Dan Snyder’s ownership of the Washington Commanders, which has been a matter of considerable debate for many years, is coming to an end.
Snyder has agreed to sell the team for a record $6.05 billion to a group led by Philadelphia 76ers and Devils owner Josh Harris, which also includes Basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
Snyder’s ownership was been under fire long before he and wife Tanya even considered putting the team up for sale. Some centered around a lack of success on the field: two playoff game victories since he bought the team in 1999.
But recent events away from football put more heat on Snyder, with a series of scandals and investigations that spanned three different team names. Most recently, the Commanders settled a lawsuit with the District of Columbia for $625,000 over withholding fans’ season-ticket deposit money.
A look at what has brought Snyder to this point:
Amid a national reckoning over racism in the wake of the George Floyd protests, prominent sponsors FedEx, PepsiCo, Nike and Bank of America called on the team to abandon its old name, which Snyder long vowed never to do. The team launched a review and on July 13 announcing it was giving up the name after 87 years.
Three days later, the Washington Post reported that 15 female former employees said they were sexually harassed during their time with the team.
The team retained attorney Beth Wilkinson’s firm to undertake an independent investigation into workplace conduct, which the NFL then took control of overseeing.
The next day, Snyder vowed to improve the culture inside the organization, and the league said it would wait for Wilkinson’s review before taking any action.
A week later, the club rebranded temporarily as the Washington Football Team, a name that lasted two seasons.
The Post reported additional examples of workplace sexual harassment inside the organization, along with allegations that Snyder was personally involved.
The Post reported a former cheerleader saying Snyder invited her to a hotel room with one of his friends, and that longtime team executive Larry Michael made extra cheerleading videos for the owner showing sensitive material that wasn’t made public. Snyder released a statement denying those specific allegations and saying he was unaware of the incidents.
Minority owners Fred Smith, Dwight Schar and Bob Rothman, whose shares added up to 40.5% of Washington Football Inc., sued Snyder in federal court in Maryland seeking an injunction to allow them to sell their shares of the team.
At his pre-Super Bowl virtual news conference, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell praised the organization, which he said “has made a lot of changes already.” That included hiring Jason Wright as team president in August.
Goodell said it was good to see those changes, and added he expected Wilkinson’s recommendations would add to them.
Weeks later, 20 former employees wrote a letter to Goodell, asking the league to release the final report of the investigation when it was completed.
In late March, Snyder bought out his minority owners, a move that gave his family total control of the team. Snyder’s application for a debt waiver of $450 million was approved by the league’s finance committee and then ownership at-large to make it official.
The NFL fined the team $10 million and said Snyder would step away from day-to-day operations for several months after Wilkinson’s investigation found Washington’s workplace to be toxic and unprofessional, especially for women.
The team did not lose any draft picks, and no formal suspensions were handed out. The league said Snyder’s wife, Tanya, would assume formal operations while he worked on long-term issues such as the search for a new stadium.
No written report was released.
Amid calls from former employees for the NFL to release the findings of Wilkinson’s investigation, members of the U.S. Congress got involved.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, wrote to Goodell on Oct. 21 seeking all documents and communications related to the investigation.
A couple of weeks later, the pair of representatives urged the NFL and the team to release individuals from non-disclosure agreements that would prevent them from discussing sexual harassment and workplace issues at the club.
In December, after the Post reported Snyder hired lawyers and private investigators that witnesses viewed as attempts to interfere with the investigation, Maloney and Krishnamoorthi asked the league to provide evidence and said, “These disturbing revelations have only strengthened the Committee’s commitment to uncovering the truth in this matter.”
The House Oversight Committee announced Jan. 27 it would hold a roundtable discussion the following week with former employees to discuss workplace misconduct and sexual harassment.
Washington unveiled its new name as the Commanders on Feb. 2.
During the roundtable the following day, one of the former employees came forward with a new allegation she was sexually harassed by Snyder himself, which he denied. Tiffani Johnston, who worked for the team for eight years starting in 2002 as a cheerleader and marketing manager, told the committee Snyder placed his hand on her thigh without her consent at a team dinner and that he pushed her toward his limousine with his hand on her lower back.
The committee continued to push for the full release of the Wilkinson report, asking Goodell to release the full findings by Feb. 14 and threatening “alternate means of obtaining compliance” if he did not cooperate.
At the Super Bowl in Los Angeles, Goodell defended the NFL’s use of an oral, not written, report, saying it was done to protect the identity of anyone who wanted to speak to investigators privately, also saying the league would take over an investigation into the new allegation of sexual harassment made against Snyder.
The league hired former U.S. Attorney and Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White to investigate, vowing the results would be released in written form because the allegation was made in a public forum.
The House Oversight Committee told the Federal Trade Commission the team may have engaged in potentially unlawful financial conduct, and the NFL said it would look into the most serious allegations.
