On Tuesday, Commanders owner Daniel Snyder sent a letter to NFL owners addressing the controversy about his ownership of the team. The latter, which you can read here, included language that suggests Snyder would take legal action against ESPN.
ESPN reported last week that Synder had gathered enough “dirt” on NFL owners to “blow up” the league if anything were to happen to his position with the Commanders. For background: Synder’s future as an owner remains in question amid widespread misconduct allegations and a congressional inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment.
Synder addressed the ESPN report in his letter to owners:
“I would like to address a recent ESPN article that contains false and malicious statements about the Washington Commanders, our management team, and me and my family.”
The keywords are “false and malicious,” a phrase that hints at a defamation case. The outcome of a defamation suit often hinges precisely on those two words.
Snyder didn’t include the phrase in his letter by mistake. Moreover, a letter of this significance does not go wide before the approval of — several — attorneys. Snyder’s legal team was aware, likely supported, and perhaps encouraged the inclusion of the two terms.
“There is one allegation in the ESPN article that I feel it is important to address immediately,” Snyder adds in paragraph four. “The article cites unnamed sources who said: ‘they’ve been told that Snyder instructed his law firms to hire private investigators to look into other owners’ and Commissioner Goodell. That is patently false and intended to erode the trust and goodwill between owners that I take quite seriously. I have never instructed or authorized my lawyers to hire any private investigator on my behalf for any such purpose. And I never would.”
A lawsuit against ESPN would be costly. But, as noted by NBC Sports, Synder has shown a willingness to sue over what he considers false reporting.
In 2020, he filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against an Indian media outlet for linking him to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Synder said the outlet intentionally maligned him.
Synder vs. ESPN is not a far-fetched possibility.
In the meantime, Snyder’s future as an NFL owner rests on the eventual vote of fellow owners. Tuesday, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay publicly supported the removal of Snyder, saying there’s “merit to removing him as owner.”