Aldridge: Commanders fans, and a stricken city, finally free of shared burden

Fifty-four years to the day that man first walked on the moon, the sun shone bright again in Washington, the clouds, finally, clearing out.

Finally, someone paid Dan Snyder to go away, rather than the other way around.

Yes, he’s leaving with $6 billion of Josh Harris’ money (and, Mitch Rales’ money, and Mark Ein’s, and Magic Johnson’s), and Snyder will have to pay the NFL $60 million: in essence, his nolo contendere response to the findings of the Mary Jo White report, released simultaneously on Thursday.

The report found that Snyder, himself — himself! — sexually harassed a former cheerleader from the team, Tiffani Johnston, and that the team withheld approximately $11 million — at the behest of “certain former senior executives” of the team — that should have been shared with the league. The $60 million fine, the league said, was “in resolution of Ms. White’s findings and all outstanding matters.”

“The report speaks for itself,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at a brief news conference Thursday in Bloomington, Minn., after the unanimous vote to approve the Harris sale. All family business has been settled. The league that is incapable of being embarrassed had to, finally, acknowledge that this wasn’t behavior it could sweep under the rug. The crack that the Colts’ Jim Irsay opened up between Snyder and the league last October, bringing the discord between Snyder and the league into the open, developed into a full-blown fissure, incapable of repair.

Johnston’s accusations against Snyder? Sustained, White concluded. Former team executive Jason Friedman’s allegations that the club deliberately withheld revenues it should have shared with the NFL? Sustained, White concluded. In fairness, White also concluded there was insufficient evidence to tie Snyder to a photo of Johnston procured by a staff member that showed her partially undressed, or to the team withholding security deposits from former season ticket holders that should have been returned.

“Club personnel knew at the time that certain of the Club’s various (accounting) methods … would be wrong and violated the League’s rules,” White’s report concluded. “For example, in one 2010 email that the Club produced, a former employee, after agreeing to allocate NFL shareable revenue instead to a college football game, jokingly emailed the CFO: ‘[i]f the NFL had a jail… we would be in it.’”

Yes, businesspeople sometimes do unsavory things. But just let that sink in. The now-former owner of the Commanders harassed a team employee, and his team held back money from its partners. Not Bruce Allen. Not Brian Lafemina. Not Vinny Cerrato or Scot McCloughan or Jim Zorn. Dan Snyder.

What, then, is this city’s debt to the dozens of women, along with Johnston, who put their names to their trauma, detailing years of harassment in Ashburn, including by some of the team’s highest-ranking executives, both to media and in testimony before Congress, as Snyder and his Wall of Sycophants denied everything?

“Over three years ago, our clients bravely came forward to expose the egregious sexual harassment and abuse at the Washington Commanders, and today they can claim total vindication,” said Lisa Banks and Debra Katz, the attorneys for Johnston and other former team employees, in a statement Thursday. “Dan Snyder has been forced to sell the team he said he would never sell, pay a massive fine to the NFL and there now exists an extensive public record of his personal wrongdoing and the misconduct that occurred under his leadership.

“We are proud of our clients’ courage in coming forward publicly and working tirelessly to hold Mr. Snyder accountable.”

Harris will be held to a higher standard as an owner, just as he has had to do as majority governor of the 76ers and Devils. He will have to show he’s worthy of what he’s bought into. But, what the Chevy Chase, Md., native has to do, first and foremost, is not embarrass this city anymore.


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Dan Snyder, in his wretchedness, not only ran the on-field product into the ground, but also made people who had passed their love for the team down through generations cringe at the notion of supporting him, through his team. As a result, FedEx was overrun by fans of opposing teams in recent seasons. You can’t stress enough how bad things became on his watch. The team is not just a community asset. It is a source of pride and ties to a city, both the federal and local parts, that often works overtime to divide people from one another. The Commanders, for two decades, under George Allen and Joe Gibbs, soldered the community together.

“This franchise is part of who I am, and who I’ve become as a person,” Harris said in brief remarks Thursday after the vote. “But being a fan is not enough. To be successful, we understand that we need to win championships, create a positive impact on the community, and create incredible memories and great experiences for our fan base, much as I had as a youth growing up in Washington.”

