The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Daniel Snyder’s biggest issue with Redskins fans is his failure to understand them

Redskins owner Dan Snyder before the season opener in Arizona.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder before the season opener in Arizona. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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One by one, Daniel Snyder creeps into the heads, the water-cooler conversations and the kitchen-table chats of Washington NFL fans and forces them to abandon their love of his team because they find him so consistently and unendingly at odds with their core values.

Basically, Snyder insults them. He spits in their faces and thinks he can get away with it, even though the massive evidence of empty seats in his own shrinking stadium should wise him up.

So, one by one, they leave, seldom because of any one decision, but because of his annual avalanche of actions that range from the annoying to the infuriating.

After 20 years as the owner, Snyder can’t or won’t change. So, the trajectory of his team’s popularity now seems cast in stone: down, down, down, year after year, with brief upticks for occasional rays of light, such as the mirage of this season’s 6-3 start.

At this rate of fan alienation, Snyder’s team probably will fall behind the Stanley Cup champion Capitals and Nationals in local popularity within a decade.

If the Wizards and United want to dream of passing the Snyderskins, then within 20 years, aided by the NFL’s nightmare with CTE, that could happen, too.

This past week, Washington demonstrated its self-destructive modus operandi again. Desperate for any kind of talent upgrade in the aftermath of the gruesome injury to quarterback Alex Smith, it was the only team in the NFL that would touch Reuben Foster, the troubled young linebacker who has been arrested three times this year. A few days ago, he was accused of hitting his girlfriend.

Doug Williams says Redskins’ front office was united in decision to claim Reuben Foster

Snyder’s team did no serious investigation of Foster’s character or recent issues by reaching out to police. It claimed it talked to ex-Alabama teammates who now play for Washington, who vouched for him strongly. When asked about this, the first two (of six) former Crimson Tide players said, “No one talked to me.”

Earlier this year, desperate for a running back after a season-ending injury to their second-round draft pick, Snyder’s team signed unwanted Adrian Peterson, who in 2014 reached a plea deal to resolve his felony child abuse case stemming from him disciplining his young son with a tree branch. From a football standpoint, that move helped the team. But just like dozens of illustrations of Snyder’s disregard for the values of many of his fans, he ignored any blowback, or in the Foster case, even outrage. Snyder just grabbed a quick fix.

Peterson, a future Hall of Famer, has every right to be employed. Foster has not been convicted of anything. As a Washington coach said 15 years ago when asked about the ugly deeds of a newly acquired player, “He’s not in jail, is he?”

That seemed sort of funny at the time because scoundrel Steve Spurrier said it. But the Ol’ Ball Coach accidentally defined the minimum standard for the Danskins: You can’t be in prison — yet. This team would claim Paul Manafort on waivers.

It takes no imagination to predict the long-term demise of the Snyderskins’ fan base, only good eyesight. Look at FedEx Field.

About 15 years ago, a former GM of the Orioles told me, “You are watching the destruction of a great franchise.” Now, Baltimore, 47-115 last season, has lost 55 percent of its attendance from 20 years ago. It took many years for an awful owner to bring his own team that low. The deed was done in much the same manner as Snyder: with a hundred little horrors, not one huge malfeasance.

Despite removing seats from FedEx Field, Snyder’s team appears to have the NFL’s lowest percentage of occupancy, though the team won’t reveal the stadium’s capacity. The team that fibbed for years about its infinite waiting list now sees its tickets sold on the secondary market for the price of a deluxe latte. Every game has thousands of empty seats, and many who do trek to the Dangeon cheer for the visiting team.

Snyder is hardly the first businessman to live by charging all-the-traffic-will-bear. But what’s stupefying is that, even though he grew up in the D.C. area, he seems to have no insight into his customer base.

Whether it is his intransigence toward changing the team’s nickname, or his attack on the Washington City Paper for printing a list of dozens of his offenses to civility, or the backstabbing in his front office when ousting GM Scot McCloughan, Snyder’s team acts with all the tact, wisdom and compassion of the current White House.

Snyder’s own world view is irrelevant. But as a businessman, he ought to know the values and mores of his potential customers. This is an extremely progressive part of the country, where one could expect significant reservations about sticking so steadfastly to the team nickname, or giving the ball to a running back who has faced child abuse charges, or signing a linebacker just days after he was accused of hitting a woman. Maybe you could get away with some, or all, of those things in a different market. Here, any one of them could give fans pause. And one too many misgivings can lead to contempt.

Barry Svrluga: With Foster signing, Redskins remind us of who they are

Whether Snyder is defying environmental rules by cutting down trees on his property to improve his view or suing a financially struggling elderly woman for not living up to her multiyear pledge to buy season tickets, the owner seems to have no idea where he lives or the widely held views of his customers.

Ironically, Snyder’s team plays in one of the few parts of the country where he probably could have Peterson and Colin Kaepernick in the same backfield and not catch too much flak. Net-net, giving Kaepernick a shot in 2019, if he still wants it, probably would pull more fans back to the team than it would lose. To back such ideas in Washington isn’t brave. It’s almost cheap applause.

Last week, I got an email from a reader that included the following: “How can I continue supporting the team when the leadership views the world so differently than me? . . . I am so conflicted.”

This is how you lose ’em, Dan: one at a time.

Snyder and his enabler-in-chief, team President Bruce Allen, think that this Foster flap will blow over. They’re right: Most controversies recede. But that misses the bigger problem. This team, year after year, finds new ways to kill the enormous love it inherited from previous, far better, stewards of the team. Snyder Syndrome is progressive.

In accounting, many businesses are sold for more than the value of their tangible assets. That excess intangible value is called “goodwill.” When Snyder took over the team, that goodwill — much of it residing in our hearts — was colossal. Now, every year, that goodwill is impaired.

Who knew that a relationship between a town and a team, begun 81 years ago, might someday be so deeply impaired by just one man who, while born and raised here, reflects the values and behavior of so few of us?