Tall Tale? Despite being labeled a Napoleon, Snyder may be of normal height.
Tall Tale? Despite being labeled a Napoleon, Snyder may be of normal height. Credit: Photo by Darrow Montgomery

We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

The recent Forbes profile of Dan Snyder, fulfilling the magazine portion of the Redskins owner’s multi-media image repair campaign, contained at least one bombshell.

The shocking scoop came buried in a section about Snyder’s ongoing feud with The Washington Post: “Among other slights,” wrote ForbesMonte Burke, “the Post’s Mike Wise called him ‘Napoleon in a luxury suite’ (though he’s 5 foot 9).”

Snyder? Five-foot-nine? Really?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, the average height of an adult U.S. male is 5’9.4”, meaning the Snyder described by Forbes is…AVERAGE?

No public figure around here, or perhaps anywhere outside of early-19th century France, has an image more closely tied to his allegedly pint-sized stature than Snyder has. He’s been abused in every way imaginable by fans for being a small man.

Some of the nicknames used for the owner on Internet forums: “Little Midget,” “Midget Danny,” “tyrannical midget,” “Midget Boy,” “Money hungry midget,” “little fucking midget,” “megalomaniac midget,” “egomaniacal dwarf,” “egotistical dwarf,” “poison dwarf,” “Mr. Micro,” and “puffy-faced, Napoleonic, coprophiliac homunculus.”

It’s not just message-board bullies. Paid journalists also got into the act well before Wise’s slam, using precious column inches to liken the Redskins owner to a certain French emperor. A 1999 front-page Post profile compared him to “a young Napoleon.” In November 2003, the paper ran a feature with the headline: “Criticism of Redskins’ ‘Napoleon’- Like Owner Increases After Each Loss.” In 2007, when Snyder and Tom Cruise briefly formed a movie-development partnership, the paper put together a package of possible projects, including the film Napoleon Complex Dynamite.

And, for the record, the Bonaparte barbs doesn’t just come from the Post. Tom Edsall, in a 2009 piece for The Huffington Post that blasted Snyder from all sides, quoted his friend Jack Germond trying to explain why Redskins fans are suffering the same fate under Snyder that Orioles fans are suffering under Peter Angelos: “So the real trouble may be—dazzling insight here—that both of them are short.” Also last year, avowed Snyder disliker John Feinstein remarked in a blog post about the owner’s “Napoleonic obsession with being called Mr. Snyder.” (Though, if Napoleon was obsessed with having folks use his last name, as Feinstein insinuates, wouldn’t the parlance we ended up with have been “Bonaparte Complex?”)

And what about all those photos published through the years of Snyder standing beside, and not measuring up to, famously short folks like Tom “5’7”-in-heels” Cruise? At least one Post photo highlighted the lifts on Snyder’s work shoes. Hell, even in the video promos for his interview this week on ESPN’s “E:60,” Snyder is shown standing in the Redskins Park parking lot alongside itsy-bitsy sportscaster (and ex-Washington Post Capitals beat writer) Rachel Nichols. Nichols is holding her own, height-wise, with the owner.

But now we’re supposed to not trust our lying eyes, and just accept that Snyder’s really… AVERAGE?

Can we trust Forbes?

There are other aspects of Burke’s story that suggest we should maybe take the assertions about Snyder’s averagedom with an above-average grain of salt. For example, Burke wrote that when Snyder acquired the team and what is now FedExField, “all stadium traffic funneled through a single two-lane road,” until the new owner swooped in and “fixed the parking and egress” issues. Burke’s traffic and parking revisionism isn’t even in the same ZIP code as reality: What actually happened is that Snyder added 13,000 seats, making the traffic problems worse.

But, regardless, Burke stands by the height he published for Snyder. He says the 5’9” figure came directly from Snyder’s lips during an interview and “it didn’t seem like he was lying when I stood next to him.”

“He didn’t seem to be 5’2” or 4’9”,” says Burke via email.

Burke says he later fact-checked Snyder’s claim through Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie, who confirmed 5’9”. ‘Course, Wyllie’s not going to go up to his boss with a tape measure just to make sure his boss told a reporter the truth.

Then again, fibbing about his height would also make Snyder average. That’s according to a study titled “Deception in Online Dating,” in which Cornell researchers used data from participants in four major relationship instigation services: match.com, Yahoo! Personals, Webdate, and American Singles. The study found that “almost half the participants lied about their height” by at least half an inch, including 55.3 percent of males. Of all the lies told about physical attributes, in fact, men were most likely to lie about how tall they were.

“Men systematically overestimate their height,” the researchers concluded.

Some shrinks think size can determine behavior. Fear of shortness is primal enough that men will lie about height even in situations, such as dating, where they know they’ll get caught, says Ish Major, a South Carolina-based psychiatrist and author of Little White Whys: A Woman’s Guide Through the Lies Men Tell and Why.

“In pop culture, American culture, what’s the iconic image? Tall, dark and handsome,” Major says. “Guys who are on the short end of that stick feel they have a constant battle to prove to you and others that they are worthy. The Napoleon Complex or Short Man Syndrome or whatever unsavory term you use is basically just an inferiority complex, a big struggle to try to prove something to themselves. So you find guys who are shorter seeking out taller women as a way of equalizing that out. And if it can’t be changed or fixed, you just lie about it. And lying about height is a dumb lie, because once they meet you people can pretty much see how tall you are.” (Major was not speaking about any specific individuals, and Dan Snyder was not mentioned during the interview. Though, coincidentally or no, in photos Snyder’s wife always appears to be much taller than him.)

Just as Snyder’s hitting new heights here, across the pond there’s also been a movement among European historians disputing that Napoleon was ever really short. These revisionists say the French emperor’s image as a small man comes from errors in translating from the French measurement units to the British inch. The Little Guy persona only stuck, they argue, because it was played up by an adversarial press, because Napoleon surrounded himself with large guards (as in Imperial guards, not guards like Randy Thomas and Mike Williams), and because of the popularity of some inaccurate nicknames that had been unfairly foisted on him (“Le Petit Caporal”).

So they want to revise Napoleon’s height from the historically accepted 5-foot-2-inches to nearly 5-foot-7. Considering his time and country, the new Napoleon would be average. Which is to say, a lot like the Forbes version of Dan Snyder.

Read Cheap Seats Daily every weekday at City Desk.