Daniel Snyder is pushing his luck.
The NFL went easy on the owner of the Washington Commanders in July, and the league has gone to great lengths to keep any evidence regarding years of workplace misconduct within his football operation hidden. The scheme was working.
Then, after someone leaked a handful of emails sent by Jon Gruden to former Commanders executive Bruce Allen, cries for transparency sparked a Congressional investigation. Which prompted a former team employee who hadn’t cooperated with the NFL’s investigation to tell her story to Congress last week. Which has triggered a new investigation of Snyder. And which has caused the NFL to accuse Snyder’s team of impeding the Congressional probe.
Via the Washington Post, the NFL has sent a letter to the committee conducting the investigation accusing the team of keeping documents from being produced. The situation traces to a third-party vendor who has custody of the documents generated by attorney Beth Wilkinson’s 10-month investigation.
“That vendor refused to provide the NFL or even [the law firm of] Wilkinson Stekloff with access to the documents unless the team consented because of its concern that it could be sued by the team or its owner,” the league’s attorneys wrote in a letter obtained by the Post. “The NFL promptly directed the team to provide its consent to the vendor, but the team repeatedly has refused to do so.”
Read that last sentence again. The NFL has issued a directive to the Washington Commanders. And the Washington Commanders have refused to comply with it. Repeatedly.
According to the letter from the league, the Commanders have “insisted that [they] will only authorize the vendor to release those documents to the team, so that the team’s counsel can review the documents for privilege first . . . before deciding unilaterally which documents it will provide to the NFL for production to the Committee.” The league told the committee that this approaches “unacceptable” because it “it would prevent the NFL from ensuring that it can produce all responsive, non-privileged documents to the committee and would delay our production decisions.”
This entire problem traces to the fact that Wilkinson was hired not to investigate the situation with the goal of making any findings publicly known but with the express objective of helping the team (and later the league) limit liability to current or former employees. The legal privileges that are preventing the production of documents flow directly from the wagon-circling nature of Wilkinson’s investigation.
Now, the privileges become part of the shell game aimed at continuing to hide information from Congress and, in turn, from the public. The problem for the team is that the NFL no longer wants to play games, and that the NFL is willing to accuse the team of playing games.
At some point, Snyder needs to worry less about Congress and more about the league. At some point, the desire to help Snyder (which frankly comes from a desire by other owners to avoid landing in a similar jackpot) will be outweighed by the desire to be done with him. The way things are going, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before the league tells him to get lost.