The bombshell article from the Washington Post painting a trouble picture of workplace misconduct and chronic sexual harassment within the Washington organization specifically makes no allegations against team owner Daniel Snyder.
Here’s the key quote from the story, regarding the 15 former female employees who allege sexual harassment while working for Washington: “No woman accused Snyder or former longtime team president Bruce Allen of inappropriate behavior with women, but they expressed skepticism the men were unaware of the behavior they allege.”
The skepticism is justified. Given that 14 of 15 former employees who allege sexual harassment refused to be identified due to fears of litigation arising from nondisclosure agreements that include express threats of legal reprisals, it’s possible if not likely that Snyder knew all about any complaints that would have been made to support the severance agreements containing a confidentiality clause.
That said, it’s possible that each and every one of the 14 agreements was a general and perfunctory document signed by employees in exchange for severance pay, independent of a specific claim of misconduct. Without more information as to the circumstances of each employee’s NDA, it’s impossible to know with certainty what Snyder would have specifically known.
Although Snyder apparently was never the target of any allegations resulting in a nondisclosure agreement (unlike former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson), the question becomes whether and to what extent Snyder, as the leader of the organization, is responsible for the behavior of his executives and other employees. At some point, the culture becomes so obviously toxic and hostile that the person responsible for the entire franchise necessarily is responsible for the culture.
Unlike several other owners who live in a city other than the one in which their team is located, Snyder has an active and present role in the Washington organization. He sets the tone, and he has general awareness of the manner in which that tone is manifested by the interactions between the employees under his supervision.
As explained in the story, the 15 former employees “blamed [Snyder] for an understaffed human resources department and what they viewed as a sophomoric culture of verbal abuse among top executives that they believed played a role in how those executives treated their employees.”
The story mentions that “Snyder routinely belittled top executives, according to three former members of his executive staff, perhaps most intensely [Dennis] Greene, the former sales executive, whom Snyder mocked for having been a male cheerleader in college. After one executive staff meeting, according to one former employee, Greene said Snyder had ordered him to do cartwheels for their entertainment.”
In any organization, that kind of behavior from the top of the organization quite likely will trickle down the chain of command, resulting in similar mistreatment of subordinate employees being tolerated, accepted, and even encouraged.
Thus, while none of the 15 former female employees directly accuse Snyder of misconduct, it will be very difficult for him to escape blame. To have any chance at doing so, he’ll essentially have to be willing to characterize himself as being clueless as to the things that were happening right under his nose.
“He is going to feel a lot of pressure,” one source with extensive knowledge regarding the manner in which NFL franchises operates observed.
Indeed Snyder will. And he’s going to be hoping that neither the league office nor a critical mass of Snyder’s fellow owners feel compelled to make an example out of Snyder by forcing him to sell his stake in the franchise. Much of that will depend on the extent to which the misadventures and escapades in Washington generally tarnish The Shield and the other 31 teams that stand behind it.