Mollie Shiflett ’26 is an undecided major who will probably end up majoring in History. She plays on the Gold Women’s Club Soccer team for the College of William and Mary and is an avid fan of most sports — except golf. Email Mollie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed are the author’s own.
If you are like me, then you have been suffering for the past 24 years. For all of you that are good at math, you’ll notice that number is beyond my 19 years of life, but still. What could have had me suffering for five years before I was actually born, you may ask? Well, technically, nothing, but I like to think that I’m a member of a community, and that community was suffering for the full 24. What made my community suffer for 24 years? Three words: Daniel Marc Snyder.
Now, there will be a large number of you who have absolutely no idea who that is and those of you that do have probably been suffering along with me.
A proviso before we go any further: first, this article was written largely with the purpose of self-healing from a traumatic past. I will bring it back to a larger argument — because that’s how we make an opinion — but I might take a minute to get there, and I hope you all will bear with me since I believe that when I get there, my argument will be a good one. Second, anyone that spends too much time on The Flat Hat’s Opinions page will notice that I spend almost half of my opinions talking about sports. I could claim a purer motive for focusing my writing so heavily on sports, like that I want to talk about sports because they, in some form or another, reach everyone (I will come back to that point), but mostly my motive is a selfish one. I write about sports because I love them and, in return, they hurt me. And writing is how I heal.
Now, back to the action. For the past 24 years, Snyder held the once-proud title of owner of the Washington Commanders, my hometown team. Snyder bought the team following the death of the previous owner, Jack Kent Cooke. He inherited a team that, even though it had won the Super Bowl eight years previously, was coming off a losing season in 1998 and a mediocre existence in general. Snyder promised to bring a new energy to what was then known (problematically) as “Redskins Park.”
Maybe he did at the beginning, but what he did afterwards was unforgivable, no matter what he promised.
Primarily, he lost.
The Commanders, in his entire tenure, won exactly two playoff games. But plenty of owners lose; it’s enough to make him disliked, but not detested. What makes him detested is his almost systematic incompetence and disregard for a fanbase that was the heart of Washington, D.C. football.
In 2006, Snyder and the organization decided to sell expired packages of peanuts intended for an airline that had gone out of business in January. They called it an “inventory mistake.”
He threw money at players like Donovan McNabb, who was benched one month after signing an $88 million extension — players who never lived up to their potential or the amount Snyder paid to sign them.
But what was worse, he turned what was once a great team, full of legends of the game like Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Theismann, John Riggins and Darrell Green into a sideshow attraction of inappropriate behavior.
In February 2022, former cheerleader Tiffani Johnston alleged that Snyder had harassed her at a team dinner, placing his hand on her thigh and later allegedly attempting to force her into his limousine. Then came the investigation from the U.S. Congress. Congress investigating an NFL team, can you imagine how bad it had to be to make Congress do anything? According to the Washington Post, White’s investigation revealed that for at least 10 years, the Commanders franchise did not return security deposits totaling over $1.9 million to its season plan holders. That amount was in addition to the approximately $11 million in revenue that was supposed to be shared with the NFL. The investigator for the NFL, Mary Jo White, found Snyder to be “personally engaged” in withholding this money from the NFL. Witnesses heard Snyder say that he sought “profit, profit.”
We went from being a team of Hall of Famers to criminals — at least from an ownership standpoint.
Now for the larger point that I had said we were always going to get to. We, as either the owners and the fans, are part of a huge sport for profit enterprise. It’s a business now. Owners are in it for their own bottom line, not out of any loyalty to the time or desire to win. Sports teams are owned by financiers, more often than not, and winning to them is money. It’s not titles, it’s not pride, it’s not performance — it’s not even dignity. It’s money.
What the Snyder era amounts to is a failure of leadership and, more specifically, a lack of understanding for what leadership means. To be owner of a sports team is a stewardship role, not a money-making one. You serve at the leisure of a community that has been there before you and will be there after you. When Josh Harris bought the Washington Commanders, one of the first things he did was buy a beer for 1,000 fans that came to a live radio broadcast. That’s what leadership is about: understanding that the people at the base — the supporters and observers — are just as important as the owner at the top.
At the College of William and Mary, we pride ourselves on our community; take our motto, “who comes here belongs here.” As we move on past this campus and into our next chapters, whether that will be in four years or this winter, keep the lesson of Dan Snyder in mind. College builds leaders — if they’re doing their jobs right — so be the right one.
Snyder is every wrong way to lead that has become all too common in our economic system: a focus on money, disregard for history and selfish self-importance. Be better. We don’t know how the Harris era will go, and it will most certainly be ugly at the beginning — the Commanders still aren’t very good — but there will always be hope with a leader who understands leadership, whether that’s in a sports team or anywhere else.
Be a leader who builds community and respects it. Snyder offers a perfect example of what happens when you don’t.