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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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NFL’s Commanders Allegedly Used ‘Two Books’ To Track Finances

  • Congressional investigators received information in recent weeks about alleged financial irregularities.
  • The House Oversight Committee's investigation began as a probe on the team's workplace culture.
Snyder Investigation
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

A Congressional committee is expanding the scope of its investigation into the Washington Commanders and is primed to use its subpoena power to delve into the finances of the team and owner Dan Snyder. 

At least one person familiar with the team’s financial health was already interviewed by committee investigators, who are now exploring whether the Commanders used “two books” of financial information that paint different pictures of the team’s money situation, sources with knowledge of the investigation told Front Office Sports.

The timing and number of subpoenas, as well as who specifically will be targeted, was not immediately known. FOS has learned some of what investigators are seeking through a series of interviews, most on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retaliation or because details of the investigation have not been made public.

  • The debt load Snyder has undertaken could be impacting the team’s finances. Snyder received a debt waiver from the league’s owners at the NFL’s annual meeting a year ago in order to finance a large chunk of the nearly $1 billion used to purchase the 40% of the franchise he didn’t already own.
  • The committee is seeking interviews and documents related to allegations that the Commanders used deceptive accounting practices. Per the NFL’s Constitution and Bylaws, clubs are required to submit a certified audit report annually.
  • Investigators also received allegations of pay disparity between male and female employees, including bonuses.

The investigation by the House Oversight Committee was launched in October amid numerous claims the team fostered a hostile work environment.

“The Committee continues to investigate the hostile workplace and culture of impunity at the Washington Commanders as well as the National Football League’s inadequate response and lack of transparency,” a spokesperson for the House Oversight Committee said in a statement to FOS. “The Committee will follow the facts wherever they may lead.”

The Republican side of the Oversight Committee issued a statement on Friday: “The leak of one-sided, unconfirmed, unsupported allegations from a disgruntled ex-employee with an ax to grind is just further proof the Democrats’ investigation is a waste of Congress’ time. Nothing the Committee has heard from any credible witness points to any financial improprieties; in fact, the only credible witness in a position to know the facts the Democrats have heard from has denied any such improprieties.”

Commanders officials told FOS at the NFL’s owners’ meeting in West Palm Beach, Florida, earlier this week that the team is in a healthy financial position.

“The team categorically denies any suggestion of financial impropriety of any kind at any time,” the Commanders said in a statement Thursday. “We adhere to strict internal processes that are consistent with industry and accounting standards, are audited annually by a globally respected independent auditing firm, and are also subject to regular audits by the NFL. We continue to cooperate fully with the Committee’s work.”

Launch of Congressional Inquiry

A league source told FOS that NFL officials learned in recent weeks that the House Oversight Committee was looking beyond allegations of a toxic workplace culture. 

The committee’s investigation began in the aftermath of racist and misogynistic emails published by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that were obtained — but not released publicly — as part of an investigation led by former assistant U.S. attorney Beth Wilkinson. 

The emails’ publication resulted in the abrupt resignation of Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who exchanged racist, homophobic, and sexist emails with then-Commanders executive Bruce Allen.

About 650,000 emails were reviewed as part of Wilkinson’s investigation, although the House Oversight Committee has been unable to secure many of the related documents.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the committee, didn’t rule out subpoenaing individuals or documents in an interview with FOS in February. She added that she expects NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to testify at a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing.

“My question to him is why haven’t you prohibited Snyder from having the franchise?” Speier said. “He’s not conducted himself in a manner that should allow him to continue to own the Commanders. In any other corporation, a board of directors would have booted him out a decade ago.”

Wilkinson was hired by the league in August 2020 to conduct an investigation into numerous allegations of harassment made by current and former team employees detailed by The Washington Post. 

The Commanders were fined $10 million in July, and Wilkinson recommended changes, many of which have been adopted by the team. 

At the same time the NFL announced the levies against the Commanders last July, Snyder stepped down from day-to-day operations of the team to focus on efforts for a new stadium to replace FedEx Field. His wife, Tanya Snyder, was named co-CEO and was at the owners meetings representing the team. 

Mystery of Snyder’s Status

There remains confusion among some league owners about what compelled Tanya Snyder to step into the leadership role, according to one source. The league didn’t publicly sanction Snyder at the conclusion of the last investigation, and representatives for Dan Snyder have told FOS and other outlets that it was his decision to step aside.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell increased the uncertainty of Snyder’s status Tuesday during the news conference closing out the league’s annual meeting.

“Dan Snyder has not been involved in day-to-day operations,” Goodell said. “I don’t believe he’s been at the facility at all, and when we continue to have league matters, Tanya has represented the team as the CEO both on a day-to-day basis but also here with the league.”

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told FOS that Dan Snyder not being at the owners’ meetings “is not an issue at all.”

“He could’ve been here had he wanted to be here,” Jones added “I wouldn’t make a lot of that. Tanya is a great replacement.” 

‘No Consensus’ on Snyder’s Future

While ProFootballTalk reported in February that Snyder’s support among ownership has eroded — which could put his grasp of the team in jeopardy — he still has supporters like Jones.

A source who has been present at several meetings earlier this week told FOS that “there’s no consensus [among owners] on how to handle Snyder.”

The House Oversight Committee investigation that could expose the inner workings of the team’s finances, as well as the latest independent investigation launched at the behest of the NFL, could alter the owners’ views of Snyder.

The league announced a second investigation of the Commanders  — this one led by former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White — on Feb. 18, days after the House Oversight Committee heard testimony from five former Commanders employees at a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill.

Former cheerleader and marketing manager Tiffani Johnston testified at the hearing that Snyder placed his hand on her thigh at a networking event and “aggressively pushed” her toward his limousine. 

In a statement, Snyder called the allegations “outright lies.”

The owners haven’t been briefed on the progress of White’s inquiry, a source told FOS — which doesn’t mean Snyder and his quest for a new stadium weren’t a topic of conversation at the meetings.

Impact of Investigations on Stadium Efforts

The Buffalo Bills received $850 million of public funding for a planned $1.4 billion stadium in a deal announced Monday. Also on Monday, it was reported that Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is seeking $500 million in bonds to help finance a new stadium for the Titans. 

The Commanders could get as little as $300 million to $350 million in public funding from Virginia for a planned $3 billion domed stadium and complex. The proposal is expected to come up for a vote once the state legislature begins a special session on Monday.

The team also lost Anheuser-Busch InBev as a sponsor last week, a partnership reportedly worth $4 million annually. The Commanders are now one of just six NFL franchises that doesn’t have a deal with the beverage giant. 

Goodell was asked if the league was concerned about the InBev deal not being renewed and the team’s ticket sales last season. The Commanders had the second-lowest attendance in the league in 2021.

“My understanding is that the early returns of ticket sales are going very well in Washington,” Goodell said. “They are making a lot of progress. We are very optimistic going into the season.”

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