- - Friday, March 3, 2023

Skipper Dan the Sailing Man has left a multitude of victims and a trail of destruction in his wake over the years. But I wonder if he understands —  when he looks in the mirror every morning — does he realize he has screwed over the man in front of him as much as anyone?

The billionaire’s misdeeds are coming back to haunt him, though belated justice may offer little solace to those who suffered the most under his thumb.

Others, though, can take some satisfaction from knowing that, in the end, the Washington Commanders owner was likely undone by his own bitterness.

Here’s what I mean:

Among the seemingly daily revelations that expose new layers of dishonor for this franchise, the most devastating news recently had to be this week’s ESPN story on a federal criminal investigation into a secret $55 million loan the team took out — a loan that may constitute bank fraud.

Prosecutors got ahold of team financial documents, including the arbitration petition, email and letters between Skipper Dan and his lawyers and the owner’s former minority investors — Frederick Smith, Dwight Schar and Robert Rothman.

The skipper’s former partners were bought out in 2021 for $875 million, giving up their 40% stake in the team.

Given the possibility that the Commanders may now sell for more than $6 billion, that would mean that 40% share was probably worth closer to $2.4 billion, I’m betting those three powerful billionaires are pretty angry.

They must have enjoyed reading Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Don Van Natta’s story. They must have loved reading the words “federal grand jury.”

They are probably not alone. There is a long list of Skipper Dan‘s enemies who no doubt feel vindicated seeing the walls close in on the Commanders’ owner.

The documents at the heart of the ESPN report are not the sort of papers that typically find their way into stories. It’s not your typical leak. There are only a handful of people who might have had access.

Certainly the minority owners — Smith, Schar and Rothman — had access, since it was their case.

And God knows they would have motive to have damaging documents wind up in yet another public shaming of their avowed enemy.

But according to a source familiar with the businessmen, it’s not their style.

Skipper Dan lives in daily fear that someone will reveal his secrets, some of which may be far more damaging than what we have learned in the last several years.

He’s certainly not about to drop these documents off at ESPN headquarters.

That pretty much leaves the NFL. But as much as the league may want to pile the garbage on top of Skipper Dan publicly in its effort to drive him out of the league and force the sale of the team, the ESPN story was damaging to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as well.

“Goodell was hardly a bystander to Snyder’s Bank of America loan,” the ESPN story states. “The commissioner’s signature appears in a confirmation agreement that approves the team’s new credit line on the day it was approved: Dec. 13, 2018.

“Goodell knew about the loan,” a source with firsthand knowledge of the matter told ESPN, “but the partners didn’t.”

When the arbitration between Skipper Dan and his then-partners was suddenly railroaded into mediation, there was no appetite on the part of league officials to look into the secret bank loan.

“Goodell and (NFL lawyer Jeff) Pash were not interested in talking about those allegations or any allegations between the parties,” the source said, according to ESPN. “The partners were furious that Goodell and Pash had blocked their request that the arbitrator seek bank records from Bank of America, the source added.”

All of which brings us back to the unanswered question: Among the few that had access to these documents, who felt courageous or angry enough to give these to ESPN?

Maybe start with how all this furor started — emails.

The reality is that none of this — the congressional hearings and probe, the follow-up investigations by the Virginia attorney general, the Maryland attorney general, the D.C. attorney general, the NFL’s investigation by hired attorney Mary Jo White into sexual misconduct allegations against Skipper Dan by former team employee Tiffani Johnston, and the U.S attorney of the Eastern District of Virginia — none of it likely ever happens without the October 2021 leak of emails to the Wall Street Journal that revealed racist comments between former Washington team president Bruce Allen and former Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden.

A second group of emails with more damaging comments by Gruden and his friend Pash were leaked to The New York Times and resulted in Gruden losing his job. He is currently suing the NFL over his firing.

By that time, the sham of an investigation of the Washington football team’s toxic workplace by Beth Wilkinson had been completed, and despite a deserved level of outrage for the coverup of those results, the momentum against Skipper Dan had ramped down.

But then, some of the revelations in those emails prompted the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to get involved.

And who leaked those emails in the first place? According to testimony from Allen to the congressional panel, the leaks came from Skipper Dan himself.

Allen recounted a conversation with Lisa Friel, the NFL special counsel for investigations: “I said, ‘Well, who in the hell is giving my emails to The Wall Street Journal? Why don’t I — I’m the only person that doesn’t have my own emails. Why?’  “And she went on to say, ‘We didn’t do it at the league office. It came out of their side,’” referring to the Washington football team.

There is no federal grand jury investigation into bank fraud against Skipper Dan without the congressional investigation, set in motion by the Commanders owner’s own self-destructive leak to the Wall Street Journal.

And maybe those confidential arbitration documents never see the light of day publicly in the ESPN story if there wasn’t someone inside the NFL whose instinct to protect Roger Goodell was trumped by his determination to get revenge against Skipper Dan, whose worst enemy stares him in the mirror every day.

• You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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