There aren’t any winners in the Deshaun Watson situation. But hell if Dan Snyder hasn’t benefited from Watson’s grotesque mess.
Watson’s potential punishments and the awfulness that led up to them has been the top sports story in the land in recent weeks, and completely overpowered the briefly keen national interest in Snyder’s no-goodnickness. After months of buildup, there’s been no news about the Commanders owner’s July 28 deposition for federal lawmakers.
Snyder, the first guy in American history to inspire a series of Congressional hearings just by being a lousy sports owner, had spent the summer on his big boat avoiding appearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The House sessions came as a result of the public outcry that followed the NFL’s failure to release any written report from the allegedly expansive investigation by D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson into the systemic toxicity of Snyder’s football operation. Snyder was fined $10 million by the league and suspended indefinitely from running the franchise, with his wife allegedly installed to call all the shots. The league has also announced it will oversee another Snyder investigation, this one run by former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White, and promised to make those findings public.
But that wasn’t enough punishment for Congress. The Oversight and Reform Committee began this winter not only digging into Snyder’s workplace, but holding public hearings that became wholesale floggings of the most despised owner in sports. Many of the accusations against Snyder seemed overwhelmingly inconsequential; one former employee, for example, breathlessly told lawmakers that Snyder failed to properly refund season ticket deposits to deserving fans two decades ago, and that to avoid sharing revenues with fellow owners he diverted $88,000 in ticket sales from WFT home games to make it look like the money came from a 2013 Kenny Chesney concert. Ho-hum …
But the tales of harassment of female employees in team headquarters were plentiful and heinous. The most disturbing allegation to come out of the hearings, and one of the few cases discussed that directly involved Snyder, involved the owner allegedly sexually assaulting a female employee on his private jet in 2009. According to testimony, Snyder paid the employee $1.6 million to settle a claim that he was “asking her for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes” during a flight home from a country music awards show in Las Vegas. Snyder has denied the assault, but not the settlement.
Snyder faced these charges in absentia. Chairwoman Carol Maloney (D-NY) coaxed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to show up in June via the internet and mostly serve as a proxy punching bag for Snyder, who declined to appear. (To call attention to Snyder’s no-show, the committee set a nameplate and empty chair for Snyder at the witness table in the hearing room.) The only highlight from almost four hours of Goodell testimony about Snyder came near the end, when Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) ended an angry monologue about the league’s failure to hold Snyder accountable by asking, “Will you remove him?”
“I don’t have the authority to remove him,” Goodell said with a sigh.
Snyder’s excuse for the continued failure to testify was that he was out of town, either on business or for family matters. He probably watched Goodell while floating somewhere in the Mediterranean on the Lady S, a $192 million yacht with its gaudy-even-for-Snyder IMAX theater that surely enabled him to see every drop of Goodell’s sweat that fell while trying to rationalize not banishing the worst owner in sports.
Maloney et al kept up the heat on Snyder with more invites and subpoena threats following the Goodell appearance. And Snyder continued declining invitations and avoiding subpoenas by staying overseas or in international waters. Snyder went so far as to blame his non-compliance on his deceased mother; Karen Patton Seymour, a foot soldier in Snyder’s army of attorneys, told Congress her client would be in Israel in observance of the Jewish tradition of yahrzeit, a remembrance of a loved one on the first anniversary of their death.
Snyder had at least one big reason to cave to the feds’ demands for his testimony: Time is running out on his bid to find a location for a new stadium. He wants to leave his current dump, FedExField, as soon as the deal he made with Maryland authorities to stay there expires in September 2026. Stadiums, much like Rome, take more than a day to build. As much as politicians love giving away public money to billionaire sports owners, Snyder was an impossibly hard sell for any elected official even without a federal investigation hanging over his head. One way or another, he needed the congressional inquiry resolved.
