An email scandal cost Jon Gruden his job. Dan Snyder must not evade accountability

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<span>Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP</span>
Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

Amid an NFL firestorm in which the Washington Football Team and their toxic culture is supposed to be the centerpiece, leave it to Dan Snyder to do what his does best. While the aftershocks of Jon Gruden’s bigoted emails that disparage anyone who isn’t an old, white, Trumpian male still reverberate, the focus has rightfully shifted to Snyder. Questions are mounting, including: why were a non-employee’s emails made public, yet the remaining 650,000 emails are sealed? And what exactly is Snyder hiding?

Instead of addressing the media, or better yet, resigning, Snyder pulled a “wag the dog” by announcing that the No 21 jersey worn by beloved Sean Taylor, the beloved safety who died in 2007, would be retired this weekend ahead of the team’s game against Kansas City. The announcement came Thursday with less than four days’ notice. How transparent and disrespectful to Taylor’s legacy and the Washington fanbase to hold something so important in such a hasty manner. But that’s what Snyder does; he deflects and deflects some more while remaining firmly embedded on his throne.

The past week is just the latest reminder that for all the NFL’s supposed cultural evolution, the slimiest of the slime still rule the roost. Snyder helms an organization that made settlements out of court with former employees over claims of incessant bullying and harassment in the workplace. Snyder runs a workplace in which employees were instructed to create a video of a Washington cheerleader photo shoot showcasing the cheerleaders’ private parts, surreptitiously recording while they were changing, to be passed around among coaches and other creepers on the staff. (Snyder denies the existence of these videos, saying: “I do not have any knowledge of the 10-year-old videos referenced in the story. I did not request their creation and I never saw them.”)

As NFL Media’s Jim Trotter put it: “If overseeing an organizational culture that permits the sexual harassment of women and the use of racist, misogynistic & homophobic language isn’t enough to get you bounced, what is?”

Nothing gets Snyder bounced. Everything is deflected or litigated. A sexual harassment suit against Snyder from a former female employee was settled in 2009 for $1.6m. Touting and profiting a racial slur of a nickname was completely accepted until sponsors threatened to pull out.

Related: Jon Gruden was hostile to Black people for years before his emails came out

The NFL fined Washington $10m after their investigation into the workplace culture was wrapped in July. Unlike Deflategate or Spygate or any other scandal not directly pointed at an owner in which the published findings were as thick as War and Peace, the league strategically decided not to release a written report about the Washington scandal. Ten million for a billionaire like Snyder is a small price to pay in general, certainly in exchange for keeping the results of the investigation sealed.

Even in the aftermath of the Gruden emails to Bruce Allen – Snyder’s former right-hand man – when it seems likely that there’s a mountain of damning evidence among those 650,000 emails, the league is holding firm. Even as the cheerleaders, the media and public at large demand to see the league’s findings.

The protection of Snyder over this scandal, and over the years, undermines so much of the league’s progress in other areas. While it’s great that a legitimate pipeline for women has been created, which includes the appointment of Washington running back coach Jennifer King, what murky waters are they entering? Some organizations are clearly better than others. The Bucs, led by co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz and Bruce Arians, are models of diversity and inclusion. Then you have Cowboys owner Jerry Jones who called those involved in the Gruden email release, “outstanding proponents of our game”, and once called convicted felon Greg Hardy “a real leader”.

Collectively though, these owners, and their top-ranked employee Roger Goodell, are at present united in allowing a cancer like Snyder to still wield so much power. Unlike former Clippers owner Donald Sterling who was ousted after a conversation exposing him as a racist was released, we don’t know if there’s a smoking gun on Snyder. Reportedly, Snyder doesn’t use email, which is among his wiser decisions. But do we really need a smoking gun in the case of Snyder?

Surprising to some, Gruden’s racial trope email about NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith wasn’t a one-time slip, yet we know that Snyder is a living history of toxicity. It’s disturbing that the same NFL that promotes a culture of inclusion and has so many decent people under its umbrella, would allow Snyder to remain unscathed. The women brave enough to come forward and NFL employees and fans from marginalized groups, deserve better.

  • This article was amended on 15 October 2021 to clarify that Snyder’s organization was not sued by 40 former employees for incessant bullying and harassment in the workplace, but settled with them out of court. It also corrected the date of the $1.6m settlement in the sexual harassment lawsuit against Snyder from last year to 2009. Additionally, it added Snyder’s denial that he had knowledge of the surreptitious video recordings of Washington Football Team cheerleaders.

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