- The Washington Times
Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Dan Snyder has spent more than a year trying to fend off those who could threaten his control of the Washington Football Team.

The embattled billionaire owner has been in contentious conflicts with his now-former minority partners, critics who urged him to change the team’s name and even the investigators who are looking into sexual harassment allegations in the team’s workplace. But on Tuesday, he acknowledged that he finally ceded some of that power — to his wife.

Washington named Tanya Snyder as co-CEO on Tuesday — a significant shakeup to the franchise’s executive structure, the first of its kind since her husband purchased the team for $800 million in 1999.

The move adds Mrs. Snyder to a short, but growing list of women serving in chief executive positions in the NFL. Others include Tennessee’s Amy Adams Strunk, Chicago’s Virginia McCaskey, New Orleans’ Gayle Benson, Buffalo’s Kim Pegula and Cleveland’s Dee Haslam. 

In a broader context, the change comes as the NFL is in the midst of an ongoing investigation into the team after more than 40 women said they were sexually harassed while working for the club. Nearly five months ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said lead investigator Beth Wilkinson was “close” to compiling her report. But the league, which did not respond to a request for comment, has not indicated whether the report has been finished. 

In the wake of the name change and the sexual misconduct allegations, Mr. Snyder overhauled the organization on the business side — firing the accused employees and bringing in team president Jason Wright, who has added his own slew of executives in an attempt to repair the team’s culture and image.

Mrs. Snyder, her husband said, became “instrumental” over that period, weighing in on the team’s rebranding efforts and organizational hires. 

“Tanya has always been my closest confidant and most important advisor, but her role has outgrown such informal titles,” Mr. Snyder said in a statement. “The perspective she brings to this organization is invaluable and I am incredibly proud to recognize it with a fitting title: CEO.”

Before her role was expanded, Mrs. Snyder led the franchise’s charitable foundation — launching the team’s “Women of Washington” (WOW) fan club and giving back more than $29 million to the community. She is credited with the concept behind the NFL’s “Think Pink” campaign, a 22-year cause that raises breast cancer awareness.

Mrs. Snyder herself is a breast cancer survivor, having been diagnosed in 2008.

Her expanded role gives the Snyder family a fallback position if Dan Snyder is suspended over the harassment investigation.

Lawyers representing more than 40 women who said they were sexually harassed slammed the move as a “shallow attempt without making any meaningful changes” to the franchise.

“It is also a transparent move by Dan Snyder to try to placate the National Football League (NFL) and other owners by adding his wife as Co-CEO,” attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said in a statement. “The public, of course, sees right through this. 

“To show any true commitment to change, the Washington Football Team and NFL must make the full findings of the independent investigation public and act on Wilkinson’s recommendations to provide both transparency and accountability. We must know the full truth of what has happened at the organization before any meaningful progress can actually occur.”

Legal experts have told The Washington Times that Mr. Snyder is unlikely to be expelled from the NFL — no owner has ever been forced to sell their team — but there could be consequences.

In a Washington Post article last summer, Mr. Snyder was accused of propositioning a cheerleader to “go upstairs” to a hotel room with one of his friends and ordered the creation of lewd videotapes based on outtakes from cheerleading shoots in 2008 and 2010. 

Mr. Snyder has aggressively denied all accusations — initially accusing the paper of running a “hit job” against him. In court, Mr. Snyder accused his three former minority partners of orchestrating a “smear campaign” against him before ultimately buying out their combined 40.5% stake for $875 million.

Mrs. Snyder‘s elevation in the executive ranks prompted the usually media-shy Mr. Snyder to grant a rare interview in which he spoke to the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Snyder said he was determined to take a more hands-on approach in his oversight of the team — saying the workplace allegations were “heartbreaking” and apologizing for them.

“We want to be an organization (where) people say, ‘Wow, they’re the most diverse and most inclusive,’” Mr. Snyder told the paper. 

As part of the team’s overhaul, Washington has hired many executives who are people of color and women. The team also made changes to its gameday entertainment experience — introducing a gender-neutral dance team. On the football side, coach Ron Rivera has filled out his staff with multiple women, including assistant running backs coach Jennifer King and chief of staff Natalia Dorantes.

According to court documents from December, Mrs. Snyder was not listed among the team’s stakeholders. The documents revealed that Mr. Snyder then owned 40.5%, while his mother Arlette and sister Michele own 6.489% and 12.552% respectively. The rest were owned by FedEx CEO Fred Smith, investor Robert Rothman and developer Dwight Schar, but they have since been bought out. 

“This team is our family’s legacy,” Mrs. Snyder said. “We are at a pivotal point in the history of this team as we work to become the gold standard of NFL franchises. The co-CEO titles reflect our approach to that effort. It is a natural progression, but it’s important to formally recognize the diversity of opinion and perspective that informs everything we do.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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