If NFL doesn't hammer Washington now, it raises specter of wider misconduct

Daniel Snyder's immunity from the NFL appears to know no bounds.

We'll find out soon enough how far it extends.

A letter from U.S. Congress to the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday levies allegations of outrageous fraud committed by Snyder's Washington Commanders against ticket holders and fellow NFL franchises. It repeatedly references the term "juice," alleges the use of two sets of books and reads more like a scripted Tony Soprano scheme to bilk a New Jersey hardware store than the alleged realities of a multi-billion dollar business.

The stakes involved are also befitting of mid-level gangster lore. Per the allegations made by a longtime team sales executive, Snyder and his cronies schemed, misled and roadblocked their way into an extra $5 million of ill-gotten funds from ticket holders over the course of roughly 15 years — relative petty cash in the coffers of a $4.2 billion franchise.

That tally doesn't include the ticket revenue allegedly withheld by the franchise in order to short league partners of their contractually obligated cut. But that too is a pittance in the grand view of the NFL business. The alleged details are laid out in candid fashion by former vice president of sales and customer service Jason Friedman, who provided his testimony to Congress. The Commanders denied the allegations when they leaked last week and accused anyone leveling them of "perjury."

The financial rewards of the alleged scheme are laughable. The consequences if the allegations are true should be anything but. The NFL's response will be telling.

Failing to bring the hammer on Daniel Snyder and Washington in light of the Congressional letter to the FTC would be an uncomfortable tell on the NFL. (Mark J. Rebilas/Reuters)
Failing to bring the hammer on Daniel Snyder and Washington in light of the Congressional letter to the FTC would be an uncomfortable tell on the NFL. (Mark J. Rebilas/Reuters)

How will the NFL respond?

This isn't to suggest that these are the worst allegations Snyder's faced.

No, that vile prize belongs to his oversight of a toxic workplace culture that included the reported sharing of topless photos of team cheerleaders between exiled NFL coach Jon Gruden and former Washington team executive Bruce Allen. It includes 42 former female employees accusing various team executives including Snyder of sexual harassment and misconduct. It includes ex-cheerleader Tiffany Bacon Scourby accusing Snyder directly of asking her to "go upstairs and get to know" one of his friends during a team charity event in 2004, an allegation that Snyder denied.

An alleged $5 million-plus fraud scheme pales in comparison. But stealing from league partners and fans is a bright line. Anything short of the hammer from the NFL will prove damning for the league if the allegations are true. Meanwhile, history suggests that Snyder very well could skate once again.

Snyder's history of escaping consequences

Snyder's track record is long. It's unfortunate. And that's without considering his complete mismanagement of a once-proud franchise that won three Super Bowls before he took over in 1999 and has produced a grand total of two playoff victories since. Completely independent of his alleged and acknowledged misconduct, Snyder's reign is one based on incompetence and failure that's transformed the team's tickets from the most coveted in the league to easy access.

Snyder's an embarrassment to the NFL. So far, the league has done little to stand in his way.

Take, for instance, the previously noted workplace misconduct scandal. A Washington Post report detailing the allegations sparked a months-long NFL investigation into the franchise. The probe spearheaded by attorney Beth Wilkinson resulted in zero pages of written documentation of its findings. No, the NFL instead insisted that Wilkinson present an oral account of her probe to the league, leaving no paper trail for journalists or others to peruse.

The consequences of that investigation? A $10 million fine of a $4.2 billion football franchise and 10 recommendations for improvement. Snyder also agreed to temporarily relinquish oversight of the team's operations — to his wife, Tanya. Attorneys for 40 of the women who alleged misconduct described the NFL's response as "truly outrageous."

That was in July 2021. Four months later, the Gruden scandal landed. The Las Vegas Raiders football coach resigned midseason after the New York Time exposed racist, misogynistic and anti-gay language he used in emails with Allen — in addition to the cheerleader pics. As it turns out, those emails were part of the league's investigation into the then-Washington Football Team's workplace culture. They were reportedly part of a trove of 650,000 emails that were included in the investigation.

What don't we know from the NFL's investigation?

To this day, the content of those outstanding emails remains obscured from the public. Meanwhile, whomever leaked Gruden's emails to the Times remains a mystery. While Gruden's emails were appalling and his ouster from the league appropriate, the lack of transparency has naturally resulted in speculation over what secrets have yet to be exposed, what motivated the Gruden email leaks and what Snyder might know that wasn't publicly disclosed.

Washington's workplace misconduct scandal is what prompted Congress to look into the Commanders to begin with. Apparently dissatisfied with the NFL's slap on the wrist and lack of transparency, the government sought answers on the serious accusations for itself. It wasn't looking for allegations of financial impropriety when it started its probe. But it sure found them.

Now the NFL will be forced once again to respond to alleged misdeeds in D.C. It came up with the following statement from league spokesman Brian McCarthy after Tuesday's letter from Congress:

“We continue to cooperate with the Oversight Committee and have provided more than 210,000 pages of documents. The NFL has engaged former SEC chair Mary Jo White to review the serious matters raised by the committee.”

But that's not the answer that matters. What matters is the NFL's response when Congress' investigation concludes. And if the allegations prove true, the NFL needs to do better than its $10 million fine it levied last July. Anything short of serious consequences for Snyder would prompt more questions about what wasn't made public from last year's NFL investigation.