Private Infighting Roils Owners of Washington N.F.L. Team


Michael MacCambridge spent five years writing his 2005 history of the N.F.L., visiting team after team around the country. From the stability of the Pittsburgh Steelers to the emerging dynasty in New England, he learned that great franchises thrived and overcame obstacles with a mix of talent, trust and patience.

And then there is the Washington Football Team.

MacCambridge said that rarely in his travels did he see a team confronting as many problems as Washington is now. Like many N.F.L. team owners, Daniel Snyder has faced his share of losing on the field and scandals in the front office during his 21-year stewardship of the club. Some problems were the result of bad luck. Others were self-inflicted.

Snyder, though, is now juggling calamities on several fronts. In just the past few months, he ditched the team’s 87-year-old name and logo after a revolt by sponsors, hired a law firm to investigate reports of sexual harassment in the front office and began a legal battle that has implicated a limited partner who is trying to sell his shares in the franchise. Most recently, the head coach he hired to revive the team said he would lead while undergoing cancer treatment.

“The Washington Football Team is like Charlie Brown trying to fly his kite and getting it caught in the tree,” said MacCambridge, the author of “America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation.” “There have been teams that were historically bad. The frustration that the fans in Washington are experiencing is that they’ve been waiting an awful long time to get a sense that their club has a positive sense of direction, and they’re still waiting.”

At the start of the year, Snyder, who declined to be interviewed for this article, began what seemed like a modest overhaul: another attempt to pull his franchise out of the dumps. But weeks before the start of the 2020 N.F.L. season, his team has been rocked by cataclysmic events, any of which would amount to a crisis. Taken as a whole, they have forced Snyder to rethink previously intractable positions and go on the attack against threats to his stewardship of the team, real or perceived.

In the century-long history of the N.F.L., rarely has a team faced this much turmoil at once.

The team’s longtime play-by-play announcer, Larry Michael, retired, and Alex Santos, the director of pro personnel, and Richard Mann II, the assistant director of pro personnel, were fired. All three were accused of sexual harassment by former team employees, according to the article.

To make that link, Snyder’s lawyers have zeroed in on Mary-Ellen Blair, an executive assistant to Snyder before she left the team in 2017. They claim that beginning in May or June, Blair contacted former colleagues to ask if they had heard about forthcoming articles about Snyder.

Blair, who has during her career worked for a number of powerful executives, including Arn Tellem and Harvey Weinstein, told a personal employee of Snyder’s and two other team employees that “she was in contact with and working in coordination with a third party” and that they were involved in articles that were going to be damaging to Snyder, according to the motion to conduct discovery in the defamation suit.

According to a transcript of one call which was recorded, Blair said that Schar had called her to let her know The Washington Post would be publishing an article damaging to Snyder.

Snyder has also contended in court documents that Blair has a “financial benefactor” providing her discounted rent in luxury apartment buildings in Virginia. Snyder has asked for Blair’s rent records from the company that manages the buildings, Comstock Holdings.

Lisa Banks, a lawyer for Blair, said that her client paid the market rate for her apartments herself and was not involved in any way in the articles published in India. Banks said that Snyder’s focus on Blair is “an attempt to intimidate not only my client, but also those who might speak poorly about Dan Snyder to legitimate media outlets, including his former employees and business partners.”

The founder and chief executive of Comstock, Christopher Clemente, is Schar’s son-in-law. Clemente said that there was nothing to hide and that Snyder was trying to create a distraction from the investigation of the team’s front office.

“Dan Snyder could have just called me and asked for the information and I would have told him,” Clemente said, adding that he has known Snyder for years. “Why he’s doing it in the press and in the courts is because he’s just trying to stir something up and deflect from the drama that goes on at Redskins Park.” (In a filing, Comstock asked the court to deny Snyder’s request for discovery, calling it a “speculative fishing expedition.”)

Clemente said that Blair pays market rent. He and his father-in-law together are the principal owners of a Comstock division that manages assets including the apartment building Blair lives in, but Clemente said Schar has no hand in the day-to-day operations.

Clemente questioned the motives of Norman Chirite, who served as general counsel to the Washington team from 2002 to 2005 and joined the Comstock board in 2004. Chirite stepped down from his role with Comstock two days before the M.E.A. WorldWide suit was filed and returned to work for Snyder full time. Clemente said Chirite may have broken board governance rules if he assisted Snyder in litigation that could involve Comstock.

Chirite did not respond to a request for comment.


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