For more than a year, Commanders owner Daniel Snyder has been almost entirely out of sight in the NFL. He has not attended meetings with his fellow owners, popping up only a few weeks ago at midfield before Washington’s game in Dallas, with one of his very few allies, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Snyder is in a kind of strange limbo that was not called a suspension but which made him, effectively, persona non grata in the NFL.
Even in his absence, though, Snyder has exerted a sort of power over the league, which was — depending on who you were talking to — disgusted by him, suspicious of him, a little afraid of him, too. That all played out quietly, though, mostly behind closed doors, as most crises involving this particular set of wealthy, but generally private, individuals usually do. The allegations that have been levied against Snyder range from sexual misconduct to lording over a franchise rife with sexual harassment to financial improprieties that may have kept money from the other owners, who are his business partners. These allegations have led to at least four separate ongoing investigations, including one begun in February by the NFL, led by former US Attorney Mary Jo White, that continues to this day. But even those who in recent months had come to the conclusion that the NFL should not coexist any longer with Snyder would not put their names behind their sentiments.
Until Tuesday, at the NFL’s Fall League Meeting in New York, when Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay dropped the civility and caution and said out loud what others in the league, including other owners, have been whispering for months.
“I believe that there’s merit to remove him as owner of the [Commanders],” Irsay said. “I think it’s something that we have to review, we have to look at all the evidence and we have to be thorough going forward, but I think it’s something that has to be given serious consideration.”
Depending on your point of view, Irsay was either the first owner to have the nerve to go after Snyder publicly, or the one with the least self-control. Either way, Irsay’s comments represented an extraordinary — and in this case, refreshing — public rebuke of one owner by another.
NFL owners do not always agree with one another — there are factions, as there are in any other business — but they are mostly cautious business people who lean on previous and almost never offer even mild personal criticism of one another in front of reporters . Irsay, though, essentially called for another owner’s head while holding court in front of dozens of reporters and cameras for nearly 15 minutes, repeatedly revisiting the topic.
It was stunning, not least because his comments apparently caught other owners, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, off guard. When Goodell was asked if he was upset or surprised by Irsay’s comments, he, interestingly, said, “No.” But he advised the other owners not to follow suit. A parade of owners raced for the exits of the meeting hotel, avoiding the reporters who gave chase.
Still, Irsay effectively set the stage for a fight, probably a lengthy and litigious one, which most owners badly want to avoid. They might find it necessary, though, if they are finally to rid themselves of an owner who has driven one of their most revered franchises into the ground, while also bringing relentless embarrassment and shame to the league.
After all, now that Irsay has broken the silence, it is hard to imagine how the other owners can back down — assuming the investigation proves even just some of the accusations are true — without appearing to be afraid of Snyder.