The Commanders potential sale news shouldn’t distract you from the team being under criminal investigation

The only thing the Washington Commanders love more than struggling at winning football games is deflection, and Dan Snyder is a master at it. A new note in a well-worn refrain played on Wednesday, when the team announced that the Snyders had hired Bank of America Securities to potentially, maybe, sell some, or all of the team.

If that sounds wander, it’s because it is. The reality is that the Snyders committed to absolutely nothing, while ensuring the news had maximal effect. First reported by Forbes, news of a potential “sale” was pushed to the moon, with the headline “Dan Snyder Hires Bank of America To Sell Washington Commanders.” Naturally it ensured everyone was talking about was the potential of the league’s most hated owner getting out of football, when in reality the commitment from the Snyders was next-to-nothing.

“Dan and Tanya Snyder and the Washington Commanders announced today that they have hired BofA Securities to consider potential transactions.”

In this case “consider potential transactions” can mean absolutely anything. It could mean a full sale, a partial sale, or no sale at all. It’s the functional equivalent of me walking around a William-Sonoma during the holidays and telling a sales person that I’m “considering potential transactions” when I’m really there to be covetous of a Le Creuset stock pot I’ll never actually buy , and drink some free hot chocolate samples.

So, why would the Snyders pick Wednesday of all days to make such a hollow, but seemingly impactful announcement? Because they knew what was coming at day’s end. Shortly following 5 pm ET, ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. published a report that the US Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia had launched a criminal investigation into the Commanders for financial impropriety, stemming from allegations in April that the organization had hidden season ticket deposits in a slush fund, and underreported ticket sales to the NFL — which came from the Congressional probe into the Commanders.

The ESPN story notes that the Commanders “did not immediately comment” when asked about the investigation, but instead sent a statement from their lawyers which slammed ESPN itself for using “anonymous sources.”

“It is not surprising that ESPN is publishing more falsehoods based solely on anonymous sources — given today’s announcement,” the statement said. “…We are confident that, after these agencies have had a chance to review the documents and complete their work, they will come to the same conclusion as the team’s internal review — that these allegations are simply untrue.”

It’s a curious statement to say that ESPN is “publishing more falsehoods” while also stating that agencies are reviewing internal documents. Feels a little bit like those are at odds. Either way, the earlier sales news had its intended effect. On Thursday morning the leading stories about the Commanders weren’t about the criminal investigation, but the potential sale. The investigation didn’t even make the Top 5 in Google News, where a large amount of people go for information.

It essentially allowed the Snyders to hit the media reset button, and hope the real story went unnoticed, and relatively speaking, it worked. This is not a new technique for the Commanders or Snyder, because they ran the same play in July of 2020.

In early July the team became aware of an investigative story set to drop in the Washington Post about years of workplace impropriety, sexual harassment, and a toxic environment inside the team. At that time the team pulled its most nuclear option to try and drown out the news: Changing the team name. On Monday, July 13th the team announced it was moving on from its prior racist nickname, which would be immediately retired. On Thursday, July 16th the Post published their report into workplace culture inside Snyder’s team.

Guess which dominated headlines for the week?

Google News search results for the week of July 13, 2020.

Everyone became intimately aware of the claims of harassment inside the Commanders, but the name change achieved a goal of capitulating to sponsor pressure AND shielding the team from some of the bad PR from the toxic workplace culture report. This is an organization who fought years of backlash over the name, and just so happened to choose the same week to announce the name retirement as the week they knew the Washington Post would be publishing their report.

So, while excitement about Snyder potentially selling any stake in the Commanders is worthy of notice — make no mistake: This was very calculated. The only people who know if there’s actually any intention to sell all or part of the team are the Snyders, and if history is any indication they’re not going to go quietly. Take the sale report for what it is: Smoke and mirrors, and focus on the real news about the Commanders that broke on Wednesday, which is the team is being criminally investigated for financial malfeasance.

Paying any attention to the “sale” news is only helping Dan Snyder, and he doesn’t deserve to be bailed out.

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