The committee said it found evidence of deceptive business practice over the span of more than a decade, including withholding ticket revenue from visiting teams and refundable deposits from fans. A league spokesman said White would review the alleged improprieties, which the team denied a week later in a lengthy letter to the FTC.
On June 1, the committee invited Snyder and Goodell to appear at a hearing on workplace culture around the NFL scheduled for later in the month, which it called the next step in the investigation.
Two weeks later, a lawyer representing Snyder said he would not testify. Among the reasons given were a lack of assurance about the scope of questioning given the existence of multiple ongoing investigations and a scheduling conflict preventing Snyder from appearing in person.
On June 9, the Virginia General Assembly abandoned for the rest of the year a stadium deal that would have brought the Commanders’ games to the state. The legislation offering hefty tax incentives had already been languishing amid a series of controversies involving the team when an assistant coach called the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol “a dust-up.”
Goodell testified virtually on June 22, and the committee released a document accusing Snyder of conducting a “shadow investigation” that sought to discredit former employees making accusations of workplace sexual harassment, hired private investigators to intimidate witnesses and used an overseas lawsuit as a pretext to obtain phone records and emails.
Asked by one member of the committee whether he would remove Snyder as Washington’s owner, Goodell responded, “I don’t have the authority to remove him.”
An NFL owner can only be removed by a three-quarters majority vote of the other owners.
After wrangling between his legal team and the committee over the parameters of his testimony, Snyder agreed to appear virtually.
Snyder testified for more than 10 hours on July 28. A spokesperson for Snyder said he “fully addressed all questions about workplace misconduct, described the Commanders’ dramatic two-year transformation and expressed hope for the organization’s bright future.”
ESPN released a lengthy report detailing Snyder’s efforts to influence other owners and the league office to maintain control of the team.
ESPN reported, citing anonymous sources, that Snyder hired private investigators and told people he has enough information to expose fellow owners and Goodell.
Days later, at the NFL owners’ meetings in New York on Oct. 18, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said there was “merit to remove” Snyder — the first public statement by one of Snyder’s counterparts that he should go.
During Washington’s next game, at home against Green Bay, spectators shouted “Sell the team!” when Tanya Snyder was shown on a video board.
The Snyders took the first step toward potentially selling the Commanders: The club announced on Nov. 2 that a financial services firm had been hired to “consider potential transactions.” Asked if the Snyders were considering selling part or all of the team, which is worth billions of dollars, a spokesperson said, “We are exploring all options.”
Roughly a week later, D.C. attorney general Karl Racine filed a consumer protection civil lawsuit against Snyder, the Commanders, the NFL and Goodell, accusing them of colluding to deceive fans by lying about an inquiry into “sexual misconduct and a persistently hostile work environment” within the team. Racine then filed a second suit accusing the team of a scheme to cheat fans out of ticket money.
The next day, the Commanders settled with the state of Maryland, agreeing to return security deposits to former season-ticket holders and pay a $250,000 penalty.
Before Democrats ceded control of the House to Republicans, the House Oversight Committee issued a final report saying Snyder played a role in the team’s “toxic work culture.”
Drawing from hearings, interviews and depositions, the House report concluded Snyder interfered in its investigation and Wilkinson’s review, which stemmed in 2020 from former employees alleging rampant sexual harassment by team executives.
Snyder’s status was a hot topic at the annual NFL owners meeting in Arizona, even though he wasn’t a formal topic on the agenda. A person told the AP that Snyder and his attorneys demanded owners and the league indemnify him against future legal liability and costs if he sells the team.
On the final day of the meetings, two groups — the one with Harris, Rales and Johnson and another led by Canadian billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos — submitted fully financed bids to buy the Commanders.
Meanwhile, Goodell reiterated that the findings of White’s investigation would still be released even if Snyder sold the team.
New D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb announced a settlement with the Commanders over the suit filed about season-ticket holder deposit money, which included returning $200,000 to fans and paying $425,000 to the district.
After reports emerged that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos decided not to put in a bid for the team, Snyder agreed in principle to sell to the group spearheaded by Harris, which Rales and Johnson later joined.
The Harris group on April 13 reached an agreement in principle to buy the team from Snyder. The league then did an informal review of the deal.
Harris and the Snyders announced the sale agreement in a joint statement Friday. It was the first public acknowledgement by Snyder that he was selling the team.
“We are very pleased to have reached an agreement for the sale of the Commanders franchise with Josh Harris, an area native, and his impressive group of partners,” he and wife Tanya said in a statement. “We look forward to the prompt completion of this transaction and to rooting for Josh and the team in the coming years.”
As of the time of the sale agreement, which still needs approval of three-quarters of owners, the team still does not have a deal for a new stadium after ranking last in the NFL in average home attendance last season.
AP National Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.
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