Snyder didn't simply field two decades worth of losing teams, he embarrassed an entire fan base. He is officially done as an NFL franchise owner after the league approved the sale of the Commanders. That allows us to look at Snyder's reign of error in this prism: Is Snyder the worst owner in professional team sports history?
There were plenty of shameful club owners in a long-ago era of sports, when leagues kept Black players out. There were infamous old baseball team owners like Charles Comiskey (whose cheap ways were a reason the "Black Sox" players decided to throw the World Series) and Harry Frazee (the Boston Red Sox owner who will forever be known for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees). For simplicity sake, we'll keep this list to team owners from the modern era of the major American professional sports leagues. If we listed each owner who shamed themselves by racially segregating teams for decades, we'd be here a while. They all deserve their separate hall of shame.
Let's take a look at the worst team owners in the recent history of the four major sports, in no particular order:
Marge Schott, Cincinnati Reds
Schott was infamously cheap and was accused on multiple occasions of making racist comments for which she was suspended twice by Major League Baseball. MLB was happy to get rid of someone who was an Adolf Hitler apologist. When star outfielder Eric Davis suffered a lacerated kidney during a game at Oakland in the 1990 World Series, the Reds made him pay his own way to get home after a hospital stay. Then Schott said Davis ruined the World Series win by complaining about how the team treated him after his injury.
John Spano, New York Islanders
Can we count Spano as a team owner, considering he never had the money to buy the New York Islanders? Spano conned the NHL into thinking he had enough money to buy the Islanders in 1996, but that rouse fell apart a few months later. At least that scam led to "Big Shot," one of the more entertaining episodes in ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary library.
George Preston Marshall, Washington Commanders
Snyder wasn't Washington's first terrible owner. Marshall resisted signing any Black players until 1962 (16 years after integration), after U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall warned Marshall that if he didn't integrate his team, Washington might not be allowed to use the stadium that was on land leased from the National Park Service. Marshall was removed from the team's Ring of Fame in 2020.
Donald Trump, New Jersey Generals
The famous businessman and future reality TV star got in the USFL business and is widely blamed for pushing the club owners to move the league to the fall and start an unwinnable war with the NFL. The USFL got in a lawsuit battle with the NFL and won, but was awarded just $1 in damages and the league folded shortly after. It's rare for one owner to be universally blamed for ruining a league. Trump later went into politics.
Ted Stepien, Cleveland Cavaliers
Not many team owners are so bad that a league has to pass a rule to stop their tomfoolery. Stepien, who owned the Cavs for only three years, traded five straight first-round draft picks. The NBA passed the so-called "Ted Stepien Rule," stipulating that a team couldn't be without a first-round pick in consecutive drafts. In addition to some horrible management of the franchise, Stepien also expressed racist views that NBA teams had too many Black players, and that "Blacks don't buy many tickets and they don't buy many of the products advertised on TV."
Frank McCourt, Los Angeles Dodgers
In 2011, Major League Baseball took the shocking step of taking over control of the Dodgers, due to what then-commissioner Bud Selig said were "deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers." McCourt got in a messy divorce in 2009 and that affected the Dodgers. The Los Angeles Times reported that McCourt needed a loan from Fox to meet the team's payroll in 2011. Shortly after MLB took over control of the club and McCourt agreed to sell the team a year later.
Donald Sterling, Los Angeles Clippers
Here's Snyder's biggest competition for the dishonor of "worst team owner ever." On the court, Sterling's Los Angeles Clippers were a laughingstock franchise for decades. He was considered the worst franchise owner in sports — he heckled his own players, including Baron Davis from his courtside seat — and that was before an explosive story of racist comments became synonymous with Sterling's name. A tape was leaked by Sterling's then-girlfriend that included racist comments, which led to the NBA banning Sterling for life and fining him $2.5 million. Like Snyder, Sterling was shameful far beyond normal bungled transactions.
Jeffrey Loria, Miami Marlins
Loria is pretty much the real-life version of the team owner from "Major League" who gleefully tried fielding the worst team possible. Loria — who took control of the Montreal Expos and then orchestrated the move of the franchise out of Montreal — sunk even deeper when his team traded off good players to keep the payroll low and he pocketed profits. Loria got extra heat when he dumped star players after getting public money to help build a new stadium. He sold the Marlins in 2017.
James Dolan, New York Knicks
Knicks fans will be happy to see Dolan on this list but upset he's not alone on the list. Dolan's awful ownership of the Knicks (chronicled in an excellent "Shattered" podcast miniseries from The Athletic) is a reason the team has not been a championship contender in decades. He has been the top enemy of Knicks fans for many years. His many management mistakes led to criticism, and Dolan showed thin skin in responding to that criticism. The most famous incident happened when he had Knicks legend Charles Oakley removed from Madison Square Garden. It's not often a league commissioner rips a team owner, but after a sexual harassment lawsuit involving Dolan and then-coach Isiah Thomas in 2007, then-NBA commissioner David Stern said of the Knicks: "It demonstrates that they're not a model of intelligent management."
Jimmy Haslam, Cleveland Browns
The Browns have been mostly horrible under Haslam's ownership, and that's probably no coincidence. The story that will stick with Haslam forever is that a homeless man might have convinced Haslam that the team should draft Johnny Manziel, who turned out to be one of the biggest busts ever. There was also a fraud scheme at Pilot Flying J, a truck-stop company owned by the Haslam family, though Jimmy was never charged.
Jerry Richardson, Carolina Panthers
Technically, it was never stated that the NFL was forcing Richardson to sell the Panthers. But less than 48 hours after a story broke that Richardson was involved in inappropriate workplace behavior, the Panthers' founder announced he was selling he team. The Sports Illustrated story in 2017 said "at least four former Panthers employees have received ‘significant’ monetary settlements due to inappropriate workplace comments and conduct," and that the inappropriate behavior was of a sexual and racial nature.
Dan Snyder, Washington Commanders
Snyder has made every single misstep possible for a pro sports team owner. Some club owners have had extensive mismanagement of the roster, front office and coaching staff, often based on impulsive decisions. Others have meddled with draft picks. Some are hyper-sensitive about what is said about them in the media. A few have veered far off the path of the typical bad franchise owner, finding themselves in sexual harassment scandals or other lawsuits. It's really rare to see one get accused of cooking the books to steal revenue from other team owners. But Snyder did it all. Not only did his Washington team become one of the worst franchises on the field during his tenure, there were endless stories about the misdeeds off the field that made it seem like the Commanders were being run like a fraternity house. And on top of it all, he turned many people off by battling against a change for his team's name, which many found racist.
The owners on this list were terrible in different ways. Some went far beyond simple mismanagement of a team. But the race to the bottom comes down to Donald Sterling vs. Dan Snyder (Marge Schott takes the bronze and it probably should have been a three-way race). They both built a perennially losing franchise through rampant incompetency. They both acted in ways that are unbecoming of a pro sports team owner. Then they both generated shocking headlines that made them pariahs. It's a photo finish, but Snyder wins by a nose.
Both were wholly unlikeable. But Snyder being accused of withholding revenue from other teams and a failure to return season-ticket deposits, for which they reached a settlement with the Washington D.C. attorney general, were some unpredictable lows. Having Congress dig into your misdeeds was a level that hadn't been reached before. Sterling was an absolute zero, but Snyder was somehow worse. Now he's officially done with the NFL. Good riddance.