The Dan Snyder Era for the Washington Commanders Will Be Unforgettable for All the Wrong Reasons

The Washington Commanders have found a buyer, with Sportico reporting that Josh Harris, Magic Johnson, and others formed a group to purchase the team from Dan Snyder. ESPN reported that Canadian billionaire Steve Apostopolous was another potential bidder, but the sale has been finalized for the Harris-Johnson group, per Ian Rapaport of the NFL Network.

Harris, a member of ownership groups for the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia 76ers, and Crystal Palace F.C., as well as a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers — shares of which he would have to sell off before the sale finalizes — originally made his fortune through finance, much like Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper.

It seems fitting that as the Commanders establish a new team name and a new potential stadium, they would enter a new ownership era, allowing them to move on from the team Snyder bought in 1999 — changing everything from the actual colors of the jersey to the place they play in and, hopefully, the team culture.

This change at every level of the organization might be what allows the team to move on in the memories of NFL fans across the league and earn respect as a new-look Commanders in a way fans might not have for another team.

A Look Back at Dan Synder’s Time in Washington

There’s a lot to move on from. Putting aside the mismanagement of the Six Flags empire that resulted in bankruptcy, accusations of racist marketing practices and his eventual ouster from the board, or the allegations that Snyder Communications (his company) forcibly switched consumer’s phone providers without their consent, Snyder’s management of the team itself was a disaster in every capacity.

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Even the beginning of the Snyder era felt like a sign of things to come. After the previous owner, Jack Kent Cooke, died in 1997, the ownership of the team fell to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. The foundation was run by his son, John Kent Cooke, and there were explicit instructions to sell the team.

As John Kent Cooke attempted to gather the capital to buy the team outright, he named the new stadium in Landover, Maryland, after his father. After he failed to raise those funds, the NFL approved the sale of the team to Snyder. It took six months for Snyder to sell the naming rights of Jack Kent Cooke stadium to FedEx.

Dan Snyder Meddled With Football Operations

Snyder was remarkably intrusive on the football personnel side and moved from there to become shockingly intrusive on the coaching side as well. After purchasing the team and changing the stadium name, Washington went on a Snyder-directed spending spree for star power that includes big contracts in 2000 for Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George, Stephen Davis, and Mark Carrier.

This would continue a pattern of expensive, high-profile free agents at the end of their careers, including Albert Haynesworth, Adam Archuleta, Jeremiah Trotter, Josh Norman, and Brandon Lloyd. Of course, Snyder loved committing money, but he didn’t like paying it out. He organized the contracts for the 2023 free agents so that their money wouldn’t come out of company coffers until the expected sale of the team.

When Brad Johnson was benched for Jeff George, Johnson alleged that the decision was Snyder’s to make, not interim head coach Terry Robiskie’s, saying, “I think that decision’s made from up top. … I think it’s obvious.”

Robiskie all but confirmed it in response.

“A lot of people want to separate us from Mr. Snyder. Mr. Snyder owns the football team. I know that,” he said. “I promise you there’s very few things in the building I’m going to say I want to change without calling him to say I want to change it. If I wanted to change my desk, I’m going to call him and say I want to change my desk. If I want to change quarterbacks, I’m going to call him and say, ‘What do you think of me changing quarterbacks?’ It’s his football team. To try to separate it, we’re wasting our time.”

Snyder objected to the type of defense coordinator Mike Nolan was calling, as author Jon Feinstein details in his book Next Man Up:

Early that season, after a Redskins loss, Snyder told Nolan that his defensive calls were “too vanilla.” Like the other coaches, Nolan had figured out by then that trying to explain football to Snyder was pointless, since he already had the game figured out. A few days later a gallon of 31 Flavors ice cream showed up on Nolan’s desk with a note that said, “This is what I like. Not vanilla.”

Nolan laughed and sent Snyder a note: “Thanks for the ice cream. My kids enjoyed it.”“The first time it was actually kind of funny,” Nolan said. “I didn’t mind it at all.”The next time wasn’t as funny.The Redskins lost on the road to Dallas, and Nolan went into his office late Sunday night to start looking at game tape. When he arrived, there were three giant canisters of melting 31 Flavors ice cream on his desk with another note: “I wasn’t joking. I do not like vanilla.”

It’s well known that Snyder openly favored Robert Griffin III over Kirk Cousins throughout their overlapping tenures in Washington, intervening with coaching decisions and openly ignoring Cousins in the locker room, even after big wins, in order to console Griffin and assure him he was the franchise quarterback.

It is perhaps no surprise that Washington placed dead last in the NFLPA survey of player working conditions. As the report indicates, “Besides the strength coaches who received great feedback and grades as one of the best groups in the league, the rest of the club’s operations and facilities were rated by player respondents at the bottom of every single category.”

Players didn’t think Snyder would be willing to invest in the team, with the survey results saying, “The locker room does not have confidence that club owner Dan Snyder is willing to invest to upgrade the facilities, as player responses rank him 31st in this category.”

The players felt that they had the worst access to athletic trainers and physical therapists and had one of the worst team facilities for access to hot tubs and cold tubs for recovery. Players indicated that they didn’t want to do rehab in the facility — one of the only teams where this was true — and had among the least locker room space in the league.

The team ranked 27th in win percentage in the Snyder era and 28th in point differential. That’s not a surprise, given the broken culture that has pervaded every level of the team operation, including the front office and coaching side.

