The stage is set for Daniel Snyder to emerge from the biggest scandal of his two-plus decades years of ownership without facing serious scrutiny from the league office.
The inescapable clue appears smack dab in the middle of the league’s statement in response to the Washington Post article regarding 15 former female employees who claim that they were the victims of sexual harassment while working for the Washington franchise: “Washington has engaged outside counsel to conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations. The club has pledged that it will give its full cooperation to the investigator and we expect the club and all employees to do so. We will meet with the attorneys upon the conclusion of their investigation and take any action based on their findings.”
Washington has engaged outside counsel, not the NFL. Outside counsel always has a duty to outside counsel’s client. Here, outside counsel’s client is Washington. More specifically, the client is Snyder. Outside counsel undoubtedly will not make findings that include, for example, placing significant blame on Snyder for creating, tolerating, encouraging, and/or failing to rectify a toxic culture that resulted in these allegations.
Amazingly, the league has decided both to allow and to embrace this approach. Did the Saints get to hire their own lawyer to investigate the bounty scandal? Did the Dolphins get to hire their own lawyer to investigate the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin situation? Did the Patriots get to hire their own lawyer to investigate the Tom Brady air-pressure allegations? Far more relevant to the current situation, did the Panthers get to hire their own lawyer to investigate the allegations of misconduct that eventually forced team founder Jerry Richardson to sell?
The table in this case already is set for the outside counsel to find Snyder blameless, primarily because none of the 15 former female employees made accusations against him. Yes, it may take some smart lawyering to insulate Snyder without making him look like a nincompoop for not knowing what was happening under his nose, but he has hired a smart lawyer.
Tied closely to whether the lawyer hired by Snyder will conclude that Snyder has significant responsibility for the workplace environment in the workplace he owns comes the question of whether and to what extent the investigation will feature transparency. If/when (when) the league and/or the team decide to provide little or nothing by way of details because the situation deals with “personnel matters,” there will be no way to check outside counsel’s work in order to determine whether a fair, even-handed investigation and analysis occurred as it relates to Snyder’s role, responsibility, and accountability.
But the answer already is known. Washington, not the NFL, has hired outside counsel. The NFL has accepted and endorsed that approach. The chances of Snyder himself ultimately being responsible for anything that happened during his 21 years of owning the team are, at this point, very small.