Daniel Snyder had a phrase he used for getting what he wanted from others, according to a former Washington team employee: “Grin-f---ing.” Like a lot of things Snyderesque, the term strives to convey a master of the universe stance, casual business swagger, when really it’s dated verbiage that only a panting junior executive would use. Snyder is long on bluster and short on everything else, including competence, and his duplicity has made him chronically distrusted. What should worry Snyder now is how his fellow owners are grinning back at him.
The vulgar phrase describes a petty schemer who says whatever people want to hear, smiles and shakes hands in agreement and then does the opposite, gaslighting and screwing over whomever they grin at. This is how Snyder always has handled his franchise, and he so boasted about it that he often misunderstood who was using whom.
There are worse terms to describe the dynamic between Snyder and NFL management these days. Everyone is grinning. Snyder and influential Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones grinned cagily at each other at midfield as they shook hands on the field a couple of weeks ago. Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose entire management style has been a master class in disingenuousness, grinned through the wedding of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft over the weekend, then joined whole clusters of owners grinning at one another as they gathered for their quarterly fall meeting at a New York hotel Tuesday.
The grins had all the warmth of a school of sharks. Behind closed doors, the meeting included the usual “privileged” session. As Jones described it in his weekly radio interview with Dallas radio station 105.3 the Fan, these sessions are meant to be “wide open and the owners can just step up and bring ad-hoc-type things that aren’t on the agenda.” One item on at least some owners’ minds was how they might rid themselves of Snyder’s ooze of radioactive poison from incessant investigations of sexual harassment, alleged financial deception and other workplace abuses.
Unmistakably, the power play to force Snyder to sell is on. That was no longer in question after Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay held an extraordinary 15-minute impromptu media session in the hotel lobby during which he abandoned discretion and dropped an anvil on Snyder’s head. “I believe that there’s merit to remove him as owner,” Irsay declared, adding that he believed “potentially there will be” the required 24 votes among owners to do so. “I think serious consideration has to be given to the removal.”
The most remarkable thing about Irsay’s utterances was that they were so aboveboard. What a relief after all the hygiene theater of the past two decades. For years, Snyder has issued niceties in public while sinking a storied franchise into utter squalor with a variety of despicable underhanded practices, from foisting old peanuts off on fans to siccing private investigators on those who cross him.
And the league office has countenanced it — and even covered for it with its own double-dealing.
Even now, Snyder’s duplicitous grinning act continues. Absent from league meetings while he’s under internal discipline amid an ongoing investigation — his lawyers say he’s under no restrictions, but Goodell says there has been no change in his status since he ceded day-to-day control to his wife in July 2021 — Snyder sent a cloying personal letter to his NFL partners. He assured them of “the trust and goodwill between owners that I take quite seriously” and denied a report from ESPN that he allegedly used private investigators to acquire “dirt” on other owners to prevent an attempt to oust him.
But by now Snyder’s fellow owners are so well acquainted with him that they know not to listen to his words but to watch his actions. Another letter was sent out Tuesday, this one a reminder that Snyder indeed has a fondness for private detectives. It came from attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, who threatened to sue the NFL because they believe the names of women who were promised confidentiality during the league’s inquiries of Snyder’s workplace somehow made their way into his hands, exposing them to retaliation even as he pledged cooperation and transparency.
We can’t know whether Snyder has seriously tried to extort Goodell and his business partners or whether he’s guilty of trying to intimidate witnesses on an “enemies” list. What we can be sure of is that whenever Snyder thinks he’s fooling others, he’s actually fooling himself. His bad faith always doubles back on itself like a boomerang. He fools himself that he has found the right high-priced free agent or franchise quarterback to force on his dismayed coaches, and when it doesn’t work, it’s all the fault of underlings. He fools himself that he’s one good season from being loved by a fan base that has fled. He fools himself that he’s worthy of being called “Mr. Snyder” even though his behavior requires not courtesy but a floor mop.
Remember the lies about the waiting list for season tickets? The grinning assurances that a new training facility in Richmond would bring huge economic development, only for the city to be stuck with millions in debt that had to be paid with school funds? He grinned at lawmakers in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland equally while dodging their straightforward questions about what a new stadium would really cost taxpayers and how much revenue he would demand.
“I think they’re using everybody back and forth as they have been for eight years,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said. “They’re negotiating, trying to pit everybody against each other.”
All the parties ended up feeling played. And not one of them would make a deal with him.
Snyder might have saved himself from this gathering movement to divest him of the team if he had secured a rich new stadium deal. All might be forgiven if he could hand his business partners a shiny new dome. But he can’t. And the apparent reason? There’s just been too much “grin-f---ing” over the years. No one trusts a word he says.
This is what the league — and especially Goodell — gets for expediently allowing Snyder to abuse the entire NFL audience for so long: The blooming consequences of Snyder’s conduct have enveloped everyone. What provoked Irsay to such frontal honesty was his conviction that all of the owners have suffered reputational damage. “I think owners have been painted incorrectly,” he said.
“I believe it’s in the best interest of the National Football League that we look it squarely in the eye and deal with it,” Irsay added. “I think America, the world, expects us to as leaders.” When Goodell was asked at a late-day news conference whether he was surprised by what Irsay said, the commissioner replied shortly, “No.”
And he didn’t bother to say it with a smile.