ASHBURN — Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday became the first NFL owner to publicly advocate for the removal of Dan Snyder as owner of the Washington Commanders, calling allegations against Snyder “gravely concerning.”
As the league’s owners gathered in New York to finalize issues related to the Los Angeles Rams’ move from St. Louis, Snyder wasn’t on the agenda, but he quickly became a main point of discussion.
“It’s a regrettable situation,” Irsay said. “It pains me to see it. The founders of this league taught me you have to protect the game and protect what we’re about.”
Snyder is under a reported five concurrent investigations for sexual misconduct and financial misdealings as well as a lawsuit brought by fans after a railing fell last year at the team’s stadium. No NFL owner has ever been voted out, but league policy permits it, with 24 of the 32 owners needed.
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Two years ago, the NFL commissioned a report from attorney Beth Wilkinson into Washington’s team culture but ultimately did not release a written version, which multiple media outlets have reported included a recommendation that Snyder be forced to sell the team.
After the report was released, new accusations of sexual misconduct were made against Snyder, leading NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to commission a second report, which is in process now, from former SEC chair Mary Jo White. Goodell has vowed this one will become public record, and on Tuesday, he urged patience in waiting for that report before any actions are taken or deliberated.
“I feel that everyone deserves the opportunity to make sure that they know the facts,” Goodell said. “Speculation is not beneficial; I feel that strongly in my heart. But I also think it’s the right thing to do for anybody. Everyone deserves a fair opportunity. We’ll see what the results of the next investigation is, and we’ll go from there.”
The team continued a recent development of pushing back forcefully against news that portrays Snyder negatively. The team hired a new chief communications officer, Jean Medina, three weeks ago. She previously worked for United Airlines and the Exelon energy corporation.
On Tuesday, the team released a statement calling Irsay’s comments “highly inappropriate.”
The statement continued: “We are confident that, when he has an opportunity to see the actual evidence in this case, Mr. Irsay will conclude that there is no reason for the Snyders to consider selling the franchise. And they won’t.”
The strong tone is reminiscent of Snyder’s insistence that he would “never” change the team name from Redskins, a position he was forced to reconsider after several major sponsors threatened to withdraw their support.
Dan Snyder did not represent the team at Tuesday’s meetings, instead sending his wife and co-owner, Tanya, as well as Commanders President Jason Wright.
Dan Snyder did, however, send a letter to the other owners, which denied an ESPN allegation that he has hired private investigators to compile dirt on the other owners and Goodell, and said the Snyders are “always available” to answer questions the other owners have.
Meanwhile, Snyder took heat from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan after ESPN reported that Hogan, a moderate Republican, offered to help broker a deal for federal land for Snyder three years ago.
The ESPN article did not go into details on why Snyder was disinterested, but noted that it “galls some current owners and league executives” who are aware of how the team’s attendance, the worst in the NFL, impacts their pocketbooks.
“I mean, we’ve been trying to work with them for eight years on the stadium,” Hogan said. “I guess the good news is they’re still in Maryland, and they have currently no prospect of going anywhere else.”
Hogan saved his biggest jab for last. He was asked if the Commanders were really a team with which he wanted to be associated.
“I’m actually a Ravens fan,” said the governor, who used to walk the sidelines before games in a Redskins cap.
That sentiment, declining interest in the team within the market, is one of the reasons owners have grown more vocal on the Snyder issue.
Another is the continued drumbeat of negative news. The bulk of Goodell’s press conference was devoted to the issue, at a time of massive prosperity for the NFL as a whole.
Other owners declined comment on the issue. Reporters at the league-owned NFL Network, which broadcast remarks from Goodell after the meeting, opined that other owners would like to see Snyder removed and Irsay is just the first to say it publicly.
“It is all on now,” said Ian Rapoport, the network’s top reporter.
Irsay said he wants to wait for the NFL to finish its second investigation before discussing Snyder’s removal, but he believes it could happen as soon at the league’s next major gathering in the spring.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but I believe it’s in the best interest of the National Football League that we look it squarely in the eye and deal with it,” the Indianapolis owner said. “I think America, the world, expects us to as leaders.”
Irsay was also unhappy with recent comments attributed to Snyder by ESPN where he referred to the owners’ group as a “mafia” in which “all the owners hate each other.”
“That’s not what we’re about,” Irsay said. “We care a great deal for each other. There’s a lot of friendships in this league and closeness. ... Some of the things I’ve heard don’t represent us at all.”