One of the foundational moments in the modern history of social justice in sports — in professional leagues stepping up and “doing the right thing” — came in 2014, when new NBA commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference and called on Los Angeles Clippers. owner declared Donald Sterling “banned for life” from the competition for wildly racist comments. It could be argued that Silver’s bold statement cemented the NBA’s position as the “progressive” sports league and kick-started the era of athlete activism and empowerment that exploded in its wake. It felt like the good guys had won.
Silver’s bold statement cemented the NBA’s position as the “progressive” sports league and ushered in the era of athlete activism.
But it’s also worth remembering what Sterling’s banishment really meant. Because he owned a team, rather than an employee or a player, Silver couldn’t really “ban” him, any more than President Joe Biden could “ban” Elon Musk from owning Twitter. What he could do is put so much pressure on him that he felt compelled to sell his team, which, big thanks to sterling’s estranged wife, eventually happened. So Sterling – again, truly one of the most disgusting characters in the last 50 years of sports – had to face the ultimate punishment: He was forced to accept $2 billion in Steve Ballmer’s money for his team. This is how sports owners are really punished. This is as bad as it gets for them.
And these lessons feel relevant again as Daniel Snyder’s car accident continues in the NFL in slow motion. Snyder, the longtime owner of the Washington Commanders (a name he once refused to change and did so only after years of relentless pressure), announced Wednesday that he and his wife, Tanya, had hired Bank of America to “consider possible transactions.” It is a move that could signal a possible sale of the team. (Tanya Snyder, non-Washington fans who may or may not remember, became co-CEO of the team last year, a position where she was promoted after the team was hit by a slew of sexual harassment lawsuits, including some specific to Snyder. point. Snyder has denied any allegation.)
Snyder has rejected calls to sell the team during his reign in Washington, while the city has seen a once-proud franchise flounder on the field and off, constantly embarrassing the league with scandal after scandal. (Here is a chronicle of many of the allegationsbut watch out for that part is 10 years old.) Now the walls finally seem to be getting closer, with different owners calling him to sell the team and an investigation by the US Attorney’s office with financial improprieties (a lawyer representing the commanders told ESPN that such “accusations are simply not true.”) Snyder is not official still selling the team — it’s possible he brought in Bank of America as a diversion tactic — but even that’s a sign he’s finally getting some serious headwinds.
Of course, sport owners’ headwinds are very different from yours and mine. Like Don Sterling, Snyder’s worst-case scenario is, well, a pretty miraculous one for him. If Snyder eventually sells the team, he could end up with more money than anyone else ever received for a sports franchise. Forbes estimates that the commanders are the sixth most valuable franchise in the NFL, valued at $5.6 billion, a truly remarkable sum when you consider the damage done to that team’s reputation. The most lucrative franchise sale in United States sports history took place last year, when the Walton-Penner group bought the Denver Broncos for $4.65 billion. Washington—with its massive fanbase, storied history, and status as, still, one of the NFL’s jewel franchises—would almost certainly top that.
That means Daniel Snyder’s penalty will be the biggest windfall in American sports history.
Like Don Sterling, Snyder’s worst-case scenario is, well, a pretty miraculous one for him.
If you or I — or, more to the point, a Washington executive or player — were to destroy the reputation of one of the best brands in American sport, either through scandal or through repeated, persistent incompetence, we’d be fired. We’d lose our jobs, we’d be mocked in the public square, we’d probably have a hard time finding anyone to take us back into a position like that. We would face the consequences of everything we’d done, all the mistakes we’d made, all the corruption we’d forced on an unsuspecting public.
However, Daniel Snyder, like Donald Sterling before him, will not face such a penalty. He will in fact become richer than he already is, just like Sterling did when he sold his team.
To be fair, Washington Commanders fans will benefit if Snyder sells the team and someone less bossy and cruel (and incredibly shady) buy. The team can even start winning matches again. The NFL will also benefit if Snyder sells the team, as will the employees who claimed to have suffered long under his leadership. It’s possible that a much-needed new stadium will finally arrive. The world will benefit if Snyder sells the team, if only to not hear about him again. But let there be no doubt: if Snyder sells the team, no one on Earth will benefit more than Daniel Snyder. We should all face such worst-case scenarios.