Washington’s NFL franchise has new name but same old problem

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With the announcement Wednesday of Washington’s new nickname, the NFL club took another step in an effort to repair its image. Now, the team’s owners must continue the momentum: For the good of the franchise, it’s time for Daniel M. Snyder and his family to step aside and hire someone to run their business.

The unveiling of the Commanders’ logo and uniform colors marked the latest major turning point for Snyder. For years, he vowed he would never change the name the team played under from 1933 until 2020, a name which many considered a racist slur toward Native Americans, until finally bowing to public pressure from corporate sponsors.

Before this week’s development, Snyder was already deep into an organizational shift he initiated a little more than two years ago by hiring coach Ron Rivera and team president Jason Wright. In July 2021, Snyder accepted the NFL’s $10 million fine and instructions to make changes after an independent investigation revealed Washington’s toxic workplace culture. He elevated his wife, Tanya, to co-CEO to take over day-to-day duties. And Snyder turned his focus to “a new stadium plan and other matters.”

With an eye toward the future, Snyder made a series of moves — Julie Donaldson became the first woman to be a regular on-air member of an NFL team’s radio broadcast booth, and hiring GM Martin Mayhew made Washington the only NFL team with a president, GM and coach from minority groups — and shouldered responsibility for unprofessional conduct that occurred on his watch.

That’s something. However, after a generation of Snyder’s inept stewardship, it’s not nearly enough to inspire confidence that Washington is on the correct path.

The fact is, he has exhausted much of the fan base’s goodwill. In order for Snyder to set a winning course for Washington, he can’t be aboard the ship. His presence would continue to sink it. That’s why Snyder should appoint a new CEO, preferably one without any personal or family ties to him or his wife, and empower the person with autonomy in guiding the franchise. That would show Snyder is serious about attempting to turn the page.

Calls for Snyder to sell the team have become as common on social media as frustration expressed about its win-loss record. Fed up with the owner, fans aren’t showing up for games. This season, Washington ranked second to last in attendance in the 32-team league.

Snyder hoped the rebranding would mollify his vocal critics and provide him with a clean slate, or at least one as close to clean as possible. Allegations of sexual harassment within Washington’s workplace and other misconduct by team officials dashed any chance of that. (Snyder was not the subject of allegations; however, Washington settled a sexual misconduct allegation regarding Snyder with a former employee in 2009 for $1.6 million, according to The Washington Post.)

Then there’s Washington’s enduring on-field problems. The team went 7-10 this season, marking its fifth straight season with a sub-.500 record. In Snyder’s 23 seasons as Washington’s owner, the club has had six playoff appearances and two postseason victories. The main source of the fans’ despair is the man whose name is at the top of the club’s organizational chart.

In the past, Snyder would make splashes in free agency by signing high-profile players to big deals. He’d hire prominent head coaches. Those were his go-to moves.

However, Snyder went to those wells so often that most fans now see through the smoke-and-mirrors stuff. Joe Jackson Gibbs isn’t walking through that door again.

Some fans maintain hope that Snyder will bow to public pressure again and sell the franchise. They see parallels in what occurred with former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. It’s important to note that despite the rot exposed in Washington’s corporate culture, the situation with the Panthers was much different.

Richardson, Carolina’s founder, put the Panthers on the market after alleged confidential payouts for workplace misconduct, including sexual harassment and use of a racial slur triggered an investigation by the league. Again, the NFL didn’t directly implicate Snyder in any wrongdoing stemming from the investigation of Washington’s franchise.

Snyder bought the team for $800 million in 1999. The franchise is now worth $4.2 billion. The odds of him voluntarily selling the Commanders are exponentially higher than that of the team winning a Super Bowl anytime soon.

By supposedly handing the reins to his wife, Snyder all but acknowledged the depth of the fans’ contempt for him and tried to lower the temperature by appearing to pull back publicly. However, because Washington’s co-CEOs are married, it’s fair to wonder whether Snyder is really as hands-off on daily decision-making as he claims. To remove all doubt, a wall is needed between the franchise and its owners. An independent CEO would provide a good look.

Generally, NFL team owners don’t make decisions based on an overriding desire to do the right thing. If they did, the league would have only privately financed stadiums and more than one Black head coach. Foremost, club owners are business people whose actions are driven by their favorite color: green.

It’s in Snyder’s best interests to truly step away, because he’s trying to keep up with the Joneses. Literally.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has the NFL’s most valuable franchise, which is worth $6.5 billion. The Cowboys play in sparkling AT&T Stadium, which opened in 2009. Since 1997, Washington has called FedEx Field home. Let’s just say Washington’s fans don’t rave about the game-day experience there.

In addition to the Cowboys, the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington’s other NFC East opponents, also play in modern stadiums. As long as Washington is stuck in FedEx Field, Snyder faces a significant disadvantage within the division to generate revenue. Securing a deal for a new stadium is central to his plan for the continued financial growth of the franchise, which his family owns outright after it bought out minority owners last summer for a reported $875 million.

The club’s efforts to garner public support for a stadium could be boosted if Snyder faded further into the background.

Ultimately, fans care most about winning. Rivera could help his boss by getting the team turned around. But Rivera, who led Washington to the NFC East title in his first season despite having a losing record, is 14-19 with the team. While Washington’s perpetual search for a franchise quarterback continues, Rivera faces other key roster questions as he prepares for his third season. Snyder can’t count on Rivera to get him off the hook.

It took a long time and a staggering number of wrongheaded decisions for Snyder to lead Washington to such a bad place, and there’s no telling whether the club will ever regain its luster. But by removing his hands from the levers of power, Snyder could give the Commanders something they’ve never had with him in charge: a chance.



Source : ESPN