When Daniel Snyder, at 34, became the youngest person to buy an N.F.L. franchise in 1999, he ushered in a wave of optimism and promise for the Washington franchise, a bedrock of the league.
Coming off a 6-10 season, the team still raked in revenue from an ardent fan base that flocked in droves to the suburban Maryland stadium named for its late owner, Jack Kent Cooke. The franchise’s biggest worry back then was how to finance parking that would accommodate them all, a concern that didn’t seem to trouble Snyder, a lifelong fan who called buying the team “the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“In my dreams," Snyder said after the sale was confirmed, “we’d win the Super Bowl next year.”
By the time he agreed in principle to sell the Washington Commanders for a record $6 billion on Thursday, Snyder was ravaged by scandals which drew N.F.L. investigations and legal inquiry. The formerly brash, big-spending owner had been pressured into changing the team’s name and logo, buying out his partners and, eventually, to awaken from a dream which had turned into a nightmare for many.
Despite Snyder’s dream, the team never won the Super Bowl in his tenure, or even made it as far as a conference championship game.
Here are some key moments from Daniel Snyder’s tenure as owner of the N.F.L.’s Washington Commanders.
Snyder spends big on splashy free agents.
Stirring the fan base early, Snyder added future two future Hall of Famers, defensive end Bruce Smith and cornerback Deion Sanders, who signed a seven-year deal worth up to $56 million, as well as quarterback Jeff George. The moves backfired: Snyder fired Coach Norv Turner after Week 14, Washington missed the playoffs, and Sanders retired.
Washington becomes the first team to charge for training camp.
In a move that has since become the norm around the N.F.L., the team became the first to charge admission for training camp practices. Snyder said that the $10 a person charge would help improve access to players.
Jan. 7, 2006
A playoff drought begins.
Washington won, 17-10, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2005 N.F.C. Wild Card game, the franchise’s last playoff victory.
Washington sues fans for $3.6 million.
In the midst of the Great Recession the team sued 125 fans for trying to back out of contracts to purchase season tickets. The team won judgments of $2 million against the fans, including many who defaulted on the contracts because of financial losses during the economic downturn.
Fans are barred from bringing signs and banners to games.
After starting the season 2-4, the team stripped head coach Jim Zorn of the responsibility to call plays, handing it to an assistant coach lured out of retirement in Week 5. The team banned spectators from bringing any signs or banners into FedEx Field, citing security and comfort, after an increase in the number of signs critical of Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, a front office executive. Washington lifted the ban a month later.
Snyder sues Washington City Paper for defamation.
Snyder sued The Washington City Paper for $1 million alleging that the 2010 article, “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder,” defamed him and included an antisemitic depiction of him. In an interview with The New York Times Magazine, Snyder said that he never read the article, which charted various public missteps, “because he heard all of the details.”
After seven months, Snyder dropped the lawsuit.
Unable to sell tickets, the team removes 10,000 seats from the stadium.
The team reduced the capacity of FedEx Field from 91,704, then the second-largest capacity in the N.F.L., to around 82,000 after failing to find takers for many 400-level seats.
Team gets salary cap penalty
An independent arbitrator upheld the N.F.L.’s decision to fine Washington and the Dallas Cowboys for overspending on player contracts during the league’s uncapped 2010 season. Washington was penalized $18 million a year for two years, and Dallas paid $5 million a year for two years.
Snyder joined Jerry Jones in fighting the penalties, one of many times the owners of two of the most valuable franchises bonded on a host of league issues including labor and television rights negotiations. Cornerstones of a bloc of hard line owners, the friends even filmed a Papa John’s commercial together in 2010. Jones would remain Snyder’s staunchest ally as scandals enveloped the Washington franchise.
Facing protests over the team’s name, Snyder says it will “never” change.
For almost 90 years, Washington’s pro football team was known as the Redskins, a word that is considered a slur against Native Americans. Facing protests over the name and mascot, and a federal lawsuit over the trademark, Snyder told USA Today that he would never change the name. “It’s that simple. Never — you can use caps,” he said.
Cheerleaders accuse the team of sexual harassment.
In 2018, five former cheerleaders told The New York Times that they were sexually harassed and intimidated by the team and sponsors during a trip to Costa Rica for a swimsuit calendar photo shoot. The cheerleaders described being “pimped out” to the team’s male sponsors who were invited to photo shoots where the cheerleaders were made to pose for photos while scantily dressed or, in some cases, naked.
After an internal investigation that lasted four months, Washington announced changes to the cheerleading team, including “more conservative outfits,” the inclusion of male cheerleaders, and a ban on suite holders at the team’s photo shoots. In 2021, the cheerleading program was scrapped in favor a coed dance team.
July 13, 2020
Pressure from corporate sponsors leads Washington to retire its contentious nickname.
