During Daniel Snyder’s 24 years as owner of the N.F.L.’s Washington franchise, the team plummeted in popularity and became a textbook example of a toxic workplace. The announcement on Thursday that he has reached an agreement in principle to sell the Commanders came only after years of Snyder insisting that he would not part with the team.
Some will see injustice in Snyder walking away with a $6 billion parting gift — 7.5 times the $800 million he paid for the team in 1999 — despite the damage he inflicted on a franchise that was once beloved in the nation’s capital. But in a league where bad behavior is often excused by talent or money, it’s significant that Snyder is walking away at all.
We do not yet know why, exactly, Snyder finally decided to give in to the mounting pressures to sell. What is clear is that he hastened his departure by alienating his most powerful allies — his fellow team owners — and by seeking to discredit those who spoke up about workplace harassment rather than make changes in good faith.
Privately, several owners admitted they were tired of Snyder and ready for him to sell, but none would say so in public, either because of a lack of conviction or the fear of litigation. Finally, last October, the Indianapolis Colts’ Jim Irsay took the unusual step of telling reporters that there was “merit” to removing Snyder as a team owner, which would have required approval of 24 of the 32 owners.
Snyder’s response, through a team spokeswoman, was characteristically obstinate: “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.”
Two weeks later, Daniel Snyder and his wife, Tanya, announced that they had hired bankers to explore selling the team. The new ownership group announced Thursday is led by Josh Harris, an owner of the N.B.A.’s Philadelphia 76ers and the N.H.L.’s New Jersey Devils, for a record $6 billion.
For those who have been demanding change, the news of the sale was welcome, and rife with meaning.
“We expect that the N.F.L. now understands that such an abusive workplace for women is unacceptable,” Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, the lawyers for dozens of former Commanders employees who came forward with claims of workplace abuses, said in a statement.
The claims made by former Commanders employees dated back to at least 2006 and continued until 2019, almost the entire tenure of Snyder’s ownership.
Five former cheerleaders told The New York Times in 2018 that they were forced by the team to participate in a topless photo shoot and a night out with male sponsors during a 2013 trip to Costa Rica. In the summer of 2020, The Washington Post published two investigations in which a total of 40 women who worked for the team detailed sexual harassment and verbal abuse by male employees.
In addition to overseeing what a first N.F.L. investigation concluded was a “highly unprofessional” workplace, Snyder also was accused directly of misconduct. A woman who had been a marketing and events coordinator said at a congressional round table last year that Snyder put his hand on her thigh during a work dinner in 2005 or 2006 and that she resisted his attempts to lead her to his limousine. (Snyder said she was lying.) Additionally, The Washington Post reported that a team employee accused Snyder of sexually harassing and assaulting her in 2009 before reaching a $1.6 million confidential settlement.
Instead of trying to drum Snyder out, the N.F.L. showed him an escape hatch. It levied a $10 million fine against the team in 2021 but also allowed Snyder to borrow $450 million and buy out his limited partners, consolidating his control, and withheld the written report that detailed the findings of the first league-sponsored investigation into the Commanders’ workplace. But while the team repeatedly pointed to the steps it was taking to overhaul its workplace culture, Snyder kept fighting back, losing his grip on the franchise as he did.
In court filings, he accused his limited partners and his former longtime team president, Bruce Allen, of potentially playing a role in disparaging his reputation by spreading what he claimed was false information. The congressional inquiry, which examined the team’s and the league’s handling of the rampant claims of harassment, found that Snyder directed a “shadow investigation” to interfere with the N.F.L.’s first probe into his team. His tactics included using private investigators to harass and intimidate witnesses and creating a dossier of the people who had levied claims against the team.
Last February, the N.F.L. launched a second investigation into Snyder and the Commanders in response to new accusations of harassment and financial malfeasance uncovered through the congressional probe. N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell has committed to releasing the findings of this investigation publicly, regardless of whether Snyder is still a team owner when it concludes.
Snyder’s defiance characterized much of his decision-making as the team owner. He tried fruitlessly to buy the franchise another Super Bowl title by offering free-agent deals no other club would make. He long stood by his team’s racist nickname, asserting to USA Today in 2013 that he would “never” change it, despite growing public opposition and Native Americans speaking out about the harm it caused. Several years later, he was forced to change it under pressure from corporate sponsors.
Snyder had myriad opportunities to correct course and to take seriously the claims made against him and his team. Passing up these chances spelled his exit — a final failure that cemented his legacy but also provided hope for a once-proud franchise that could use some.
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