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Saturday, June 22, 2024
Law

Commanders Owner Dan Snyder Allowed Toxic Culture, Report Finds

  • Commanders owner Dan Snyder was deposed as part of Congress' investigation into his franchise.
  • Snyder announced last month he was exploring a sale of the team he purchased in 1999.
Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder looking upset while crossing arms on sideline of NFL game
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder contributed to “a culture of fear” within the franchise that contributed to a hostile workplace environment, according to the House Oversight Committee’s final report released on Thursday.

“Our report tells the story of a team rife with sexual harassment and misconduct, a billionaire owner intent on deflecting blame, and an influential organization that chose to cover this up rather than seek accountability and stand up for employees,” Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) said in a statement. “To powerful industries across the country, this report should serve as a wake-up call that the time of covering up misconduct to protect powerful executives is over.”

Snyder announced Nov. 2 that he was exploring a potential sale of the team. Two sources with knowledge of the process told Front Office Sports that as recently as two weeks ago, Snyder was considering selling 20% or less of the team. 

But it’s widely believed around the league that Snyder will sell a controlling interest at the very least, with a likely total sale a likely outcome. Anything short would leave Snyder vulnerable to being the first owner in league history to be removed. 

“Committee Democrats’ investigation has had one goal since its inception: force Team owner Dan Snyder to give up the team,” the GOP side of the Oversight Committee wrote in a memo.

And the information unveiled by Congress could embolden the league owners to push harder for Snyder’s ouster.

“The results of the Committee’s investigation, as laid out in this report, are clear: sexual harassment, bullying, and other toxic conduct pervaded the workplace at the Washington Commanders and were perpetuated by a culture of fear instilled by the team’s owner,” the report stated. “The NFL, through the investigation conducted by [former assistant U.S. attorney Beth] Wilkinson, was aware that Mr. Snyder and other team executives not only failed to stop this misconduct but engaged in it themselves.”

The committee again took issue with common interest agreement entered into by the NFL and Snyder early in Wilkinson’s investigation that it claimed “prevented the NFL and the Commanders from releasing, without the other’s consent, any information exchanged between the team and the league during the investigation.”

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy countered that portrayal in a statement to FOS.

“No individual who wished to speak to the Wilkinson firm was prevented from doing so by non-disclosure agreements,” McCarthy said. “And many of the more than 150 witnesses who participated in the Wilkinson investigation did so on the condition that their identities would be kept confidential. Far from impeding the investigation, the common interest agreement enabled the NFL efficiently to assume oversight of the matter and avoided the potential for substantial delay and inconvenience to witnesses.”

The report stated that in his deposition, Snyder “gave misleading testimony about his efforts to interfere” with the NFL’s first outside investigation, which included the use of private investigators.

The committee’s report also stated that Snyder “claimed more than 100 times that he could not recall the answers to the Committee’s questions, including basic inquiries about his role as Team owner and multiple allegations of misconduct.”

Attached to GOP’s memo were several homophobic and misogynistic email exchanges between former Commanders executive Bruce Allen, ReliaQuest Bowl (formerly known as the Outback Bowl) President Jim McVay, and former Raiders coach Bruce Allen.

The committee began its investigation in October 2021, days after email exchanges between former Commanders executive Bruce Allen and then-ESPN analyst Jon Gruden were published by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Gruden resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders as a result of the racist, misogynistic and homophonic emails becoming public. 

Gruden alleged in a lawsuit that the NFL leaked the emails, something the league has denied. 

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The Oversight Committee focused on the toxic workplace issues that resurfaced with those emails. The Commanders were fined $10 million, and Snyder stepped aside from day-to-day duties with the team when the first outside NFL investigation concluded in July 2021. 

While Snyder remained an unpopular owner locally and former employees pushed for the NFL to disclose more about the outside probe led by Wilkinson, the Oversight Committee spawned a renewed focus on the franchise. 

  • The NFL tapped former SEC chair Mary Jo White to lead a second investigation, one that at first focused on allegations made by a former Commanders employee, Tiffani Johnson. Johnson alleged at a roundtable Oversight Committee hearing in February that Snyder put his hand on her inappropriately at a networking event. Snyder denied the allegation. 
  • Delving into details first reported by Front Office Sports, the Oversight Committee sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in April that alleged “senior executives and the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, may have engaged in a troubling, long-running, and potentially unlawful pattern of financial conduct.” Commanders lawyers called the allegations “uncorroborated and implausible” in response to the FTC. 
  • The FTC letter was also sent to the attorneys general in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. D.C. filed two lawsuits against the Commanders in November. Maryland and the Commanders agreed to a $250,000 settlement. Virginia’s probe remains ongoing. 
  • The Department of Justice also has an investigation pending into the team over alleged financial improprieties. 

As pressure began to mount on Snyder over the summer, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was the lone witness to testify at an Oversight Committee hearing in June. Snyder was out of the country at the time. 

Snyder, after a lengthy back-and-forth between Snyder’s and the committee’s lawyers, they ultimately sat for a deposition in July. In August, Allen sat for his deposition. Both lasted more than 10 hours.

In his deposition, Allen said he called NFL counsel Lisa Friel about the leaked emails.

“We didn’t do it at the league office.,” Friel said, per Allen. “It came out of their side.”

Allen said Friel was “pointing a finger at the team.”

Beyond the many investigations and owners anonymously voicing concerns to FOS and other outlets, Snyder’s grasp of the franchise became shakier after Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay’s comments at the NFL owners’ meetings in October.

“I believe that there is merit to removing him,” Irsay said.

While all that was going on, not much was known about the progress of Congress’ investigation. 

A release of the final findings has been expected during this lame-duck session as the Oversight Committee — like the rest of the House of Representatives — will be controlled by the GOP over the next two years when the next session starts in January. 

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Rep. James Comer (R-Tennessee), the current ranking member who will be the next chair of the Oversight Committee, stated on Nov. 16 that noted the investigation is “over” once the next session starts.  

“The Democrats’ sham investigation into the Washington Commanders has been an egregious waste of taxpayer-funded resources,” the GOP members of the Oversight Committee said in its Thursday memo. “From the beginning, Committee Democrats weaponized their power and pushed a one-sided investigation into a private company with no connection to the federal government.”

Maloney lost her primary in a redistricted congressional district to another powerful democrat, Jerry Nadler. Maloney leaves Congress amid a House Ethics Committee investigation that focuses on if  “she solicited or accepted impermissible gifts associated with her attendance at the Met Gala.”

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