Dan Snyder and his wife, Tanya Snyder
Dan Snyder and his wife, Tanya Snyder Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

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Dan Snyder should do the right thing. Not just because it’s the right thing, of course. That would be a lot to ask. But he should do the right thing because it also happens to be the thing that will likely benefit him the most. I mean, if we’re talking about the Washington Football Team, we might as well get cynical right from the jump.

And the “right thing” in this case is to demand that the NFL release a whole bunch of emails that likely paint Snyder and his organization in the worst possible light. I realize that this seems counterintuitive, but let’s try to game it out.

The current situation started when two newspapers—the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times—got hold of emails from Jon Gruden, most recently the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, previously a commentator on ESPN, and prior to that the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders.

The first email, as reported by the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 8, contained racist and insulting comments made toward NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith. Those comments were met with mild censure and the standard “I don’t have an ounce of racism” defense from Gruden.

The Times story, published on Oct. 11, contained many more emails, with a much wider blast radius of malice and toxicity. Among those included were NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the LGBTQIA+ community, women, and social activists. That drop was a lot more effective—Gruden resigned as Raiders coach within hours of the report posting.

But the emails in question were exchanged, largely, with Gruden’s old friend and co-worker, former WFT general manager Bruce Allen, which raised a lot of questions about what this leak was supposed to achieve. Was someone sending a message to the league? To Allen? To Snyder? Or was Snyder himself behind it? Or the NFL itself? And whoever it was, to what end?

The emails were part of an alleged batch of 650,000 emails that had emerged from attorney Beth Wilkinson’s investigation into the allegedly toxic workplace culture at the WFT at various extended points over the last two decades. Wilkinson was never asked to provide a formal written report and no details of her findings were ever provided. The WFT was fined $10 million and Snyder took (allegedly) a voluntary step away from football operations. The general public was asked to accept that that was all we were getting.

Then the situation pretty much settled down to a gentle simmer, right up until someone started leaking these emails, and it suddenly became clear that there were almost a million emails out there explaining in nauseating, granular detail how the sausage was made and what topless photos the sausage makers liked to look at while they made it. That reopened the whole conversation.

The NFL media corps began demanding to see the emails. The NFL ignored them. The Players Association recommended the NFL release the emails. The NFL said no. Several of the 40-plus women who had stepped forward to accuse the WFT of a toxic, sexist, unsafe workplace environment, came forward again with renewed fervor, demanding justice and due process in the form of, you know, an actual accounting of what the investigation had found (including the text of the 650,000 emails). As I write this, the NFL has largely ignored them as well.

The Los Angeles Times managed to get their hands on some of the emails from a court filing, leading to more collateral damage. Emails showed ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter allowing Allen to review an article about the 2011 NFL labor negotiations and referring to Allen as “Mr. Editor.” ESPN and Schefter released some mealy-mouthed, unconvincing statements while media Twitter yelled about integrity.

Which brings us back to Snyder. Some, like Washington Times columnist Thom Loverro, have implied that Snyder has a connection to the release of the initial emails (the WSJ reporter in question had done a hopelessly naïve puff piece on Snyder a couple of months back), even though the net result was to bring renewed attention to the negative workplace investigation. This checks out, because Snyder has never shown any real belief in the Streisand Effect. The suspicion is enhanced by Schefter catching a stray because Snyder’s wife, Tanya, who is currently acting as owner and CEO of the WFT, made a number of out of touch comments on Schefter’s podcast. I’m not sure that I personally believe Snyder’s temperament is suited to this sort of machination, but it’s an idea that has gained some traction.

Regardless of who leaked the emails, one thing seems totally clear: Snyder has somehow remained largely untouched by the dust cloud kicked up by 650,000 emails harvested in an attempt to determine exactly what kind of workplace culture he had established. This strains credulity, to say the least. And both Snyders have remained uncharacteristically silent as the chaos builds, somehow avoiding their usual inclination to speak up and make things worse.

Most people who think about the emails being made public are wishcasting an end to the Snyder regime in Ashburn. That’s almost certainly not going to happen, unless there are emails directly implicating Snyder in like eight trillion felonies. And even then, it would be no sure thing.

Anyway, that’s not even close to cynical enough for this situation. The right way to think about it is this: Dan and/or Tanya Snyder have yet another chance to make themselves the hero of the hour, and they’d be foolish not to seize it.

The Snyders, by all accounts, do not use email. So there’s unlikely to be a first-person, no-brainer smoking gun that would take him out. And most of the people who will get taken down by what’s in those emails are, like Allen, long dismissed from Ashburn to begin with. Most of them have also seen their relationships with Snyder wither, so what does he care what’s revealed about them? Also, everyone expects the worst out of Snyder and this organization all the time, so almost anything bad revealed in those emails would likely fall into the category of “exactly what you’d expect.”

Given all of that, what Snyder should do is stand up, pay some courteous lip service to the women who have raised these complaints, and demand the NFL release the emails so everyone can understand just what he is—and isn’t—guilty of.

If you want to be optimistic about it, you could call it taking a stand that puts him on the right side of history. If you want to be cynical, you could observe that it’s the rare chance to make a move that is almost universally popular. Almost everyone, regardless of ideology or politics, seems to want these emails made public, except for the people in the NFL office who could actually make it happen. And if you wanted to be pragmatic, you could point out that it is the only rational move for someone who truly believes they are in the right.

Because that’s where Snyder stands right now: If he appears to want the emails suppressed, it is all but an admission that there is something to hide. (The fact that attorneys offered hush money payments to the formerly employed women who spoke up could also be read as an admission that there’s something to hide, but let’s assume for the moment it was just a good faith attempt to end an embarrassing chapter in the franchise’s history.)

The team has talked a lot recently about being forward thinking, inclusive, and diverse, and in many cases they have backed it up with straightforward actions. But this is an inflection point. The stakes are higher, and the necessary action is correspondingly difficult. The Snyders and the Washington Football Team need to prove that they are up to it.