Finally, someone with influence said the obvious. Colts owner Jim Irsay set off fireworks Tuesday when he became the first NFL owner to publicly state that there is “merit to remove” Dan Snyder as owner of the Washington Commanders. Irsay, in what appeared to be a calculated move, spoke for 10 minutes to media members at the NFL’s fall owners’ meeting about Snyder’s stain on the league.
“I believe in the workplace today, the standard that the shield stands for in the NFL, that you have to stand for that and protect that.” Irsay said. “I just think once owners talk among each other they will arrive at the right decision. Unfortunately, I believe that’s the road we probably need to go down and we just need to finish the investigation, but it’s gravely concerning to me the things that have occurred there over the last 20 years.”
A powerful and significant statement to be sure. Despite a series of series of serious allegations involving the Washington Commanders, the fortress surrounding Snyder has been impenetrable since he assumed ownership of the team in 1999. Irsay loosening a brick was brave and bold in that it directly violated NFL owners’ billionaire code: Do not publicly comment on fellow owners’ behavior no matter how toxic.
It also provided a tiny ounce of satisfaction to the millions in the NFL sphere who have been disgusted by the league’s longtime complacency regarding Snyder. Irsay and the other owners had remained silent for two years as disturbing accusations by at least 50 former Washington employees of rampant workplace harassment, including by Snyder directly, surfaced. And they were silent following an earlier report of team cheerleaders allegedly suffering sexual harassment and intimidation by the team and team sponsors. They also lacked the compassion to publicly urge Snyder to change the team’s former nickname, no matter how many people the racist slur offended. It was reportedly the potential loss of revenue that finally got the job done.
It’s as if we’ve all been living on one planet where Snyder’s failings are obvious and the other 32 owners on another where moral compasses don’t exist. Until now.
Perhaps Irsay felt enough was enough. Enough with the allegations of harassment and questionable accounting and public disgust. That would be reasonable.
Or perhaps he was influenced by last week’s reporting from ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr in which Snyder is said to have been influential in the team’s acquisition of quarterback Carson Wentz, a direct violation of the NFL’s ruling that he relinquish day-to-day control of the team. Congress also determined that Snyder had interfered with the harassment investigation by running a “shadow investigation” into some of the witnesses.
Or maybe it was the aspect of the ESPN story in which Snyder was said to have deemed NFL ownership “a mafia” and to have directed his lawyers and private investigators on a hunt for dirt on fellow owners and commissioner Roger Goodell. Perhaps it was Snyder picking a direct fight with Irsay and his brethren that set the Colts owner over the edge.
In a statement, a Commanders spokesperson called the ESPN report, “a well-funded, two-year misinformation campaign to coerce the sale of the team, which will continue to be unsuccessful.”
Will it, though?
Irsay is the last owner to be rattled by Snyder’s threats of a dossier. From alcoholism to addiction, Irsay has been an open book, remarkably candid about his issues. Whether or not Irsay was one of the owners allegedly being targeted for dirt by Snyder’s investigators, the notion of tearing down an owner who has weaved his way through so many public struggles is laughable. Then again, Snyder isn’t the shrewdest of men.
Snyder is currently the subject of two investigations: one by the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the other by former US attorney Mary Jo White, who is conducting a new investigation for the NFL on the Washington workplace culture.
Goodell said there is no timetable for White’s findings to be released. He also said he wasn’t surprised by Irsay’s comments, which may just be a reflection of the Colts owner being a sharpshooter but could also hint at a swelling movement toward ousting Snyder.
A total of 24 owner votes are needed to force a fellow owner to relinquish their team, and Irsay suggested that the votes may exist. He’s advised patience as we await the results of the ongoing investigations, but clearly and finally the right people are taking charge of the Snyder debacle. Labeling Irsay a hero is a stretch, but his comments on Tuesday have set into motion a sequence of events that could finally see the stain of Snyder removed from the NFL for good.