Snyder’s grip on the franchise, a once-beloved civic institution diminished by two decades of dysfunction, loosened in recent weeks as the calls from fans to sell the team spread to league ownership circles, most vocally from Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. Even then, Snyder released defiant statements about never selling the team — as he had once declared he would never change the team’s name, which he finally did under pressure from sponsors in 2020.
Since Snyder dropped the name, a move meant to fortify his standing within the league, a whirl of allegations and ensuing investigations have imperiled his status. Snyder had long been the subject of disdain from fans and eye-rolling from fellow owners. But the tumult of the past 2½ years carved the path to Wednesday’s announcement.
On July 13, 2020, days after team sponsor FedEx called for franchise to drop the name “Redskins” on the grounds that it was a slur, the team announced it would “retire” the name without introducing an immediate replacement. In the weeks leading up to the announcement, three minority owners began the process of selling their shares, which totaled 40 percent of the franchise.
Three days later, The Washington Post published a report in which more than a dozen women alleged sexual harassment and verbal abuse by team employees. The allegations led to the firings or resignations of multiple front-office officials, including longtime radio voice Larry Michael, and prompted Snyder to hire high-powered lawyer Beth Wilkinson to investigate the team’s workplace.
In mid-August, Snyder hired Jason Wright to replace Bruce Allen, making Wright the first Black NFL team president. The choice of Wright, a former NFL running back who became a highly regarded business consultant, was widely praised. The goodwill would not last.
The Post published another story Aug. 26, 2020, in which former employees alleged more lewd workplace behavior, including the production of a video with footage of partially nude cheerleaders filmed without their knowledge at a photo shoot. Five days later, the NFL assumed oversight of Wilkinson’s investigation. The Post would later report that Snyder, against his public declarations, had interfered with the probe.
As the investigation wore on, Snyder’s acrimony with his minority partners grew, which court documents released in December 2020 revealed. In March 2021, the owners on the NFL’s finance committee approved a debt waiver that enabled Snyder to borrow $450 million to buy out the partners, which put the entirety of the franchise in his hands.
The fallout from Wilkinson’s investigation arrived months later, nearly a year after it began. On July 2, 2021, the NFL fined Snyder $10 million and, while not officially suspending Snyder, said his wife, Tanya Snyder, would assume control of the franchise. The league did not release Wilkinson’s report, instead offering a summary, a decision that drew widespread criticism and continues to reverberate.
“The culture of the club was very toxic and fell far short of the NFL’s values,” said Lisa Friel, the league’s special counsel for investigations.
In response to the league’s decision not to release the full findings of Wilkinson’s investigation, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in October 2021 opened an investigation into the team’s workplace culture in part to pressure the NFL to make the findings public.
That same month, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times published excerpts from emails then-Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden sent to Allen in 2011 that included racist, homophobic language. The emails had been part of the trove of documents the NFL reviewed as part of its investigation. Many within the league suspected Snyder or someone in his employ had leaked them, which Tanya Snyder reportedly denied to fellow owners at a league meeting.
Washington ended the 2021 season without a name, still going by the Washington Football Team. On Feb. 2 — days after former quarterback Joe Theismann let the new name slip during a radio interview — the franchise revealed it had chosen to be called the Commanders.
The next day, former cheerleader and marketing manager Tiffani Johnston accused Snyder of sexual harassment in testimony to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, part of a bevy of new claims presented to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
In response to the new allegations aimed directly at Snyder, the NFL hired former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White to investigate and produce a report for Commissioner Roger Goodell. The investigation remains ongoing.
The congressional committee convened again in late June, days after The Post reported Snyder had paid a former female employee a $1.6 million settlement in 2009 after she accused Snyder of sexual assault. Snyder denied the allegation. Goodell testified over Zoom to the lawmakers for 2½ hours while a chair with Snyder’s name in front of it sat empty because he declined to attend. The committee would subpoena Snyder, and he gave a 10-hour deposition in July.
As accusations and investigations mounted, Snyder tackled the dilemma of finding a new stadium to replace FedEx Field, an outdated facility the franchise wants to move out of by 2027. Snyder has found unwilling partners in local municipalities across three states. In May, it was revealed the Commanders had acquired the rights to purchase 200 acres in Woodbridge, Va., as a possible stadium site. Several Virginia lawmakers raised vehement opposition to dealing with the team, opposition one of them doubled down on weeks later when defensive coordinator Jack del Rio downplayed the Jan. 6 failed insurrection as a “dust-up.”
As the league braced for White’s findings, sentiment among owners shifted, several people told The Post. By September, many owners came to believe the league should compel Snyder to sell the franchise. Forcing a sale would require the approval of 24 of 32 owners. An ESPN report last month, in which anonymous people said Snyder told associates he “had dirt on” fellow owners, ratcheted the tension.
At a league meeting in New York on Oct. 18, Irsay made those feelings public when he told reporters, “I believe there’s merit to remove him as owner.”
The Commanders responded forcefully, calling the comments inappropriate. In a statement, a spokesperson insisted that once all the evidence came to light, “Mr. Irsay will conclude that there is no reason for the Snyders to consider selling the franchise. And they won’t.”
About two weeks later came the revelation from Snyder himself that, after a whirlwind 2½ years, they might.