Days after the team’s biggest corporate sponsor, FedEx, asked the team to reconsider its name and mascot, Washington announced in a statement that it would drop the name and logo and rebrand. The franchise would be identified as the Washington Football Team until a replacement was decided upon.
The move came weeks after other team sponsors, including Nike and Pepsi, received letters from investors who called on the companies to cut their ties with the team. On July 2, FedEx, which pays about $8 million a year to have its name on the team’s stadium in Landover, Md., told the team in a letter that if the team did not change its nickname it would ask that “FedEx” be taken off the stadium at the end of the season.
Nike had stopped selling the team’s gear, and Walmart, Target and Amazon — some of the country’s largest retailers — had said they would stop selling Washington’s merchandise on their websites.
JULY 16, 2020
Female employees detail sexual harassment and verbal abuse.
In July 2020, The Washington Post published an investigation into the mistreatment of the team’s female employees, citing 15 former front office workers.
Snyder fired several top executives who were named in the harassment accusations and hired a Washington-based law firm, Wilkinson Stekloff, to look into the allegations. Larry Michael, a play-by-play broadcaster and senior vice president with the team, retired after several women accused him of making derogatory comments to female employees.
The N.F.L. took over the investigation, which “concluded that for many years the workplace environment at the Washington Football Team, both generally and particularly for women, was highly unprofessional.” In July 2021 the team was penalized $10 million and Snyder agreed to step away from the day-to-day operations of the team, handing the reins to his wife, Tanya.
More employees come forward on sexual misconduct in the workplace.
In August the Washington Post published a report detailing claims from 25 women who said that they experienced sexual harassment while working for the team dating back to 2008, including an allegation that a male staff member recorded lewd videos at cheerleader calendar photo shoots specifically for Snyder. The staff member and Snyder denied the claims.
Jon Gruden’s emails to the team president go public.
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal published emails sent between 2011 and 2018 in which Jon Gruden, the former Buccaneers coach turned TV analyst, wrote racist and misogynist comments to Bruce Allen, then the president of the Washington team.
The emails were discovered during a review of workplace misconduct at the Washington Football Team. As the women who brought forward sexual harassment claims against the team lobbied for the N.F.L.’s investigation to be made public, members of Congress sought to review related documents.
FedEx stands collapse on Eagles fans.
Several Philadelphia Eagles fans fell from their seats when a railing near a player tunnel collapsed, nearly landing on Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts after a game in 2022. The fans sued the Commanders, and the litigation is ongoing.
FEB. 2, 2022
Washington adopts the name Commanders.
After a two-year search, the team’s announcement of a new name and logo were leaked ahead of the official rollout, which included a hype video that showcased the team’s former, and potentially offensive, name.
Feb. 9, 2022
Accusers at Congress implicate Snyder in new harassment claims.
At a congressional round table, two former team employees accused Snyder of creating a toxic workplace, with one claiming that he touched her inappropriately and another stating that he hosted a work event at his Aspen, Colo., home for which team executives hired prostitutes. Snyder called the allegations “outright lies.” The N.F.L. opened a second investigation into the team, led by the former S.E.C. chair Mary Jo White.
A congressional subcommittee referred claims of the team’s financial improprieties to the F.T.C.
Congress says Snyder conducted a “shadow investigation” of accusers.
In a 29-page memo, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said Snyder directed a “shadow investigation” to interfere with and undermine the N.F.L.’s investigation, using private investigators to harass and intimidate witnesses, and creating a 100-page dossier targeting victims, witnesses and journalists who had shared “credible public accusations of harassment” against the team.
The memo came ahead of N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s testimony before the committee, in which he defended the league’s inquiry.
Snyder could not be served with a subpoena as he was out of the country. He later sits for a daylong private deposition and, in December, the committee concludes that Snyder impeded the investigation.
An N.F.L. owner calls for Snyder’s removal.
At an N.F.L. team owners meeting, Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, said that there was “merit” to remove Snyder. Such a move would require at least 24 of the league’s 32 owners to agree and would set a precedent for the league.
“We have to act,” Irsay said. “He needs to be removed.”
Snyders look for buyers for the Commanders.
Snyder announced that he hired bankers to explore a potential sale of some or all of the Commanders.
Federal probe of team’s finances added to mounting criminal and civil inquiries.
An ESPN report details that federal prosecutors in Virginia are investigating allegations of financial misconduct by Snyder and the Washington Commanders, stemming from a $55 million loan taken without the knowledge of his partners.
Snyder and the team also face several other inquiries, including from the attorney general for the state of Virginia into financial improprieties and two since-settled lawsuits filed by Karl Racine, the Washington D.C. attorney general, over season ticket sales.
April 13, 2023
Snyder agrees in principle to sell Commanders.
Josh Harris, an owner of the N.B.A.’s Philadelphia 76ers and the N.H.L.’s New Jersey Devils, agreed in principle to buy the Washington Commanders for a record $6 billion.
Ken Belson contributed reporting.
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