As leadership on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform nears a change, the committee on Thursday released a 79-page report accusing Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder of delivering “evasive” and “misleading” testimony about a toxic workplace, as well as trying to intimidate witnesses.
Part of the alleged witness intimidation included the sharing of “emails with embarrassing language and inappropriate content” sent between former team president Bruce Allen and former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden—the same emails leaked to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times that became the basis of Gruden’s firing and his subsequent lawsuit against the NFL.
The report supplies additional grounds for the league and its team owners to seek Snyder’s ouster, but it is also highly critical of the league itself.
“Conduct Detrimental: How the NFL and the Washington Commanders Covered Up Decades of Sexual Misconduct,” is the culmination of efforts led by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, committee chair, and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, chair of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy. The report’s title plays on the league’s personal conduct policy, which entrusts commissioner Roger Goodell with sweeping authority to prohibit conduct detrimental to league interests.
Much of the report summarizes the last several years of Congressional and NFL investigations into alleged workplace misconduct involving Commanders executives and Snyder. The committee expends substantial energy depicting Snyder as obstructing fact-finding efforts and using questionable methods to suppress unflattering information from becoming public.
The committee says that while Snyder testified an accusation of sexual misconduct made against him in 2009 was reported to the NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, the “specific nature of this allegation” was not revealed to the NFL until 2020. An NFL attorney informed the committee that while the league was aware of a “dispute” the team sought to resolve via arbitration, neither the team nor Snyder explained the nature of that dispute—a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. This type of testimony shows that while Snyder may have stated technically correct information while under oath, the committee believes he framed the information in intentionally misleading ways.
Snyder is also depicted as relying on legal privileges to manage how information was shared with Beth Wilkinson, the attorney originally hired by the team and then the NFL to investigate. According to the report, Snyder refused to waive the attorney-client privilege and other confidentiality obligations pertaining to former general counsel Dave Donovan, who assisted Snyder in handling accusations. As told by the report, Donovan declined to be interviewed by Wilkinson since Snyder wouldn’t waive the privileges.
Snyder, the report charges, also refused to release his 2009 accuser from a nondisclosure agreement. The committee found Snyder’s vetoes hypocritical given his pledge to cooperate “with all aspects of the investigation” and his assurance that Wilkinson was “empowered to do a full, unbiased investigation.”
The report also describes Snyder as a leaker who tried to “smear and smear and intimidate witnesses and send a chilling message to others who were considering coming forward to share information.”
On the eve of expected testimony by Allen earlier this year, representatives for Snyder emailed the committee copies of unflattering emails ostensibly because—as Snyder’s team put it—the documents “would be relevant to his deposition.” Allen told the committee that Snyder was “trying to send a message” and wanted to intimidate Allen into believing “he owns me with these emails, which affect my coworkers, the alumni, my family and friends.” It’s unknown who else possessed the Allen-Gruden emails at the time they were leaked to the media in 2021.
The league may have had them through its investigation into the team. ESPN—Gruden’s employer at the time—may have also had access to them. But while Gruden blames Goodell for the media leaks (the NFL flatly denies the claim), the report at least implies Snyder may be responsible.
The report also finds it curious how often Snyder claimed to not remember seemingly memorable events. The committee claims he “testified over 100 times that he did not know or could not recall basic facts about his role as owner.” This is even true of people his private investigators targeted.
While Snyder receives the brunt of criticism in the lengthy report, the league and by extension Goodell are also critiqued.
“Rather than address issues of workplace misconduct head on, the NFL has deferred responsibility to its clubs,” the report charges. The committee contends that although teams and owners are subject to the personal conduct policy, the league fails to enforce the policy with sufficient vigor and care.
The structure of the league is also criticized as protecting what is sometimes described as an old boys club.
“The NFL’s ongoing failure to take workplace misconduct seriously,” the report asserts, “is compounded by its own policies that are designed to protect the interest of club owners.” The report says a “subset of team owners” oversee the personal conduct policy.
Although the prospective removal of Snyder has generated headlines, the reality of that happening is exceedingly slim. The league has never forced an owner to sell in its 102-year history. Under the league’s constitution, which governs the legal relationship between teams, owners and the league itself, such a move would require, among other steps, 24 of the other 31 ownership groups voting Snyder out. Snyder could then sue under antitrust and other grounds. Snyder, who last month hired Bank of America to explore a sale, could also decide to sell the team.
Meanwhile, Maloney’s tenure in Congress is nearing its end, as she lost her reelection bid in a newly configured New York district to Jerrold Nadler.
James Comer, the ranking member of the committee, will become chair when the 118th Congress convenes on Jan. 3 and Republicans take over the majority. Comer recently said the Congressional investigation into Snyder is “over.”