The National Football League is the most popular professional sport in America, drawing the interest (and money) of millions of fans who live and die with the success of their favorite teams. This passion causes players, coaches, general managers, and even owners to become some of the most scrutinized public figures in America, a role for which they are compensated greatly. By suing the Washington City Paper over a series of critical articles, Daniel Snyder has shown that he is incapable of handling the criticism he is rightly subject to as owner of the Washington Redskins. More troublingly, Snyder refuses to play by the rules—namely, the First Amendment.
Snyder’s lawsuit mainly refers to a November cover story by Dave McKenna which catalogued Snyder’s numerous transgressions since taking over as owner of the Redskins, including both his mismanagement of the team and other business ventures. David Donovan, the Redskins’ general counsel, sent the owners of the City Paper a letter tenuously accusing McKenna and the paper of libel and anti-Semitism. In a coup de grace, Donovan closed the letter with the threat that “the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper.” This overt bullying tactic makes it clear that Snyder is using his wealth and power to try to silence his critics and infringe on the freedom of the press.
The City Paper and its owners deserve praise for their response to Snyder. They have stood behind McKenna and their story and intend to fight the lawsuit despite Snyder’s intimidation. Considering the basis of Snyder’s claims, they stand a good chance of mounting a successful defense. The majority of the libel allegations are based on the premise that as a chief executive Snyder was far removed from the kind of minor decisions McKenna criticized, but that is like arguing a general is not accountable for the actions of his army. Meanwhile, Snyder’s claim that a picture of him defaced with childlike doodles of a mustache and horns constitutes an anti-Semitic caricature is especially specious, considering a number of editors responsible for the image were in fact Jewish.
Baseless, ulteriorly motivated lawsuits like Snyder’s are a direct assault on the ability of the media to function freely and effectively report on and critique those in power. D.C. residents should support the City Paper as it fights this lawsuit through a legal defense fund it has set up online. With any luck, the outcome of Snyder’s frivolous suit will be one that he is already familiar with from years of owning the Redskins—losing.