First things first: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As of right now, we know very little about a potential new phase in the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s investigation into the Washington Commanders. But we do know that the committee, which began its work by digging into the Commanders’ toxic workplace and widespread sexual harassment, is now reportedly looking into financial irregularities within the team’s operations.
The Washington Post was first to report yesterday on the committee’s widening of its investigation, and eventually got committee chair Carolyn Maloney to confirm that the committee has moved its investigation beyond its original focus. That report was followed up by one from Front Office Sports, which cited sources who added a tad more color. According to that report, the committee is looking into allegations that the Commanders have been engaged in some shady accounting practices, and may have even been keeping two sets of books in order to present a deceptive picture of the team’s financial situation.
That’s all that has been reported so far, and we are still a long ways away from any of this meaning anything. Looking into allegations of financial chicanery is a lot different than finding evidence of financial chicanery, and even if the committee does find that nefarious second book, would you be willing to bet any money at all on Dan Snyder suffering and personal consequences as a result?
But! If the congressional committee does somehow end up revealing a real-deal, cooking-the-books financial scandal, it wouldn’t necessarily have to result in Snyder going behind bars, or even losing his team, to have real consequences. What would make a scandal like this different from all the others that have sprung out of Commanders’ front office is not that it has the potential to finally be the one that sticks to Snyder, but that it could stick to everyone else.
The league has so far been able to weather Snyder’s festering presence within its ranks because it has been relatively easy to keep his stink confined to Washington. Snyder running an organization that empowers an old boys club that sexually harasses every woman in sight certainly does some reputational harm to the NFL itself, but it’s not any kind of existential threat. It’s easy enough for the league to build a wall around a scandal like that by launching an investigation and then, say, making sure that investigation doesn’t produce a single shred of documentary evidence before giving Snyder a slap on the wrist. We looked into it. Snyder’s been punished. Now let’s play football.
It’s much harder, however, to imagine the league office so easily sweeping away a scandal with the implications that this one could bring forward. If Snyder is really stewing up his accounts so badly that Congress couldn’t help but raise its eyebrows, then how is anyone supposed to buy that every other owner in the league isn’t doing the exact same thing? You think Jerry Jones, the guy who is currently engaged in a paternity suit that was preceded by millions of dollars in hush-money payments, is totally honest when it comes to reporting his finances? Do you think Jimmy Haslam, whose chain of truck stops defrauded truckers out of millions by skimming rebates on fuel purchases, is on the level? The league can try to write off a sexual harassment scandal as the result of a few bad actors, but engaging in shady accounting practices is just a thing that businessmen do, and NFL owners are nothing if not businessmen.
NFL finances are a black box, but even so I’d wager that anyone with more than two brain cells already assumed that NFL owners, and every other rich person in America, does not handle their accounts honestly. You can’t act on assumptions, though, which is why it could be meaningful if the committee does actually find hard evidence that Snyder has kept two sets of books. I’m not naive enough to think that such a revelation would result in Snyder going to prison, but it could finally reveal the truth of how business gets done in the NFL. How are the next CBA negotiations going to go if the players’ association can hold up Snyder’s secret ledger and say, we know you’re hiding the real money from us? How’s it going to work out for the next owner who goes begging for a stadium subsidy and has this investigation thrown back into his face?
Maybe I’m wrong. Even if it is revealed that Snyder has committed grand acts of accounting shenanigans, maybe nothing will change and business will go on as usual. But at least we’ll know a little bit more about how all of this actually works, and even right this moment we can be safe in the knowledge that Roger Goodell probably feels like a real moron for protecting Snyder for as long as he has. That’s worth something, I suppose.