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Roger Goodell insists Dan Snyder isn’t running Commanders — evidence says otherwise

“It is clear to me that the workplace in Washington was unprofessional and unacceptable in numerous respects: bullying, widespread disrespect toward colleagues, use of demeaning language, public embarrassment, and harassment. Moreover, for a prolonged period of time, the Commanders had a woefully deficient HR function, particularly with respect to reporting practices and recordkeeping. As a result, we imposed unprecedented discipline on the club – monetary penalties of well over $10 million, and requirements that the club implement a series of recommendations and allow an outside firm to conduct regular reviews of their workplace. In addition, for the past year, Daniel Snyder has not attended League or committee meetings, and to the best of my knowledge, has not been involved in day-to-day operations at the Commanders.” 

Dan Snyder’s day-to-day involvement within the Washington Commanders’ organization was something of an open secret for months. That’s what makes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s repeated comments about Snyder’s lack of involvement — including the above quote from his opening statement before Congress on Wednesday — so curious.

Sources told The Athletic of Dan Snyder’s return to day-to-day operations prior to Goodell’s comments at the NFL owners’ meetings in Palm Beach this March. The owner’s activity has included standard meetings with team president Jason Wright and head coach Ron Rivera to discuss various aspects of the business and football sides of the operation, according to a team source.

“Dan Snyder has not been involved in day-to-day operations,” Goodell said at the owners’ meetings. “I don’t believe he’s been at the facility at all. And when we continue to have league matters, Tanya (Snyder) has represented the team as the CEO both on a day-to-day basis but also here with the league. She represented the club here, and that will continue for at least the foreseeable future. But Dan and I will talk about that at some point.”

In his opening statement Wednesday, Goodell softened his usual answer about Snyder being uninvolved by adding the phrase, “to the best of my knowledge.”

The thing is, one didn’t need a reporter’s access or any sources to know of Snyder’s involvement. It’s been happening in plain sight for months.

Last July, the league fined the organization owned by Snyder $10 million following an independent investigation into the internal culture following allegations of sexual and workplace harassment. The investigation conducted by attorney Beth Wilkinson was not made public, nor was a written report submitted to the league.

Snyder declined to attend Wednesday’s hearing, which Goodell participated in virtually. Oversight Committee chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), said at Wednesday’s hearing that she will issue a subpoena to Snyder for a deposition next week.

“Mr. Snyder has not been held accountable,” Maloney said. “His refusal to testify sends a clear message that he is more concerned about protecting himself than coming clean with the American people. If the NFL is unwilling or unable to hold Mr. Snyder accountable, then I am prepared to do so.”

Goodell mentioned Snyder’s distance from team operations during Wednesday’s hearing in part to support his stated belief that the league doled out appropriate punishment. However, Lisa Friel, the NFL’s special counsel for investigations, said in July 2020 that Snyder’s relinquishing day-to-day operations was voluntary.

Part of July’s announcement included news that his wife, Tanya Snyder, would become co-CEO. She represented Washington ownership in various aspects of the recent owner meetings.

Dan Snyder released a July 1 statement saying he “agrees with the commissioner’s decisions in this matter” while representatives for Snyder contacted several media outlets to highlight the voluntary aspect of his lower profile.

That has remained the party line: No formal suspension for Dan Snyder, no steady involvement with the organization he’s owned since 1999 beyond certain big picture projects, including rebranding the team and negotiations for a new stadium.

“I do think he’s been held accountable,” Goodell said in October. “I think the organization has been held accountable. And I think we did an unprecedented fine. Dan Snyder has not been involved with the franchise for now almost four months.”

Yet even by that point, holes were being poked in this story.

Oct. 1: Rivera told local radio station The Team 980 that he speaks with Snyder “about once or twice a week.” The nature of those conversations could be characterized as casual based on Rivera’s tone and word choice. However, the coach said their talks occur “if we run into each other around the facility or at the game or at the stadium or something like that. Or I’ll call, he’ll call. You know, we’ll talk.”

January 11-14: Two days after the season finale, Rivera said of speaking with ownership, “At the appropriate time, I will visit with them.” Later that week, again on Team 980, the coach said he had “talked with the owners” since the team’s season concluded, “about what happened in the season, and then we talked about a plan going forward.”

March 17: Washington acquired quarterback Carson Wentz in a trade with Indianapolis. The Commanders traded multiple draft picks and took on the entirety of Wentz’s contract, including a $28.3 million salary-cap hit for the 2022 season. At Wentz’s introductory news conference, Rivera said, “One of the things I really do appreciate was in talking to the Snyders and really them just saying, ‘Hey, if this is what it’s going to take, let’s get it done.’”

One source close to the situation told The Athletic that Snyder is rarely seen at the team’s headquarters in Ashburn, which aligns with Goodell’s March statement that Snyder hadn’t been at the facility, although with ample wiggle room. Regardless, Snyder also attended home and road games during the 2021 season, and the Snyders both participated in the organization’s renaming announcement in February at FedExField, which they own.

The league is investigating whether Dan Snyder inappropriately touched and harassed a former team employee, Tiffani Johnston, an allegation Johnston made during a Congressional roundtable in February. Johnston and more than 40 former Washington employees are represented by attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz.

“No one credits Roger Goodell’s comment regarding Dan Snyder staying away from the team, just as no one believes his statement regarding his reason for not releasing Beth Wilkinson’s findings,” Banks told The Athletic earlier this year. “Both statements are demonstrably false. Goodell has lost all credibility when it comes to issues related to Dan Snyder and the Washington Commanders.”

If the goal is cleaning up the Commanders’ workplace environment, progress exists, according to team sources. Much of the turnover following Wright’s hiring in August 2020 stemmed from an internal examination of the organization’s culture and business operations, at all levels.

According to multiple reports, the Snyders and Wright sent a letter to members of their organization Wednesday afternoon touting improvements the team has made in its workplace culture and diversity, equality and inclusion practices in the last two years.

“To be clear — the workplace at the Commanders today bears no resemblance to the workplace that has been described to this committee,” Goodell said Wednesday.

That’s good news, sincerely. Now if only the commissioner could clean up the confusion over Snyder’s involvement.

(Photo of Dan Snyder: Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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