? Only the crookedest pol at this point. There can be no stadium funds — no tax-free bonds, not so much as a discount on sewer lines — until Snyder has turned over every sticky page of his ledgers. What’s needed is a forensic accounting.

Cheating fellow NFL owners. Preying financially on unsuspecting fans. These are just two of the allegations in Tuesday’s letter from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to the Federal Trade Commission requesting an investigation of “potentially unlawful business practices” under Snyder. The contents of the letter are at once stunning and unsurprising. Unsurprising, given that Snyder always seems to find new tar pits. Stunning, in the level of detail contained in the letter’s 20 pages and the seriousness of the accusations: A former executive alleges the flagship franchise of the nation’s capital kept two sets of books, played shell games with revenue and pocketed refunds (and interest) owed to ticket buyers, all of which could amount to fraud if verified. And if it’s true, it should be verifiable.

Of course, there can be no new stadium deal under these circumstances. For that matter, not one cent of public money or favor should go to any NFL owner until the league comes clean and stops acting as a protection racket for Snyder’s sordidness. According to the committee’s letter, the NFL has met its inquiry into pervasive workplace misconduct in Snyder’s building with “obstruction” and sought to “withhold key documents and information.”

In short, the NFL has demonstrated it doesn’t care about the women who work within it. If the league does nothing with these latest allegations, it shows it doesn’t care about even its paying customers.

Congress details allegations of Commanders’ ‘unlawful’ conduct to FTC

So how can such an entity be trusted by any community? Local legislators should put a hold on every dime until the league has fully complied with the committee’s investigation. That $600 million the state of New York just approved for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills? It ought to be frozen. The incentive packages local officials in Kansas and Missouri are putting together to woo owner Clark Hunt and the Kansas City Chiefs with a new stadium? They also need to be put on ice. Nobody gets anything until the NFL has cleaned — no, scrubbed — its Washington house and opened it for public inspection.

The allegations relayed in the letter to the FTC have a specificity that demands follow-up by someone with subpoena and charging powers, which is presumably why copies also were sent to the attorneys general of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. No doubt Snyder’s lawyers will say the testimony from longtime head of sales Jason Friedman is that of an embittered former employee, but Friedman didn’t just level vague accusations. He presented email communications from superiors, names, dates, amounts — and “contemporaneous documents,” according to the committee.

If, as alleged, the team wrongly retained up to $5 million in security-deposit refunds owed to approximately 2,000 customers, it should be easy enough for an investigator with a badge to find out. If Snyder’s executives were ordered to keep two sets of ledgers and hide ticket revenue by booking it under events such as a Kenny Chesney concert, as alleged, it also should be a straightforward matter to discover. Put the bookkeepers under oath and order them to produce all records.

It’s called an audit. And at a certain point, it might be well worth submitting every league owner to one, because it’s an open question as to whether Snyder is an outlier in his various behaviors or whether they are common in the NFL. Where did he get his ideas?

Daniel Snyder pledged support for the NFL’s investigation. His actions tell a different story.

Not that Snyder needs any advice on how to gouge. In 2001, his former company was fined for “phone slamming,” illegally switching customers’ service without permission. In 2006, his football organization foisted bags of old airline peanuts on fans. In 2009, it sued lifelong season ticket holders when they no longer could afford to pay exorbitant seat licenses. And it long perpetuated a sham waiting list for season tickets.

All of it was tolerated by Snyder’s fellow NFL owners, and when his workplace unsurprisingly turned out to be an odious den of rampant serial gropers and graspers who operated with impunity, the NFL buried its internal report. If any of the bookkeeping allegations against Snyder are true, one of the things it means is that Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office has been as utterly feckless — or deceiving — in its fiscal oversight of him as it was in its sexual harassment oversight. And that raises the fundamental question of whether anyone can trust anything that office does or says.

Taxpayers have forked over nearly $7 billion in public funds to the NFL in recent years, and that doesn’t count the huge free expenses in utilities, security and infrastructure that allow teams to operate on game day. By way of thanks, Goodell and the owners relentlessly privatize and black-box their dealings. They soak the public — and then treat that public and its congressional inquirers with contempt. The FTC should investigate the whole pack. With its enabling of Snyder, it’s merely what the league has begged for.

What to read about the Washington Commanders

Exclusive: An employee of Washington’s NFL team accused Commanders owner Daniel Snyder of asking for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes, according to legal correspondence obtained by The Post. A team investigation concluded the woman was lying in an attempt to extort Snyder.

Capitol Hill: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced that the committee intends to issue a subpoena to compel the testimony of Snyder.

Kevin B. Blackistone: If NFL players care about social justice, why haven’t they rebuked the Commanders’ defensive coordinator?

Penalized: The NFL fined Commanders head coach Ron Rivera $100,000 and docked the team two OTA practices in 2023 for excessive hitting during their offseason program this year, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.