Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay’s comments may prove to be the catalyst that ended Daniel Snyder’s ownership of the Washington Commanders.
“I believe that there’s merit to remove him as owner of the (Commanders),” Irsay told a group of reporters Tuesday during a 14-minute media session at the NFL fall meetings.
Snyder and the Commanders are currently the subjects of multiple investigations, including one probe by the House Oversight Committee and another by the NFL, led by Mary Jo White, the former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The investigations center on allegations of sexual harassment involving Snyder, financial misconduct and the use of nondisclosure agreements, among other matters.
Yet, while Irsay’s rebuke presents an unprecedented moment of candor and a potential litmus test that could engender other owners to agree either publicly or privately, it’s merely the first step. There is a mechanism in the league’s constitution and bylaws that allows for Snyder’s removal, which includes a “special meeting” that acts similarly to a trial.
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Here’s how that process would unfold.
The White report
As NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stressed during an executive session at Tuesday’s fall meetings, he wants ownership to withhold their public comments on Snyder and the Commanders until White completes her investigation. “I said it to the membership: ‘Speculation without facts is not a very positive thing to do,'” Goodell said Tuesday during a press conference.
Goodell added that he’s not imposing a timeline on the White investigation, so it’s unclear when it will be finalized. Still, because White is someone the NFL hired to perform the inquiry, she will submit her report to the league, which will then control when and how it releases any findings. In any case, once it is submitted to the league, Goodell will share the findings with ownership at a future league meeting. At that point, owners will be able to discuss the ramifications of the report in a formal capacity, most likely during an executive session.
Involuntary termination and a ‘special meeting’
Based on “The Constitution and Bylaws of the National Football League,” a copy of which was unsealed during the ongoing lawsuit former Raiders coach Jon Gruden filed against the NFL in November 2021, there is a mechanism that allows for the involuntary removal of an owner.
The process falls under Article VIII, Section 8.13(B) of the document, which outlines the disciplinary power of the commissioner. Included in the process is a “special meeting” that is like a trial.
The process is as follows:
- Either commissioner Roger Goodell or any member of the ownership’s executive committee may present charges on the ground that Snyder “has violated the provisions of the Constitution and Bylaws or is or has been guilty of conduct detrimental to the League or to professional football.” Those charges would need to be submitted in writing.
Goodell then would have the right to conduct an investigation “as he deems appropriate.” After that, he must submit a copy of the charges by mail to each NFL team, and to Snyder. In that correspondence, Goodell would have the right to make a recommendation concerning suspension or termination of ownership.
- Snyder would then have 15 days to file to Goodell a written response. Goodell would then deliver a copy of the response to the other owners of the league.
- Goodell would then call a “special meeting,” the time and place of which he would designate, “to hear the charges.” Goodell would preside over the meeting.
- Snyder would have the right to appear in person at the meeting and would also have the right to legal representation. According to the constitution and bylaws, “strict rules of evidence shall not apply, and any testimony and documentary evidence submitted to the hearing shall be received and considered.”
Snyder and his team would then be entitled “to an adjournment for a reasonable time” to allow for a rebuttal.
- After hearing the evidence from both sides, a vote would be held. A three-quarters majority — or 24 votes — are necessary to approve removal. One quick note worth pointing out here: since Snyder or any Commanders representative would undoubtedly vote against the measure, the bar to clear would need to be 24 of 31 available votes.
- Should the vote to terminate Snyder’s ownership of the Commanders succeed, he would be forced to sell the franchise within 120 days. If Snyder does not fulfill that order, he and Goodell would then need to mutually agree to the price and terms of sale. If they cannot reach a mutual agreement, then the matter would go to arbitration.
According to the constitution and bylaws, any ruling that passes with the required three-fourths majority “shall be final, conclusive, and unappealable.”
Originally written for the 1970 NFL merger, the unsealed constitution and bylaws were revised in September 2016.
The unspoken part
This is where internal politics come into play. Rationally, it does not make sense for Goodell or any member of the ownership’s executive committee to present charges against Snyder if they do not feel certain there is enough support to reach the 24 votes. The reason being that if charges are presented and the vote to terminate ownership fails, it would likely create a schism and could disrupt the harmony and collaborative energy necessary for league affairs to run smoothly.
These conversations presumably would take place in smaller, backdoor channels, among close allies, in order to get an unofficial head count of who is in favor.
Could Snyder refuse this process?
Although the Commanders issued a strongly worded statement Tuesday in response to Irsay, reiterating the stance that Snyder does not intend to sell, it’s within reason that he may not want to go through the process of being questioned before his peers and would preemptively sell.
“We are confident that, when he has an opportunity to see the actual evidence in this case, Mr. Irsay will conclude that there is no reason for the Snyders to consider selling the franchise,” Tuesday’s statement read. “And they won’t.”
Has this mechanism ever been used before?
No. The closest example came in December 2017, when Carolina Panthers founder and former owner Jerry Richardson voluntarily put the team up for sale two days after the Panthers disclosed Richardson, then 81, was the subject of an internal investigation over alleged workplace misconduct. According to a report from Sports Illustrated, the claims included sexual harassment and the alleged use of a racial slur toward an African American scout. Though Richardson faced public pressure to sell, he never faced opposition from NFL owners. In fact, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in December 2017 that he was “really sad” that Richardson put the team up for sale, calling him “one of the really, really, really outstanding men of football.”
In May 2018, David Tepper purchased the Panthers from Richardson for a then-NFL-record $2.2 billion.
Who is Dan Snyder?
He is a 57-year-old businessman who made most of his wealth as a marketing executive. In 1999, NFL owners unanimously approved the sale of the Washington franchise to Snyder, then 34, for the then-record price of $800 million.
In Snyder’s 23-plus seasons as owner of the Commanders, Washington has had 10 different head coaches and has appeared in the postseason just six times. The furthest the team has gotten in the playoffs during Snyder’s tenure has been the divisional round, twice, in 1999 and 2005.
Washington is 158-216-1 since Snyder took over as owner, with 14 losing seasons in that span. Washington has never won more than 10 games in a single season with Snyder as an owner. It reached that mark three times, in 1999, 2005 and 2012.
Contributing: Tom Schad