So Snyder in late July suddenly stopped running, or floating away, and told the committee he would answer members’ questions, even under oath. That’s a big deal for a guy who long ago quit doing media interviews unless his wife was allowed by his side. (I can’t remember any Dan-Snyder-only sit-down interviews since Super Bowl week in February 2011.) After seeing how Goodell was treated, Snyder amazingly got the lawmakers to accept his condition that the testimony not be made immediately public. And it’s stayed secret so far. Information about Snyder’s longstanding treatment of cheerleaders as boy toys is apparently more classified than our nation’s nuclear codes.
There’s been next to nothing released about the content of Snyder’s sworn deposition, weeks after he sat for questions. No transcripts or video have come out. Rep. Maloney’s press secretary, Adrien Lesser, referred all questions about Snyder’s appearance to the Committee on Oversight and Reform staff. That committee’s spokesperson, Nelly Decker, did not respond to emailed questions about video and transcripts from Snyder’s deposition.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) told Front Office Sports shortly after Snyder’s appearance that she watched “about an hour” of Snyder’s estimated 11 hours of testimony. While she didn’t give any specifics, the shadow representative said she thought the owner was “largely truthful.” (Though “largely truthful” isn’t exactly comparing him to Gandhi, Rep. Norton’s words are still perhaps the nicest public statement made about Snyder in this century.)
House members won’t return from summer recess until Sept. 6. Sharon Nichols, spokesperson for Rep. Norton, told Defector that her boss has not been informed by the committee leaders about any timetable to release any information about Snyder’s testimony. “They don’t want to make him unnecessarily mad,” Nichols said, “because they want his cooperation.”
The vacuum of atrocious Snyder news was almost immediately filled with atrocious Deshaun Watson news. On Aug. 1, or mere days after Snyder sat for his deposition, Judge Sue Robinson handed down a recommended punishment for Watson. Robinson, who was jointly appointed as disciplinarian by the NFL and NFLPA, suggested a six-game suspension and no fine for the wannabe Cleveland Browns quarterback, who has been accused by dozens of women of various acts of sexual misconduct.
Goodell and the NFL, who had reportedly asked for an indefinite suspension and big fine as Watson’s punishment, quickly appealed the proposed penalty. But recent reports hold that the commissioner and team owners could settle the matter for as little as an eight-game suspension and a fine.
Watson has already done Snyder a solid just by diverting attention away from the owner’s alleged sexual improprieties. According to official NFL edicts, owners must abide by the same personal conduct policy that players are held to. And, according to that policy, violators in the front offices can face more severe punishment than players: “Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of the Personal Conduct Policy occur.”
Yet even if Watson walks away with the more severe punishment proposed by Goodell and not the judge, and nothing more, that sure looks like a boost for Snyder’s efforts to hold onto his franchise. Reports say the Houston Texans have settled claims made by 30 women for the team’s role in their being allegedly sexually assaulted by Watson. That’s a lot of bad deeds for just eight games and some cash.
Snyder has already been forced to step away from running the Commanders for more than eight games, and paid a $10 million fine (an amount which is literally less than he spends on gas for his yacht). Even accepting that “more significant discipline” is on the table for the owner under the league code, it’s unlikely the record as it stands will be enough for Goodell to give Snyder the death penalty and take his team away on top of the retribution the league has thus far exacted.
So unless Goodell learns that Snyder confessed during his sworn testimony to more despicable deeds than were previously known, or the owner is found to have perjured himself during the deposition, or the Mary Jo White investigation turns up a helluva lot of dirt that Beth Wilkinson didn’t uncover—as in more harassment and assaults, not laundering a relatively few bucks here and there using the Kenny Chesney Method—Snyder’s not going anywhere.
But even if after all this hubbub Snyder is still standing, these investigations weren’t for naught. The deposition tapes will surely be a goldmine of material for anybody who finds Snyder fascinating or loathsome or both. Eleven hours of Snyder, under oath and under the gun? Good god. Come on, Congress: Release the tapes!
Commanders president Jason Wright did not respond to a request for comment.
Do you have a transcript or video of Dan Snyder’s deposition? Nicely! Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure: Dan Snyder once sued the author for writing mean things about him.