Dan Snyder Ran the Most Toxic Organization in Football

Outside of football operations, Snyder ran a toxic organization. Workers had to sue to receive rightfully earned overtime hours, an attempt that was stymied by the contract language Snyder put in that required workers waive their right to sue and instead seek arbitration through a Snyder-hired firm without any public record of access.

After some of the workers sought legal relief, the team fired anyone who had retained the services of the lawyer who drafted a letter requesting overtime pay.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Snyder was forced to pay a nanny who had sued him for missing overtime pay as well.

Those aren’t the headline-grabbers, though. The allegations surrounding Snyder’s oversight of the working environment are numerous. The Washington Post published accusations from 15 alleged victims, who came forward about the rampant emotional and sexual abuse they faced while working for the team and the environment rife with sexual harassment.

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Shortly thereafter, the Washington Post published a follow-up piece with more allegations that included reporting on an incident where Washington employees, under orders from above, filmed cheerleaders during a photoshoot without their knowledge over multiple years, calling the shoots “the good bits.”

Those are independent of the allegations involving Snyder directly, like one where he allegedly pressured a cheerleader to have relations with Washington Commanders suite holders, and others where he allegedly had women fired from non-public facing roles for not looking sufficiently attractive as well as establishing a set of formal and informal policies preventing women from advancing up the organization.

And yet even more allegations have surfaced, as reported in the New York Times in 2018, where Snyder and Washington team executives allegedly withheld passports from cheerleaders who traveled to Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot, pressuring them into nude shoots and into escort service with VIPs.

Prior to any of those reports was a sexual assault allegation from 2009 that Snyder settled for $1.6 million.

Scandals like these, particularly the most recent ones, inspired a federal congressional investigation and made working with local politicians untenable. The congressional investigation brought forth even more witnesses with testimony to new incidents of misconduct as well as evidence in the form of emails, text messages, telephone records, and social media posts.

Dan Snyder Seemingly Resented Washington Commanders Fans

Snyder also seemingly resented fans, attempting to monetize every aspect of their experience from the first day. In addition to becoming the first owner to charge admission for training camp practices, he put in place a ban on pedestrians near FedEx Field on gamedays, citing “safety concerns.”

The ban was lifted a few years later after a lawsuit alleging that the ban was put in place to incentivize fans for paid parking was filed. Snyder has since tried similar bans in other municipalities for other entertainment properties he owned.

He had also tacked on a mandatory parking fee for any events hosted in FedEx Field, regardless of whether someone who had paid for admission was going to arrive via public transportation or carpool. Around the same time, Snyder attempted to force anyone hoping to buy a season ticket to buy one through a Redskins Extra Points MasterCard, a scheme he dropped soon after announcing it.

For all that price gouging, Washington could not invest in stadium upgrades or the fan experience. Instead of investing in a high-definition screen for fans at the stadium — allowing them access to highlights and score updates around the league, as has been standard for decades — Washington rented out individual KangarooTV devices for $24.95 for that experience.

Snyder also banned homemade signs in the stadium after seeing a number of them critical of the team and his ownership, citing safety concerns. He reversed the ban after PR fallout and just in time for Washington to strike a deal with GEICO to hand out signs at the entrances to the stadium.

On top of that, FedEx Field has been literally falling apart and has had recent issues with a rainwater system that spewed out foul-smelling liquid initially mistaken for sewage.

Dan Snyder Failed To Run a Franchise and Allegedly Threatened and Defrauded Owners

This alleged behavior isn’t reserved for people lower than Snyder on the perceived totem pole, either. More recent reporting, this time from ESPN, details Snyder’s fights with other owners that includes accusations that he was willing to threaten, blackmail, or otherwise employ private investigators in order to retaliate against his perceived enemies among the ownership.

Snyder’s attempts to extract money fell short, and the franchise has become significantly less profitable than its peers, with Snyder forced to engage in dubious financial practices in order to recover more money from the franchise. Business sponsors have pulled out, and Snyder has allegedly hidden gate receipt revenue in order to prevent sharing revenue with the other owners of the NFL.

He also stands accused of illegally securing loans without the approval of the team’s board of directors — a federal crime with heavy penalties — and would charge the team for arbitrary expenses, including a $4.5 million charge for putting the team logo on a private jet that he technically owned and leased to the team.

When attempting to sell minority shares in the team, partners allege that they received financial information that Snyder “mismanaged” team assets and “had engaged in self-dealing and other misconduct.”

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That resulted in an enormous drop in team revenue from 2017 to 2020 and missed payments from Snyder to the other team owners. Snyder resisted explaining lines of credit drawn in the team’s name, according to the accusations, refused to call board meetings, and then charged the team for more arbitrary expenses — the expenses included private security and a private yacht party.

As the petition against Snyder indicated, “Snyder used the proceeds from the Credit Agreement to disguise [the team’s] poor operating performance and cash flow problems, and, at least in part, to enrich himself improperly at the expense of [the team] … and other stockholders.”

Eventually, the minority owners entered arbitration to sell their shares of the team. Just three years later, Snyder would be forced to do the same.

The end of the Snyder era ends one of the most disastrous ownership eras in the history of football. Snyder disrespected fans, media, other owners, his employees, coaches, players, and others. He turned a historic franchise into a laughingstock and depleted it of its assets. He poisoned his relationship with the community and couldn’t even secure one of the easiest deals in football — a new stadium.

With a new ownership structure in place, a new stadium potentially in the offing, and a new team identity already established, it may very well be the case that Washington can put all the vestiges of this ownership era behind them.

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