There were, most appallingly, the women. By the dozens over the years. Such as some members of the Washington Football Team’s cheerleader squad, who were included in lewd videos secretly produced without their knowledge, videos two former team employees said were prepared at the behest of team officials. Owner Daniel Snyder denied any knowledge of the videos, but for some reason – who knows? – the squad was dismantled.
There were more cheerleaders, this time at a summer trip to an adults-only Costa Rican resort attended by sponsors of the team, all of whom happened to be men. Some cheerleaders told the New York Times they were made to be little more than hostesses at the event – and they were sometimes required to be topless at photo shoots, even with sponsors in attendance.
There was the revelation last year of a $1.6 million secret settlement paid in 2009 to a woman once employed by the team who accused Snyder of sexual misconduct. Snyder said he settled only at the request of the team’s insurers.
And this week, there were the emails. Written by star NFL coach and ESPN commentator Jon Gruden, the emails to, among other people, Snyder’s longtime lieutenant Bruce Allen were laced with racist, homophobic and misogynistic language.
Gruden resigned. Out of embarrassment.
But he should’ve stepped down as collateral damage from what ought to have been an implosion of Snyder’s ownership of the Washington franchise, detonated by the 31 other NFL owners and the commissioner.
Gruden may have been symptomatic of systemic racism within the White-owned NFL and, given that much of his digital disparagement came when he worked as an ESPN analyst, the majority-White sports media as well.
Snyder, though, isn’t a symptom. As an owner, he is the NFL, its actual disorder.
There are Snyder’s, and the league’s, years of tone deafness to the rising cacophony of voices calling for him to change the team’s name we’ve learned without question is racist. There was what wound up his – and thus the league’s – joke of a charity for indigenous people he once ballyhooed, whose impact dwindled to zero donations by one of its final fiscal years. There was the audacity of his – and thus the league’s – lawsuit against fans who defaulted on season-ticket packages after being hit hard by a recession. And just this month came a DEA probe into his team’s head trainer – who worked for Snyder’s newest head coaching hire, Ron Rivera, in Carolina – on suspicion of distributing prescription drugs that the union, which represents the players in the league, is worried could impact player safety.
But the league hasn’t shown much discomfort with Snyder’s 21-year stranglehold on its Washington franchise. It just granted him and his wife complete control after Snyder’s partners begged out of the muck.
It could be that other owners see Snyder as other NBA owners for so long regarded one of their own, Donald Sterling. Like Snyder, Sterling wasn’t a competitive threat. And as long as he was around, none of the other owners could be the worst.
But even other NBA owners gagged when Sterling was caught whispering sour bigotries to his paramour. Players revolted. Much of the public was appalled. So other owners forced Sterling out.
The NFL should exercise the same right, now. It has the means, Section 8.13 of the Constitution & Bylaws of the National Football League. Titled “Disciplinary Powers of the Commissioner,” it states in part: “Whenever the Commissioner, after notice and hearing, decides that an owner, shareholder, partner or holder of an interest in a member club . . . has either violated the Constitution and Bylaws of the League or has been or is guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football, then the Commissioner shall have the complete authority to suspend and/or fine such person . . . [or] Whenever the Commissioner determines that any punishment that the Commissioner has the power to impose pursuant to Section 8.13(A), is not adequate or sufficient . . . the following additional or increased punishment or discipline be imposed.”
Among the allowable punishments: “Cancellation or forfeiture of the franchise in the League of any member club involved or implicated.”
Has Snyder not lived down to that threshold?
Familiar lowlights sunk another NFL owner. Jerry Richardson was convinced to relinquish the Panthers amid charges of sexual harassment.
But Snyder? The worst that hit him was a $10 million fine from the league for running the franchise’s front office like a bacchanal. Snyder is worth $4 billion. He found that fine money under his couch.
Richardson was an easy case for the NFL, I guess. His Panthers weren’t Washington, once a gold-plated cornerstone franchise of the league. And Richardson was already an octogenarian by the time his sexist ways were exposed. He was easily dismissed as some old coot more representative of a culture thought to have passed by.
The same could be said of another sports team owner sent packing, longtime Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott. She saw Black players as chattel. Spat slurs of Jews and Japanese. All of which earned her a one-year ban from baseball in 1993 before she was drummed out altogether after praising Adolf Hitler to ESPN in a 1996 interview.
And we learned Thursday that Steve Baldwin, the owner of the Washington Spirit women’s soccer team – who players demanded cease running the club and sell it because of alleged mistreatment they suffered under his reign – announced plans to unload his stake.
Maybe a similar protest would force the NFL’s hand. If players, who led us to believe in recent months that they are fearless off the field in demanding justice, stood up and spoke out about the league’s coddling of so much hurtful form – like the Clippers players and others did against Sterling – the league might do what it did with Richardson and force out the fount of this latest harmful revelation. It certainly has cause.
– – –
Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN panelist and professor of the practice at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, writes sports commentary for The Post.
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