- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2021

Dan Snyder’s plan to buy out his minority partners hit some resistance Thursday when a high-profile women’s rights group called on the NFL to step in and block the deal.

The Time’s Up Foundation, founded by celebrities Ashley Judd, Reese Witherspoon, America Ferrera and other Hollywood figures in 2018, slammed the NFL after news that Snyder is poised to regain, with the league’s help, complete ownership of the franchise, despite an ongoing probe of allegations that the owner and other executives at team headquarters in Ashburn sexually harassed or mistreated women employees.

Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen said in a statement that the league’s owners should not vote to approve the proposed deal while the investigation is still being conducted. More than 40 women have said they were sexually harassed while working for the Washington Football Team.

Reports emerged Wednesday that Snyder plans to buy out his three disgruntled minority partners, giving him and his family 100% of the team’s shares. Snyder reached the agreement after a contentious legal battle with the partners, who want out. The three partners — FedEx CEO Fred Smith, investor Robert Rothman and developer Dwight Schar — own just more than 40% of the franchise. 

Snyder reportedly plans to pay $875 million for the shares, using a $450 million loan from the NFL to help fund the purchase. The deal, however, must first be approved at the NFL owners’ meetings next week — and it’s expected to pass. 

Tchen, an attorney and a former Obama White House staffer, said allowing Snyder to expand his control of the franchise would be a “grave injustice to the brave people who came forward,” adding the league needs to hold Snyder accountable. 

“No deal should happen until the full report of the investigation into the WFT is released to the public,” Tchen said. “The NFL, including all of the owners who will be voting to give Snyder special treatment, cannot turn a blind eye to those who had the courage to come forward to detail decades of pervasive harassment and abuse.

“There cannot be accountability without transparency. It is essential that the NFL commits to both ensuring a fair process and to holding accountable those who are responsible for the mistreatment and harassment of employees.”

The Time’s Up Foundation is a charitable organization aimed at helping victims of sexual harassment and assault. They and other groups like the ACLU and National Women’s Law Center have called on the league to fully release the report into Washington‘s workplace when available. 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last month that lead investigator Beth Wilkinson, a Washington-based attorney, was close to finishing her report into the team. But an NFL spokesman said Wednesday the investigation is still ongoing, noting Snyder‘s transaction and the investigation are “two separate matters.” 

The league has not committed to publicly releasing the Wilkinson report.

The news that Snyder seems to be recovering his footing after a tumultuous year for both the owner and his team prompted a backlash on social media.

Melanie Coburn, a former Washington cheerleader, tweeted that the reported NFL deal with Snyder was “BEYOND outrageous.” She shared a link to her online petition calling for the NFL to make the investigation public.

“Where is Beth Wilkinson?” Coburn tweeted. “Where is the REPORT? How can they approve this w/out even MENTIONING the 120+ witnesses who came forward and relived trauma from decades of harassment and mistreatment. I will NEVER support the @NFL again if they don’t #DOTHERIGHTTHING!”

Snyder’s move to offload his minority partners will give him more control over the franchise as it navigates a difficult rebranding process, said Georgetown University sports law professor Ellen Zavian.

Snyder also needs to address the franchise’s need for a long-term stadium solution — the team’s lease at the aging FedEx Field is up in 2027.

Zavian suggested Snyder could look to add a new partner for financial purposes, such as funding a new stadium or helping repay the $450 million loan from the league that reportedly must be paid off by March 2028.

“The money is going to drive the decision,” Zavian said, “which isn’t always the best way to make a decision.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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