Washington owner Daniel Snyder remains determined to keep control of the franchise he purchased in 1999. That objective could become more challenging in the aftermath of the latest item from the Washington Post.
Will Hobson, Beth Reinhard, and Liz Clarke of the Post report that the Washington Football Team paid $1.6 million in 2009 to settle an allegation of sexual misconduct against Snyder. The payment was made to a female former employee of the team. The alleged incident occurred on Snyder’s private plane, while flying back from the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas.
The settlement contained a confidentiality clause, a standard term whenever a deal of this nature is reached. The entity resolving the claims against it (individual or business) pays in part for legal certainty, and in part for silence. Whether the goal is to avoid public embarrassment and/or private entanglements or to simply prevent other disgruntled former employees from buying a ticket to what many corporate concerns regard as a lawsuit lottery, those who pay the money routinely request confidentiality — and those who receive the money routinely agree to it.
Thus, as a threshold matter, the disclosure of this incident undermines the arm’s-length transaction in which Snyder’s lawyers and the former employee’s lawyers engaged. The former employee, with the benefit of counsel, accepted the payment and in turn waived the right to take the case to court, where it would have become inherently and conspicuously public. The former employee, through her lawyers, agreed that the facts would not come to light as one of the terms of the payment received. The fact that someone breached the agreement, even if it was made 11 years ago, creates an obvious problem that should not be glossed over by media outlets that have a clear interest in reporting on things that otherwise would not be known.
As a reporter and the owner/operator of a football news organization, my default position becomes “more information is better.” As a former lawyer who negotiated confidential settlement agreements on both sides of the “v”, my default position always has been, “A deal is a deal.” If the person who agreed to keep the payment confidential wanted to publicize the incident, the person shouldn’t have accepted the money and instead should have filed a lawsuit and/or spoken to a reporter and/or held a press conference. Once the paperwork is signed, the commitment is made to not say anything to anyone, ever.
In this case, it’s possible that the leak doesn’t trace to the person who received the payment in exchange for a commitment to confidentiality. It’s possible someone who was or who still is connected to the organization blabbed. Regardless, and while this position won’t be popular within the context of an inherently unpopular NFL owner, this information was supposed to be kept secret.
Now that the cat has exited the bag, it doesn’t matter. (However, don’t be surprised if the uber-litigious Snyder scorches the earth on multiple points of the globe in search of anyone who has responsibility for speaking out of school.) Snyder potentially faces the same problem former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson encountered three years ago, when SI.com reported on four supposedly confidential settlement agreements arising from Richardson’s behavior.
Richardson sold the team over the revelations regarding his own alleged behavior. Snyder may not go so quietly. Regardless, and as Mark Leibovich wrote in Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times, “[T]he Jerry Richardson problem is not over. There is real concern that Jerry Richardson is the tip of the iceberg. With obscenely rich and powerful and aggressive people like NFL owners, there can be a commonness of not only acting in a brutish and entitled way, but also, simply, of being able to pay people off when they try to speak out. Needless to say, Richardson has no monopoly inside the membership on having engaged in outdated behavior. I think there will be other cases. The league fears there will be others.”
This is the first one that has come to light since Richardson. The question now becomes whether it will be enough to get Snyder to walk away (highly unlikely) or to persuade the NFL to try to make him run (less unlikely).