Back in October 2021, when the world was digesting the emails of former Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and getting intimately acquainted with the opinions he shared when most people weren’t listening (or reading), conspiracy theories were flying in every direction. Someone had leaked sensitive materials from an NFL investigation — with the clear intent of achieving some goal — and now everyone had a hypothesis.
Some pointed a finger at NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, who had been the subject of one of Gruden’s derogatory screeds sent to then-Washington team president Bruce Allen. Others surmised that it was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or one of his charges at the league office, looking to make an example of Gruden for a string of racist, homophobic and misogynistic messages to Allen. Still others suggested that it might have been Allen himself, theorizing that he’d been so thoroughly burned by Washington team owner Dan Snyder, he’d sacrifice the reputation of Gruden just to turn the heat up on his former boss.
Publicly, everyone denied having anything to do with it. Privately, it turns out there was a significant accusation by the NFL, one that appeared to put the onus for the leaks onto the Washington franchise. An allegation that, if true, would mean that the person most responsible for Dan Snyder’s downfall is the person we suspected all along.
What is Snyder's connection to the Gruden emails?
Thursday’s revelations from a 79-page congressional report did nothing to diminish that belief, with the House Oversight Committee publishing findings that got right to the point in the title of the document: “Conduct Detrimental: How the NFL and the Washington Commanders Covered Up Decades of Sexual Misconduct.” It contained a multitude of allegations that walk the reader right into Snyder’s office and then proceeds to empty all the garbage cans on his desk.
The report is most appropriately summed up by this paragraph: “The results of the Committee’s investigation, as laid out in this report, are clear: sexual harassment, bullying, and other toxic conduct pervaded the workplace at the Washington Commanders and were perpetuated by a culture of fear instilled by the Team’s owner.”
One nugget buried on page 42 should be of particular interest. It goes all the way back to those Gruden emails, which can arguably be described as the crack that eventually led to Snyder’s crumbling ownership reign. Because one of the undeniable truths of this entire mess for Snyder was that in the late summer of 2021, he appeared to be on the verge of surviving another investigation and the umpteenth round of intense scrutiny and criticism.
Then the Gruden emails leaked in October and everything changed.
Gruden was forced to resign as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Threats of litigation began to percolate. The NFL and Snyder were forced into yet another internal investigation. Then Congress came through the door, opening up the floor and microphones for anyone and everyone with dirt or allegations against Snyder, the NFL and the Washington franchise.
You could argue that the person who leaked those emails ultimately took a heated spotlight on Snyder and then dialed it up to an intensity found only on the surface of the sun. It's a reality that made Thursday all the more interesting when the NFL’s opinion on the matter was ultimately aired out. From the report came an exchange with Allen in which he alleges the league did point a finger when it came to the email leak. Specifically, Allen noted something allegedly shared with him by the league’s special counsel for investigations, Lisa Friel, when Allen complained about his emails ending up in the hands of journalists.
From a portion of Allen’s deposition in the report: “I said, ‘Well, who in the hell is giving my emails to The Wall Street Journal? Why don’t I — I’m the only person that doesn’t have my own emails. Why?’ And she went on to say, ‘We didn’t do it at the league office. It came out of their side.’”
Asked who Friel was referring to when she said “their side,” Allen replied, “She’s pointing a finger at the team.”
Two things are worth noting here for a moment. First off, it’s still an allegation from a league office that has repeatedly deflected culpability or blame for multiple things tied to Snyder or investigations into his franchise. Secondly, Commanders co-owner Tanya Snyder denied that she or her husband had anything to do with the leaked emails when she met with Goodell and team owners at a league meeting following the Gruden revelations.
It’s still just Allen testifying to an allegation that Friel made to him and there is no mention of evidence that was furnished to back it up. That said, it’s one hell of a wild allegation, if only for the fact that it stimulated total legal chaos for Snyder in the aftermath. Should he eventually sell his team, those leaked emails should be remembered as arguably the most significant turning point in the effort to get Snyder out of the league.
The idea that Snyder’s own franchise might have been behind the leak — which is essentially a tacit suggestion that Snyder himself was a part of it — is remarkable.
Leaked emails could ultimately lead to Snyder's downfall
It would basically paint Dan Snyder in the role of Viktor Tupolev, the Russian naval commander who accidentally sunk his own submarine in the movie "The Hunt for Red October." Tupolev chased down his former mentor, Marko Ramius, and fired a torpedo to send his friend to the bottom of the ocean, only to watch that same torpedo circle back and destroy his submarine as one of his officers pronounced, “You arrogant ass. You’ve killed us.”
The moment was a classic plot twist of vengeance. And it would be for Snyder, too.
Is it believable? That’s hard to say. The report itself — not to mention decades of journalistic reporting on Snyder — have certainly suggested that the Washington owner isn’t afraid to engage in fights or score-settling. And in the case of the Gruden emails, there’s no denying that Snyder did try to use them against Allen on at least one occasion long before they popped up in newspapers.
Lest anyone forget, some of those Gruden emails sent to Allen were exhibits in a defamation case brought by Snyder against a media company based in India. During the course of that litigation, Snyder sought to prove that Allen took part in leaking information to the media. To make that case, his lawyers filed exhibits that included some of the emails between Gruden and Allen, as well as between Allen and other media members. While the emails didn’t identify Gruden by name, instead calling him an ESPN “personality,” their inclusion in the case occurred in June of 2021. Those same emails, which Snyder and his lawyers clearly had in their possession, ultimately ended up in the hands of reporters at the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
Whether there are breadcrumbs between the two has not been proven. Nor is there evidence that this is why Friel was pointing at the team as the source of the leaks. However the leaks happened, the fallout is the real story at this point.
That part is less conjecture. It can be measured in not only Thursday’s congressional report, but the litigation brought by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, the forthcoming investigation from Mary Jo White (which will be the third significant probe into Snyder and his franchise), the Gruden lawsuit against the NFL and potentially other pieces of litigation yet to be revealed.
At the center of them all: Vengeance, power and Dan Snyder.