Ever since Dan Snyder decided a year ago that he needed to change his image, people who know him have waited for him to crack under the pressure of trying to behave rationally while not thinking he could run an NFL team anywhere but into the ground.
Well, now it has happened.
Snyder spent most of 2010 going through intense image-rehab. He hired Mike Shanahan to run his football team and insisted that Shanahan would have total control: no more having to watch tape in the owner’s office; no more players running to the owner to complain about the coach; no more melting ice cream on the defensive coordinator’s desk if Danny didn’t like the play calling.
Snyder hired a new PR guy who began telling the media that “Mr. Snyder,” would be available to talk if they showed up at some charity function where Danny was writing a check and taking bows. The guy called reporters who had ripped Snyder in the past (including me) to take them to lunch and tell them that there was a New Danny in town. (My lunch never happened; I guess I wasn’t pliant-sounding enough when I got the phone call).
Danny started appearing in TV commercials. Even his wife gave interviews about The New Danny. The PR guy managed to con ESPN—okay not that hard—into doing one of the all-time puff pieces on the owner. Snyder was new and improved was the message.
Maybe not so much.
Wednesday, Snyder and his lawyers proudly announced that they are suing Washington’s ‘City Paper,’ for defamation. They’re asking for $2 million in damages. But that’s not really what Snyder’s after: he’s after Dave McKenna’s job. Period.
Dave McKenna has worked at The City Paper for 25 years. He is one of many reporters here in Washington who has watched Snyder’s behavior with dismay through the years and chronicled it. Last November, McKenna wrote a lengthy piece that was more a very thorough research paper than a newspaper story, giving chapter and verse on Snyder’s transgressions as an owner and a human being.
To be honest, reading the piece, there’s nothing shocking in it. Just about everything in it has been previously reported or is well known around Washington. What makes it impressive is the sheer volume of it; the number of times Snyder and his cronies have behaved badly. There was also a cartoon that ran with the story depicting Snyder as the devil.
The story caused little stir. In fact, I hadn’t heard anything about it until this week. When The Post ran a story on Tuesday about Snyder’s lawsuit, I went and read the story—like a lot of people did.
Which is why I am amazed at the utter stupidity of Snyder and minions. I don’t know what The City paper’s circulation is—it’s always been a well-written paper and I read it when I get the chance—but we’re not talking the Post or The New York Times here. What the Snyderistas have done is shine a spotlight on a story that was almost three months old and never generated much buzz when it came out. After all, ‘Dan Snyder is a Jerk,’ isn’t exactly film-at-11 stuff anymore. It’s like reporting that Bob Knight uses profanity.
Now, Snyder is back to doing his bully routine. This time he’s not suing season ticket holders or banning TV reporters who don’t pay him or charging people $20 to watch practice or taking away all signs coming into the stadium or charging a $4 ‘security surcharge,’ in the wake of 9-11. (All of these things were brought up in the piece).
This time he’s trying to get a guy fired because he thinks he can do it. The letter sent from Snyder’s lawyer to The City Paper makes it clear that’s where they’re going with this. The lawyer, some guy named Donovan (Artie perhaps?) points out how rich Snyder is and says that defending such a lawsuit might cost more money than The City Paper or its parent company has. It doesn’t specifically demand McKenna’s firing but that’s clearly what’s going on here.
After all, there is NO CHANCE for Snyder to win a lawsuit like this one. He’s a public figure and people have the right to criticize him. The only way he can win a lawsuit would be to (A) prove that the facts in the story are wrong and (B) that there was malice involved in reporting whatever is incorrect. Given that almost all of all of McKenna’s piece involves stories already told, even if he DID get something wrong it would be awfully hard to prove he did it with malice.
This isn’t a nuisance suit it’s a bully suit. It is Danny Snyder trying to bully a small paper into firing someone. It is disgusting and it is proof—again—of who Dan Snyder really is. It is also proof that the people around him (again) are dumb or have absolutely no power to talk him out of doing things that are not only beyond mean-spirited but are flat out stupid.
Snyder is even playing the Jew card on this one. He and minions found a Rabbi at The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles who was willing to call the cartoon anti-semitic. Oh please. A newspaper ran a cartoon depicting Mike Krzyzewski as the devil during last year’s Final Four. Was it in poor taste? Sure. But was it anti-Polish? Of course not. No one is anti-semitic here. They are anti-Dan Snyder. Period.
A friend of mine, David Sanders—a lifelong Redskins fan—said to me yesterday that he believes the Redskins are 20 years into a 60-year drought. Snyder is only responsible for the last 12 but David’s point is clear: Snyder is 46-years-old and he’s not going to sell this team unless the fans in this town somehow marshal their forces and simply STOP going to games and STOP buying Redskins-gear and scream at the top of their lungs that they’re sick and tired of this little bully and they aren’t going to take it anymore.
Of course that won’t happen. Snyder will find a big name quarterback this spring or summer once the new CBA is signed; he’ll kiss a few babies at a charity event’ he’ll do Lunch with Lindsay or grant ESPN an ‘exclusive,’ interview talking about how much he’s learned and The Stadium Formerly Named For Jack Kent Cooke will be packed on opening day next September.
That’s a tribute to the loyalty and optimism of Redskins fans. It is NOT a tribute to the owner. Except he won’t see it that way. He’ll sit in his royal box with his suck-up friends and honestly believe he’s doing all the right things.
This lawsuit is who Dan Snyder is. Even if he someday hoists a Super Bowl trophy and proves David Sanders wrong, Dan Snyder will still be a mean little man. And that’s not a reference to his height.
One other note today: A lot of you have generously written to me about how much you enjoy my column in The Sporting News and I'm grateful for that. Well, my last column appears in the next edition of the magazine.
I got a phone call Tuesday from some bean counter in a suit who told me that now that Sporting News has acquired AOL Fanhouse, the company wants to, "maximize our assets," by using the fulltime columnists working at Fanhouse in the magazine. I love the way these guys talk don't you? I said, "so you're firing me to save money."
"Well, we really appreciate everything you've done for the magazine."
"No you don't," I said. "If you did, you wouldn't be firing me to save money."
My guess is the guy has never once read anything I've written. He's been too busy counting beans and buying suits.
Am I upset? Sure I am. I liked writing the column and I thought I did it well. If someone fired me because my work wasn't any good, it would be disappointing. Being fired by some guy (I swear I can't remember his name and I'm not going to bother looking it up) who thinks Sportscenter is great journalism is a little bit hard to take.
I'll get over it. But I will hold a grudge. If nothing else, I'm good at that.