The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Who’s afraid of Daniel Snyder? NFL owners, apparently.

Daniel Snyder spoke at an event announcing his franchise's new name on Feb. 2, 2022. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Big news, football fans: A number of NFL owners are willing to consider a “tough suspension” of Daniel Snyder, owner of the franchise formerly known as the Washington Football Team.

This “tough suspension” would apparently be considered only if the latest NFL investigation of Snyder’s various misdeeds — which includes an allegation of the team cooking its books — again finds him guilty. Remember: He already has been found guilty of creating a “toxic” atmosphere by a previous investigator, who looked into accusations that Snyder and his cronies had created an “Animal House” atmosphere in their offices.

So the NFL fined Snyder $10 million — “Yawn, cash or check” was probably his response — and announced his wife, Tanya Snyder, would assume responsibilities for day-to-day team operations and represent the team at league meetings. Big change there. In the only on-the-record, one-on-one interview Tanya Snyder has done since taking the job, she responded to a bunch of softball questions by somehow blaming what happened to the team on the media.

Some NFL owners support ‘tough suspension,’ but are wary of forcing out Daniel Snyder

Now, though, the NFL is really mad — especially at the notion that the team might have been manipulating its finances so as not to pay money due the other owners.

That -- not treating women horribly — would really upset them. Thus the theoretical talk of a “tough suspension.”

What exactly is a “tough suspension?” Does it mean Snyder has to go sit in a corner and face the wall? Presumably, it means Snyder actually would be banned from his office, practices and games.

Here’s what I think about that: big deal.

My colleague Mark Maske reported this week that a number of owners said a “tough suspension” would be considered if Snyder is found guilty in the latest dragged-out NFL investigation. None of these owners would go on the record — God forbid they make Snyder angry — and the most telling quotes came from two owners responding to a USA Today report that some owners were beginning to “count votes” to see if they could get the 24 they would need to force Snyder to sell the team.

“If that’s happening, no one’s asked for my vote,” one told Maske.

Another said, “I don’t think that’s accurate.”

Asked about such an effort in a news conference later Tuesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “I’m not aware of that at all.”

Of course, Goodell is rarely aware of anything beyond funding for new stadiums and TV ratings. He still, however, looks great in a suit.

The reason generally floated as to why the owners are so reluctant to boot Snyder is they’re afraid he will litigate them into the next century. There’s no doubt he would, but so what? They’re a bunch of billionaires, with plenty of money to pay their lawyers to take on Snyder’s lawyers. This is a case of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Sure, Snyder would continue to be a nuisance, but how can anyone look at the chaos Snyder has brought to what was once judged the most valuable franchise in sports — read that phrase again, the most valuable franchise in sports — and not understand that the sooner he’s gone, the better off everyone will be?

It isn’t just that the team was worth a lot of money; it’s that it was one of the most respected franchises in sports. Vince Lombardi coached the team; George Allen led the team to a Super Bowl. General manager Bobby Beathard hired Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls and went to another.

Now, the fact that the team is, at best, mediocre on occasion is the least of its problems.

Jack Kent Cooke built a monument to himself in a terrible location, and the team’s fans have suffered because of that. But Snyder took a bad situation and made it worse — expanding the stadium to include obstructed view seats (and then removing them when he couldn’t find buyers), charging ridiculous prices to park and taking lousy care of the stadium, from the playing field to the fan experience itself.

And that’s not close to the worst of it. While the NFL only wrist-slapped Snyder for his treatment of female employees, the world noticed. Washington is now the laughingstock of the NFL. It finished second-to-last (!) in attendance this past season — ahead of Detroit but behind Jacksonville (seriously, Jacksonville) — and even the pathetic announced average of 52,571 per game doesn’t begin to tell the story. People who attended games thought the stadium looked significantly emptier than that, and at most home games it appeared at least half of those who did show up were fans of the visiting team.

This is a city where people once waited years for the chance to buy a season ticket, where you could walk into a supermarket on a Sunday afternoon and have the place to yourself because those not at the game were home watching on TV. The store employees? They had the game on the radio.

Snyder’s response to all this has been twofold: deny every charge against him through statements put out by the team or his lawyers — he never speaks on the record to the media anymore — and have his flunkies talk nonstop about where they want to build a new stadium.

Commanders acquire right to buy 200 acres in Va. for potential new stadium

If you believe Snyder’s denials, that means every person who has spoken out against him is lying. If you’re buying that, perhaps you’d like to help him fund a new stadium on the 200-hundred acre tract the team just acquired the option to purchase in Woodbridge.

There are two theories on that purchase: Snyder is trying to bluff the D.C. and Maryland governments into thinking he might actually take the team there, or the people around him understand that no smart politician in any accessible jurisdiction is going to touch him right now. He’s radioactive.

The NFL has done everything it can to protect Snyder, even allowing him to begin to investigate himself in the wake of the initial sexual harassment allegations. Then, after it took over the investigation, it ensured there would be no written report.

Seriously?

The great Bob Woodward has always insisted that you get to the heart of any story by getting the documents. Goodell made sure there were no documents.

Regardless of the outcome of the latest investigation — launched in the wake of new allegations made during a congressional roundtable — this nightmare doesn’t end until Snyder is forced to sell. A new owner could walk in with a clean slate, the ability to negotiate a stadium deal someplace closer to or even inside D.C. — will the new fight song conclude with the words “Fight for old Woodbridge?” — and not be dragged down by what is now 23 years of rancid baggage.

I would suggest that Goodell take a leadership role in getting this done, but he’s too busy shopping for new suits and putting out bogus news releases about the NFL’s search (ha!) for more diversity.

Snyder’s a member of an exclusive, only-White-people-need-apply club. As much as he has done and is still doing to damage the club’s, the city’s and the league’s image, no one seems inclined to kick him to the curb, which is where he belongs.

Instead, it’s pass the cigars and the brandy.

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