The Washington Post’s latest investigative report into Washington Football Team owner Daniel Snyder has already amplified Congressional demands for NFL transparency. By raising the possibility that Snyder ordered the leak of unflattering emails, the story is also poised to affect Jon Gruden’s lawsuit against the league and Roger Goodell.
The lengthy report, published on Tuesday, contends that Snyder obstructed the league’s investigation into alleged workplace misconduct involving his team.
The report recalls that a female employee accused Snyder of misconduct in 2009 while on his private plane. The accusation led to a settlement, which reportedly included a $1.6 million payment to the accuser. A decade later, Beth Wilkinson, an attorney retained by the NFL to investigate the team, attempted to interview the accuser. The Post learned that representatives of Snyder offered the accuser additional money if she agreed to reject Wilkinson’s request (in sealed court records, Snyder reportedly denies this portrayal). If the offer happened, it would contradict Snyder’s public assurance that he and his staff would fully cooperate with Wilkinson’s probe.
The Post also details how private investigators working on Snyder’s behalf visited former team employees in ways they found intimidating and inappropriate. These visits occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and while public health officials urged social distancing. They also arose while Wilkinson and her team were interviewing current and former employees.
As to Gruden, the report relays from a “person familiar with the NFL’s view” that someone acting on Snyder’s behalf may have been the source of leaked emails to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Gruden resigned after publication of the bigoted emails, which he wrote while an ESPN employee in 2011 and which were sent to then-Washington president Bruce Allen. Snyder fired Allen in 2019. However, Snyder is said to still hold a grudge due to suspicions that Allen “was involved in a conspiracy to defame him.” The so-called conspiracy centered on a Media Entertainment Arts Worldwide story that falsely linked Snyder to infamous sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein and sex trafficking.
Another set of emails, sent by NFL executive vice president Jeffrey Pash to Allen during the mid-2010s, were leaked to The New York Times. Those emails suggested that the longstanding friendship between Allen and Pash, whom the Patriots thought had allowed their team to be falsely accused during Deflategate, swayed Pash when assessing WFT compliance with league rules (the NFL denies that suggestion). Pash, the Post reports, gave reason for Snyder to become irritated when he supported Wilkinson’s effort to interview Snyder’s accuser.
The logic behind the suggestion that Snyder orchestrated leaks is as follows: (1) Snyder had custody of the 650,000 emails studied by Wilkinson since those emails were sent to or from WFT employees; (2) Snyder regards Allen and Pash as his enemies, so had motive to hurt them; (3) Allen and Pash were, in fact, professionally damaged by the Times’ and Journal’s stories; (4) as Sportico explained, Goodell is an unlikely source of the Pash leaks since Pash is one of his closest advisers and confidants; and (5) none of the leaks directly damaged Snyder. Under this theory, Gruden—whose NFL coaching career has been destroyed by those leaks and whose younger brother, Jay Gruden, worked for Snyder as WFT head coach from 2014 to 2019—was collateral damage.
Late Tuesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform chair, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi published a letter on the Oversight Committee’s website demanding the NFL “immediately produce to the Committee all evidence of WFT owner Dan Snyder’s interference in the NFL’s investigation into the WFT’s hostile workplace culture.” The committee’s demand follows its previous request for all documents, communications, reports and findings from the WFT investigation, along with numerous other materials and disclosures. The NFL did not respond to the committee’s deadline of Nov. 4.
The committee could seek subpoenas, which could compel Goodell, Snyder and other influential figures to provide sworn testimony. The league’s controversial choice to not release a public report for its investigation into sexual misconduct—the same league that published 221 pages on its investigation into under-inflated footballs—seems harder to defend if, as the Post reports, Snyder willfully obstructed the investigation.
Meanwhile, Gruden and his attorneys have reason to worry they sued the wrong person.
Gruden sued the league and Goodell for tortious interference and other claims stemming from his accusation that Goodell leaked emails obtained by Wilkinson in the WFT investigation. The complaint doesn’t indicate if Gruden has tangible evidence to support this theory.
Goodell’s motive for leaking Gruden’s emails is shaky. Gruden’s emails take shots at many people, Goodell among them. Gruden lambasted him as a “clueless anti football p—-.” While offensive, to be sure, Gruden’s scorn is hardly the first time Goodell has heard ridicule as the commissioner. He’s booed loudly at every NFL Draft and is often criticized by prominent journalists and fans. He’s 62 years old, has been commissioner for nearly 15 years and is secure in his job. Would Goodell leak emails to major media companies as payback over insults mentioned in decade-old emails that weren’t going to be made public unless they were leaked?
If Gruden’s case advances into pretrial discovery, Goodell will be asked to provide sworn testimony on whether he was the leaker. In suggesting that Snyder was behind the leaks, the Post story makes it more likely that Goodell would say, under oath, that he had nothing to do with email leaks.
Gruden would then be faced with the challenge of producing evidence to the contrary, or perhaps suing Snyder. But a lawsuit against Snyder—whose wife, Tanya Snyder, assured the league that neither she nor her husband had anything to do with the leaks—would need to be constructed differently since it would lack a league conspiracy.
In short, the strange world of the NFL and the law continues to provide for curious looks and many billable hours.