NEW YORK — On a charged day when the controversy surrounding Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder dominated the public conversation, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he believes there are grounds for NFL team owners to consider voting to remove Snyder from their ranks, and Snyder sent a letter to his fellow owners denying allegations made against him and calling for unity.
“I assume we’re going to get into more and more discussion on that,” Irsay said Tuesday. “It’s a difficult situation. I believe that there’s merit to remove him as owner of the [Commanders]. I think it’s something that we have to review. We have to look at all the evidence, and we have to be thorough in going forward. But I think it’s something that has to be given serious consideration to.”
Irsay spoke on the issue for nearly 15 minutes before a large group of reporters at a hotel at which the owners were holding a one-day quarterly meeting. There was no vote on Snyder’s ownership taken Tuesday by the owners. It would require a vote of at least 24 of the other 31 owners to remove Snyder. Tanya Snyder represented the Commanders at the meeting.
“That’s not what we stand for in the National Football League,” Irsay said. “And I think owners have been painted incorrectly a lot of times by various people and under various situations. And that’s not what we’re about. ... There’s just a lot of closeness in this league. And I don’t think, some of the things I’ve heard, it doesn’t represent us at all. And I want the American public and the world to know what we’re about as owners.”
The league and the owners are awaiting the findings of an NFL-commissioned investigation of Snyder and the Commanders being conducted by attorney Mary Jo White.
“It is highly inappropriate, but not surprising, that Mr. Irsay opted to make statements publicly based on falsehoods in the media,” a Commanders spokesperson said. “It is unfortunate that Mr. Irsay decided to go public with his statement today, while an investigation is in process, and the team has had no opportunity to formally respond to allegations. The Commanders have made remarkable progress over the past two years. We are confident that, when he has an opportunity to see the actual evidence in this case, Mr. Irsay will conclude that there is no reason for the Snyders to consider selling the franchise. And they won’t.”
As the meeting concluded Tuesday evening, Snyder sent a letter via email to the other owners, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
“While we are all fierce competitors on the field, we are a part of this organization because we love football, our teams and our fans,” Snyder wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post and which was signed by only him. “Having the privilege to own a franchise in America’s sport is something I know none of us take for granted. Falsehoods and lies being spread about any of our organizations hurts our League, our players and our fans, and we simply cannot let them go unchallenged.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the owners were updated on the progress of the White’s investigation during Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Goodell said. “That’s what we talked about. … When Mary Jo White is done with her investigation, we still share that with the membership and share it publicly, as we committed to before. And I was very clear with [the owners that] there’s no reason for any speculation at this point in time or a discussion until we have the facts. And so that was my message to the ownership. And there was little or no discussion.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating the team’s workplace and could issue a final report in the coming weeks. The office of Karl A. Racine (D), D.C.’s attorney general, has nearly completed its own investigation of the Commanders and Snyder and is planning to take further action in the case, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
Irsay became the first NFL owner to say publicly the owners should consider removing Snyder.
“I believe it’s in the best interests of the National Football League that we look it squarely in the eye and deal with it,” Irsay said. “I think America, the world, expects us to, as leaders.”
Goodell said he was not surprised nor disappointed by Irsay’s comments.
“I just said and I said it to the membership: Speculation without facts is not a very positive thing to do,” Goodell said at a news conference as the meeting concluded. “I think everyone deserves to have facts and to make sure those decisions are made with facts. And the membership will have that opportunity.”
Goodell declined to provide a timeline for the completion of White’s investigation.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was followed out of the lobby of the hotel by a crowd of reporters after Tuesday’s meeting ended. Jones declined to answer most of the questions asked of him pertaining to Snyder. When asked how other owners feel about Snyder, Jones said, “I haven’t talked to them.”
Just outside the hotel, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft fielded similar questions as he awaited his ride. “You’re going to have to ask them,” Kraft said of his fellow owners’ views of Snyder.
Multiple owners told The Post last month that they believe serious consideration may be given to attempting to oust Snyder from the league’s ownership ranks, either by convincing him to sell his franchise or by voting to remove him.
“He needs to sell,” one of those owners said then. “Some of us need to go to him and tell him that he needs to sell.”
If Snyder could not be persuaded to do so willingly, NFL rules would require a vote of the owners to force him to sell.
“I think there will be a movement,” the same owner said last month. “We need to get 24 votes.”
Asked Tuesday whether he believes 24 owners would vote to remove Snyder, Irsay said: “I think potentially there will be. But we’ll see.”
Irsay said he could foresee a vote being taken at the annual league meeting in March. Before that, there is a regularly scheduled owners meeting in December.
“I said it’s under consideration, serious consideration,” Irsay said. “But I want to see the thorough investigation be put before us and see exactly what’s going on, including possible financial improprieties. I don’t know if that exists. But that’s another component to it that we have to see.”
The NFL launched White’s investigation after Tiffani Johnston, a former cheerleader and marketing manager for the team, said at a congressional roundtable in February that Snyder harassed her at a team dinner, putting his hand on her thigh and pressing her toward his limo. Snyder denied the accusations, calling them “outright lies.”
In June, The Post reported details of an employee’s claim that Snyder sexually assaulted her during a flight on his private plane in April 2009. Later that year, the team agreed to pay the employee, whom it fired, $1.6 million in a confidential settlement. In a 2020 court filing, Snyder called the woman’s claims “meritless.”
“It’s a regrettable situation,” Irsay said. “It pains me. … The founders of this league taught me you have to protect the game and protect what we’re about. This isn’t what we’re about.”
Irsay dismissed speculation in a report published by ESPN that Snyder may have used private investigators to gather information on Goodell and owners to attempt to dissuade any attempt to remove him.
“I don’t know about that,” Irsay said. “I could care less. You can investigate me until the cows come home. That’s not going to back me off, private investigators or any of that stuff. To me, I just shrug it off. It’s irrelevant to me. I don’t know about any of that stuff. I just focus on the issue [of] what’s happened in Washington. And, to me, it’s gravely concerning.”
Snyder wrote in Tuesday’s letter to the owners that the ESPN report “contains false and malicious statements” about the team and his family. Snyder described the allegation that team president Jason Wright lacked the power to make substantial change within the organization as “particularly shameful.” He denied hiring private investigators to seek damaging information about owners and Goodell.
“That is patently false and intended to erode the trust and goodwill between owners that I take quite seriously,” Snyder wrote.
In April, the House committee detailed allegations of financial improprieties by Snyder and the team in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission. Racine and Virginia’s Republican attorney general, Jason S. Miyares, announced they would investigate. The team has denied committing any financial improprieties.
Goodell said there has “been no change” to Snyder’s ownership status. The league announced in July 2021, following a previous investigation by attorney Beth Wilkinson, that the team had been fined $10 million and that Tanya Snyder, Daniel’s wife and the franchise’s co-CEO, would assume control of the team’s day-to-day operations for an unspecified period. His attorneys said last week that Daniel Snyder is “no longer under any NFL restriction” related to his involvement in the day-to-day operations of the franchise.