“Virginia should be the best place in America to live and raise a family,” Youngkin said during an appearance last week in Alexandria, Va., to declare that he wants to get Snyder a stadium in the state, “and maybe it’s the best place in America to have a professional football team too.” Days later, the Virginia house and senate passed similar bills that called for the formation of a state stadium authority and outlined a plan to use public money to fund a multi-billion-dollar development project centered on the construction of a new home for Snyder’s team, which now plays in Maryland and is known as the Washington Commanders. Snyder would be responsible for financing all but $1 billion of the project’s cost, with the shortfall coming from government bonds and new taxes .
This isn’t the first time a Virginia governor used an appearance in Alexandria to announce a plan to relocate the football team in the Old Dominion. The franchise’s last owner, Jack Kent Cooke, courted then-Governor Douglas Wilder about 30 years ago while Cooke was deciding where to put a stadium that he intended to name after himself. Cooke had initially hoped to build in D.C. near the site of RFK Stadium, but had to look at out-of-town sites after an ugly falling out with the mayor, Sharon Pratt Kelly. Cooke’s relationship with Kelly went south after the mayor publicly called him a “billionaire bully” and accused him of patting her on the butt and constantly referring to her as “my little lady” during meetings. Cooke and Wilder then made a deal to construct a stadium at an old rail yard called Potomac Yard, located in Alexandria just up the Potomac River from the Mount Vernon mansion Snyder just bought for $48 million cash.
NFL Commissioner Paul Taglibue joined Cooke, Wilder and Washington coach Joe GIbbs at a blowout press conference on the proposed site in July 1992 to announce their deal for what was to be called “Jack Kent Cooke Stadium at Potomac Yard.”
“We will have that stadium ready by the 1994 season, and nothing is going to stop us!” Cooke declared.
Wrong and wrong, as we now know. Northern Virginia residents rose up to say they didn’t want the state to spend $130 million in public money on something that would only add to the area’s traffic woes. In October 1992, just three months after the nothing-will-stop-us declaration, Cooke and Wilder confessed their deal was dead. Cooke ended up building a crummy stadium in hellish Landover, Md. The Potomac Yard space over time became a grotesque retail destination instead and has since been filled by every big box store and lousy restaurant chain known to man.
The wholesale rejection of a stadium deal by Virginians in 1992, it should be noted, came when Cooke’s team was beloved by everybody in the region and the popularity of the owner, billionaire bully or not, was skyrocketing. Washington had the defending Super Bowl champions and tickets to home games were probably the hardest to get in professional sports. Snyder in 2022 is a whole different story. By now he has almost completely emptied the goodwill reserves that conveyed when he bought the team from Cooke’s estate. The Commanders rank “dead last” in NFL attendance according to a recent survey, and the team has won two playoff games in its 23 seasons under Snyder.
But it’s more than losing that has made Snyder toxic. Basically every news organization has reported by now that Snyder’s workplace has long welcomed sexual harassment and marginalization of female employees. Tales of his own creepiness even got an airing recently in a Congressional hearing. As decreed by the editorial board of the Washington Post, a paper that has exposed grotesque cheerleader abuses and lots of other evils in Snyder’s operation in recent years, nobody should give a dime to such a rat.
“Virginians should reject any special treatment for Mr. Snyder,” the Post proclaimed in an unsigned opinion piece that ran in Saturday’s editions.
But rather than let the Snyder’s-a-creep argument stand as reason enough to not become bedfellows with him, the Post‘s thoughtfluencers took a pause from bashing the owner to throw in praise for another deal Virginia lawmakers made: the one in 2018 to bring Amazon’s new headquarters to the state. “Virginia enacted a fundamentally different bill granting up to $750 million in subsidies to Amazon, in 2019, as part of a deal with the company to locate its second headquarters in Arlington County,” read the editorial. “The funds were explicitly linked and timed to Amazon creating thousands of high-paying jobs.” The stadium pact, the editorialists argued, would bring no such economic benefits to the state.
The detour from Snyder bashing, brief as it was, was odd and clunky for at least a couple reasons. Not only does Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, own the Washington Post (as disclosed in the editorial), but he has also reportedly had intentions to buy an NFL team, including Snyder’s (as not disclosed in the editorial). The website Front Office Sports reported in February 2021 that a lawyer for Bezos, who built a mansion in D.C. as the Amazon headquarters were being constructed in the suburbs, contacted the Baltimore investment bank that was handling the buyout of Snyder’s minority partners to inquire about the sale. Bezos has never commented on the report.
The Virginia stadium bills have been sent to a conference committee to smooth out small differences. Youngkin has said he would sign the legislation as soon as it’s sent to his desk. No word yet on whether the governor will ban the NFL’s facemask mandate or players in the new stadium.
Disclosure: Dan Snyder once sued the author for writing mean things about him.