football on field

Dan Snyder owns the Washington Commanders (formerly Redskins). The National Football League probably wishes he wasn’t an owner and that he would go “quietly into the night.” Mr. Snyder, however, has no intention of relinquishing his franchise. According to ESPN, Snyder claims to have incriminating evidence on his fellow owners and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (Commanders boss Snyder claims ‘dirt’ on NFL owners, Goodell,”, October 13, 2022). Snyder may not be the most appealing character, but his behavior reflects pro football owners’ misbehaviors through the years. Membership in the NFL owners’ club may foster dubious behavior.

I am sure Snyder has information on his fellow owners’ embarrassing and perhaps even illegal activities. NFL owners--past and present--have provided plenty of material for business ethicists to ponder. In the past, owners routinely exploited players with reserve clauses and reverse-order drafts that constricted players’ rights to choose their employers and weakened their bargaining leverage. Once players effectively unionized, the bargaining strengths were equalized and player salaries soared. Owners stonewalled creating effective remedies for concussions. They have allegedly treated team cheerleaders in shabby fashion (cheerleaders have waged several lawsuits against various NFL teams; they earn very little money). Perhaps worst of all, owners mastered the art of coercing taxpayers to cough up millions and even billions of dollars to refurbish or to construct new stadiums.

The Washington franchise has a long history of owners acting badly. The franchise’s original owner, George Preston Marshall (not to be confused with General George Catlett Marshall), set a terribly low bar for behavior. Marshall’s team was originally in Boston and shared the Boston Braves’ baseball stadium. Marshall decided to relocate to Washington, D.C. and dubbed his team the Redskins. Even in the 1930s and 1940s, many people found this a gratuitously offensive nickname. Up until a few years ago, Snyder insisted that Marshall chose the nickname to honor Native Americans. This is a risible claim with a marked lack of supporting evidence. Marshall commissioned a team fight song, “Hail to the Redskins,” with inane and outrageous lyrics. I won’t quote the lyrics (doing so would require several trigger warnings), but the curious can find them on the Internet (make sure to get the unbowdlerized version).

Marshall was a renowned jerk. He was the last holdout against integrating his team and would not have, until Washington, D.C. taxpayers paid for a new stadium in the Capital. The stadium authorities and federal officials stipulated that Marshall could lease the stadium only if he integrated his team. He did so grudgingly.

Snyder, therefore, is cavalier about the facts of the team’s nickname. He is, I suppose, a suitable descendant of Marshall’s ownership.

In any event, NFL ownership seems to contribute to questionable group behavior, a bad boys club run amuck. Snyder’s threats probably have credibility. Divulging others’ misbehavior, however, should not exonerate his own misdeeds.


David George Surdam
University of Northern Iowa

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by the University of Northern Iowa.