When the Red Sox, finally, won the World Series in 2004, ending 86 years of futility, many of their fans and those who had covered them for so long … couldn’t express their feelings.

It hasn’t been that long since the team won a Super Bowl here — 31 years. It just feels like almost nine decades.

Here, a generation has grown up with no knowledge whatsoever of what the franchise once was, and what it stood for, and the hold it had on an entire fan base. This has never, ever, been a football town. But, once, it was a Redskins town. The team’s grip on the populace was complete and thorough, through all eight wards, an entire town’s mood dictated by what happened on Sunday, or Monday night. From “We Want Dallas” to “Sell The Team,” in 30 years.



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“This was collegiate. We didn’t have the best facilities. We didn’t need it. We had the best people,” said Doc Walker, who got a ring with the first Super Bowl-winning team in Washington and still hosts radio shows in town.

There was a stadium with “crud” hanging off the walls, as Gibbs once put it. RFK, really, was a dump 40 years ago. But the home-field advantage was legit, with hundreds of people camping out on Sunday nights outside RFK to buy the few tickets that were available at 9 a.m. Monday — actual wooden folding chairs, placed on the sidelines the following Sunday. You knew people who were in the team’s band, and that had been in the band for years. You knew the ushers. Everyone wore the gear and had the posters on their walls. It was a civic trust in which everyone could play a role, even if they never were able to get to a game in person.

The former owner, Jack Kent Cooke, was his own reality show back in the day. But when it came to picking the football players, he let the late Bobby Beathard and Charley Casserly — “Charles,” as Cooke often called him — do their jobs, and let Gibbs and his staff do theirs. There was no melting ice cream left in the locker room by Cooke to express whatever displeasure he had with the team’s performance.

“You will quote me on this, won’t you?” he asked me once after his team went 0-8 at RFK, at its nadir there, near the end of a 3-13 season in 1994. “They’re the best bloody fans in America and I applaud them for their loyalty and their perseverance.”

In contrast, Snyder was obstinate until the end.

“On February 18, 2022, the Club stated their ‘intent on having a full and fair investigation’ of the allegations and committed to ‘cooperate fully with Ms. White,’” the White report found. “Despite that pledge, Mr. Snyder and the Club failed to cooperate. Mr. Snyder, for nearly a year, refused to be interviewed and, when he did finally agree to an interview, he declared that it would be limited to one hour.”

Six billion dollars for the brushoff. Seventy million dollars in fines, counting the $60 million levied Thursday and the $10 million the NFL fined Snyder in its sham suspension of him in 2021. It boggles the mind.

But money doesn’t buy you everything. Class, for example. And the Cowboys have been among the richest, most profitable teams in the league for decades. It hasn’t helped them win many playoff games. Similarly, Harris’ arrival, and that of his well-heeled group, doesn’t guarantee things will be better on the field.

“We get a new owner,” Walker said. “What does that mean? Maybe analytics, which they kind of toyed with. I’m just glad there’s not going to be a brotherhood. How about just getting judged on the results? I hope that our program, with this new blood, the guy has owned franchises, and they seem to be leaning into analytics, hopefully that means qualified people are going to be in the building. With a professional franchise, you should not be experimenting. We should not be on anybody’s job resume as their first job.”



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Walker also noted that Washington hired Mike Shanahan as head coach, and his staff had four future NFL head coaches on it, including his son: Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and Mike McDaniel. He added that the franchise had elite, Pro Bowl players at two of the toughest positions to fill during Snyder’s reign: cornerback Champ Bailey and left tackle Trent Williams. And, yet, somehow, none of these people finished their careers here.

“That really kind of defines his ownership to me,” Walker said. “That summarizes, to me, that experience.”

The skies cleared over Washington on Thursday afternoon, though. No word on if it was good yacht sailing weather. This city doesn’t have to concern itself with that anymore, and never again.

(Photo of Josh Harris: Bruce Kluckhohn / Associated Press)

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