The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Daniel Snyder still wants to blame everyone but himself

Washington Commanders owners Tanya and Daniel Snyder before an Oct. 2 game against the Dallas Cowboys. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

What’s important to know about the Washington NFL franchise, which has been owned by Daniel Snyder for more than a quarter of its existence, is that whatever happened there in the past is not at all his fault, but what is happening right now — as the organization tries to reinvent itself — is completely his doing, even though it is happening as the NFL has said he can’t be involved in the franchise’s day-to-day operations because of previous poor judgment about the culture he oversaw.

Get it? Got it.

“The culture is actually damn good,” Bruce Allen, then Snyder’s team president, said on the day the team fired Jay Gruden as coach three years ago. Those words are now printed on T-shirts worn by a fan base that can show its face only if its tongue is firmly planted in its cheek.

Allen, of course, was responsible — wholly responsible — for a culture that was rotten to its core, misogynistic and even racist. How could Snyder have known, what with his office being a full 20-second walk down the hall from Allen’s in Ashburn? What a lowlife this Allen guy was. Had to purge the franchise of him. Only took a decade.

“It is widely acknowledged that the single most significant step the Team took to remedy its toxic workplace was to rid itself of Mr. Allen,” Tom Davis, the former congressman from Virginia who now is representing Snyder’s NFL team, wrote in a letter Wednesday to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “The fraternity-house culture that Mr. Allen instilled in the Commanders organization is the principal reason that the Commanders came under investigation in the first place.”

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Because Allen was so obviously and completely deplorable, it is unthinkable that Snyder would have said, “Bruce Allen is the personification of an NFL winner,” which he did in a team-issued statement the day he hired Allen as general manager in December 2009, or that he would have amplified that sentiment by saying in another team-issued statement, “I think the world of Bruce Allen,” which he did on the day Allen was given a promotion to team president in 2014.

“Giving him both titles is appropriate,” Snyder said back then.

Davis, in his letter to the Oversight Committee that is investigating the culture created by Snyder — excuse me, Allen — pointed out the committee could have interviewed a long list of current Commanders employees whose tenures dated back to Allen’s time.

“Those employees would, almost universally, have identified Mr. Allen’s departure as the date that the Team culture began to turn around,” Davis wrote.

Darn right. At the time of Allen’s departure, he had worked there almost exactly a decade. Snyder had owned the team for only — checks notes — 20 years. How was Snyder to have a handle on the environment in which his employees worked, much less know that the man he hired, promoted and empowered had, as Davis wrote, “racist, misogynistic, and homophobic beliefs he tolerated and espoused in his e-mail conversations with his friends”? That could not possibly have been gleaned by Snyder, who stood side by side with Allen at practice after practice from the time Allen was hired in December 2009 to the day he was fired in December 2019.

Davis’s missive was presented as a letter to the Oversight Committee to raise questions about the motivations behind and methods used in the committee’s investigation of Snyder. In reality, it was a press release. There were victims who endured the culture of the Commanders, sure. The real victim, the public needs to know, is Daniel M. Snyder.

This is who Snyder is: When pushed to apologize for gross misconduct, he apologizes. “On behalf of the organization,” he wrote to his employees in the wake of the initial Washington Post report on the franchise’s workplace culture, “we want to apologize to each of you and to everyone affected by this situation.”

But when the moment has passed and the heat is turned up, he can’t help himself in blaming others. He is a middle-schooler who invites his buddies over to play stickball, and when a window breaks he immediately points at everyone else. He wants credit for anything good and absolution for anything bad.

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Look, I’m not here to stand up for the congressional investigation. Maybe Davis is right in pointing out omissions in the pool of interviewees and redactions of presentations that result in misleading conclusions. Given the explosive and thorough reporting on this situation in The Post over the past two-plus years, there can’t be high expectations that congressional staffers with more important issues on their plates and an apparently small witness list will turn up much more.

But this entire affair presented Snyder’s best opportunity to reset his reputation. The steps aren’t that difficult. Just reiterate, over and over: The previous culture was unacceptable and unforgivable. I am responsible. I have to fix it.

Instead, it has devolved to: Look at the culture these other people created and the mess I had to clean up.

It’s instructive that the first headline item in Davis’s nine-page letter reads “Evidence Regarding the Team’s Turnaround and the Current State of Its Workplace,” and the second reads “Disregard Evidence.” Here’s the Snyder playbook in action: Building up the case for him — through team president Jason Wright’s inclusive, progressive approach — can’t help but be followed by the systematic denigration of others. Plus, there’s no acknowledgment — none — that the “Team’s Turnaround” was necessary because of the unsavory management teams Snyder installed over two decades

“That progress has not been easy,” Davis wrote. “Indeed, it has involved terminating many longtime employees who did not embody the culture that the new management team is attempting to foster. Those terminated individuals are, in many cases, resentful about their departure from the Team.”

Those terminated individuals were, in every case, hired by Snyder or Snyder’s hires. The next section of Davis’s letter disparages four former employees, including Allen, who testified before the committee or to committee staff.

Think this is just he-said, she-said stuff? It’s not. Picture a current Commanders employee who is following it all. Wright and his team may be in the midst of creating a safer, more diverse, more welcoming workplace. Snyder still owns the team and seems a scary combination of vindictive and petty. Would you feel comfortable raising red flags about workplace misconduct if your boss’s boss’s boss has such a history of striking back?

There is no divorcing Snyder from his NFL team — not its results on the field, not its environment in the building, not after 23 years. His lawyers’ letter to Congress doesn’t distance him from the culture he created and oversaw. It only draws new attention to his same old delusion. Blame Congress. Blame Bruce. Blame ex-employees with vendettas.

Washington’s NFL franchise has been of and about Daniel Snyder for going on a quarter of a century. The “single most significant step” in creating the team’s culture? It wasn’t hiring or firing Bruce Allen or anyone else. It was the day Snyder purchased the team.