By Ken Belson and Jenny Vrentas
As Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder faced two NFL investigations and a congressional inquiry into allegations of rampant sexual harassment of female employees, including by Snyder, his peers have kept silent about his future in the league.
That changed earlier this week, when Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters that there was merit to forcing Snyder to sell his team amid the reports of a toxic workplace and fiscal improprieties at his troubled franchise.
Speaking during a one-day league meeting in New York, Irsay was the first team owner to say publicly that Snyder should be removed. Over the past year, team owners have grumbled privately about Snyder’s tenure as owner of the Commanders and spoken on background in news media reports about his standing, but none have gone so far as to say he should be pushed out of the league.
Such a move would require at least 24 of the league’s 32 owners to take that extraordinary step. But Irsay said that for the good of the league, Snyder should sell the team he has owned since 1999.
“We have to act,” Irsay said. “He needs to be removed.”
Snyder did not appear to be at the meeting Tuesday. His wife, Tanya, represented the team.
The owners’ meeting had not concluded when Irsay spoke to reporters. At the end of the meeting, the team owners met among themselves, with no staff members present. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said afterward that he told owners that the league’s second investigation into Snyder is still ongoing and warned them not to speculate about the future of the team.
Irsay said he did not know if there were 24 owners willing to vote to push Snyder out.
“I think potentially there will be, but we’ll see,” he said.
When asked about the possibility of removing Snyder but allowing his wife, a co-owner and a co-CEO of the team, to continue running it, Irsay said that the Snyders should sell the franchise. Tanya Snyder has handled day-to-day operations of the team since July 2021, when her husband stepped away from his role after the league completed its first investigation.
In a statement, a Commanders spokesperson said Snyder has no intention of selling the team.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Irsay decided to go public with his statement today, while an investigation is in process, and the team has had no opportunity to formally respond to allegations,” the statement said.
It added: “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.”
Several owners, speaking on background, told The New York Times that they would be reluctant to force another team owner to sell their team because it sets a precedent that could be used against them. Owners have looked the other way at bad behavior of owners and the front offices of their teams if the problems are perceived to be contained and the team is financially successful.
Snyder has been embroiled in multiple scandals that have stained the league in recent years. Two years ago, Snyder feuded with three of his limited partners in dueling lawsuits over Snyder’s decision to withhold their dividend payments. That fight concluded with Snyder buying out the partners and retaining sole ownership of the Commanders franchise after owners from around the NFL voted to allow Snyder to increase his debt ceiling and borrow hundreds of millions of dollars in 2021.
In the midst of that fight, allegations of widespread harassment of women who worked at the team over many years surfaced in a July 2020 report by The Washington Post. Those claims, made by more than a dozen women, accused several Commanders executives and football personnel of abusive behavior over more than a dozen years. Male executives, the women said, commented repeatedly on their looks, sent them inappropriate text messages and pursued unwanted relationships.
Snyder initially launched an investigation of their claims before the NFL took it over in September 2020. In July 2021, Goodell said that the investigation found that “bullying and intimidation frequently took place, and many described the culture as one of fear, and numerous female employees reported having experienced sexual harassment and a general lack of respect in the workplace,” but did not release the report’s findings. (He said that they were only delivered verbally.)
Goodell fined the team $10 million and Snyder agreed to step away from the team for a year while working only on a handful of business topics, including finding funding to replace the team’s stadium, which is among the league’s worst.
The House Oversight Committee began its own investigation into the allegations at the behest of former female employees who were angered that the NFL’s investigation was not made public. At a committee roundtable, one woman claimed that Snyder harassed her, charges that he denied. Another former team employee said the team had withheld ticket revenue from the other 31 teams.
In June, a congressional panel said it found evidence that Snyder directed a “shadow investigation” of accusers, interfering with the league’s initial look into the harassment claims.
The following month, the committee questioned Snyder in a daylong deposition that was conducted privately.
This led the NFL to start its second investigation. The House Oversight Committee appears to have finished calling witnesses — including Goodell, Snyder and former team President Bruce Allen, who was fired at the end of 2019 and whom Snyder has blamed for the team’s toxic work culture. It is unclear when the committee will release its report.
Irsay said the owners should review all the evidence before making any final decisions. But on Tuesday, Irsay appeared to have made up his mind already. The troubles at the Commanders over the past 20 years at Snyder’s team have tarnished the league. Removing Snyder, he said, would help rebuild trust.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” he said. “But I believe it is in the best interest of the National Football League that we look it squarely in the eye and deal with it. I think America, the world expects us to, as leaders.”