News & Politics

Q&A: Could Dan Snyder Lose His NFL Team Over Revelations About a Sexual Misconduct Settlement?

Mark Leibovich says NFL owners have been "harshly" disciplined over past cases.

Photograph by Flickr user Keith Allison.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that an accusation of sexual misconduct against Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder by a female ex-employee resulted in a 2009 confidential settlement that included a $1.6 million payment to the alleged victim.

The news capped a series of tawdry stories about the team’s workplace culture over the past six months. Back in the summer, the Post published a pair of stories detailing claims of widespread sexual harassment at the organization. The NFL is now conducting an investigation into these allegations.

Snyder, who vowed to clean up the culture of the organization and brought in a high-profile lawyer to help, denied having any role in the incidents that The Post described in the articles over the summer. And in court papers, he’s connected some of the bad press to a legal battle with several of the team’s minority owners, who have been seeking to sell their stakes in the team. According to filings reported this weekend in the New York Times, a former assistant to one of those minority owners had over 100 contacts with Post phone numbers, part of an alleged effort to leak damaging information against Snyder. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the league recently hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to look into allegations that one of the minority owners, Dwight Schar, has orchestrated a smear campaign against Snyder.

But the Post‘s scoop about the alleged $1.6 million payoff represents a new zig in the story. Even before the confidential settlement became public, Snyder was in “real danger” of losing the team, according to Mark Leibovich, the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and the author of Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times. During an interview with Washingtonian back in September, Leibovich, who spent years immersing himself in the small world of the NFL’s ownership class as part of his book research, said that “the league would love an excuse to get rid of [Snyder]. They have been looking for one for many, many years.”

In light of the recent developments, I reached back out to Leibovich for his thoughts on how the news of the confidential settlement figures into the likelihood that the NFL’s owners and commissioner could strip Snyder of his ownership of the team.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that an accusation of sexual misconduct against Snyder by a female ex-employee resulted in a 2009 confidential settlement that included a $1.6 million payment to the alleged victim. How do you think this news will be received by the other NFL owners and Roger Goodell? 

The news obviously will not be received well, although it’s not like this is a new theme with the Washington Football Team. The WFT has been a problem franchise for the NFL for a while now. There is an ongoing investigation about their culture – and insomuch as Snyder’s own conduct is now a source of inquiry, this is potentially dangerous to him. But I’m guessing the league was already aware of what the Post reported [yesterday].

How do you think this news will impact the internal politics among NFL owners with regard to Snyder? 

Again, I think the narrative about the team inside the league – that it’s a problem – has been pretty well cemented over a long period. Snyder has never been especially well liked by the other league owners. This obviously will not help matters.

When we spoke before, you told me that, “the league would love an excuse to get rid of [Snyder]. They have been looking for one for many, many years.” Do you think that yesterday’s news will serve as the development that the owners and the league need to strip Snyder of his ownership of the team? 

It could. NFL owners have been disciplined in the past, and harshly, over sexual misconduct cases. In this case, it depends what the facts are, and what the NFL’s investigation reveals. Certainly, Snyder can’t hide behind any “confidentially” clause when it’s the league that’s asking the questions.

Don’t Miss Another Big Story—Get Our Weekend Newsletter

Our most popular stories of the week, sent every Saturday.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.
Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.