So before Mozilo could slither away from his company’s role in bringing on the financial crisis, the government slapped him with a $67.5 million settlement, including a record $22.5 million fine.
But Daniel Snyder, Mozilo’s latest equivalent in the sports world, is, figuratively speaking, about to get away with all of it. He’s about to sell a cornerstone of the richest sports league on the planet, the NFL team here in my native Washington, for more than $6 billion, or roughly $5.2 billion more than he purchased it for nearly a quarter century ago. Then he’ll walk away with all the profit, despite his stewardship that turned this once gold-plated, celebrated franchise that I grew up living and dying with into a virtual tin cup.
Snyder isn’t deserving of a golden parachute any more than was Mozilo, who at last look was living out his golden years in a Santa Barbara, Calif., mansion while still denying any responsibility.
Snyder is deserving of a lead parachute. But he is about to be the latest in a line of reprehensible billionaire owners of sports franchises to profit from the sale of teams they sullied — with little or no punishment, financial or otherwise.
In December, Robert Sarver sold the Phoenix Suns for an NBA-record $4 billion, or about $3.5 billion more than he bought it for in 2004. The league had just suspended him for a year and fined him $10 million after finding his near-two-decade overseeing of the Suns was stained with racist, misogynistic and hostile incidents that the league characterized as “workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies.”
Five years ago, Carolina Panthers founder Jerry Richardson sold the team he started with a $206 million investment for $2.2 billion. He did so shortly after the NFL fined him $2.75 million after finding he sexually harassed employees and spat a racial slur at a team scout.
Maybe most infamously, Donald Sterling sold the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 for what was then a league-record $2 billion. Sterling did so after Commissioner Adam Silver banned him from the league and fined him $2.5 million following Sterling’s paramour revealing tape-recorded pillow talk in which Sterling sounded like a bigot while talking about Black people — including Magic Johnson, who is now part of the leading group seeking to buy Washington’s NFL franchise and make Snyder even richer.
This is a galling practice that needs to end. It is not a scarlet letter enough for me that detestable owners are merely forced, or encouraged, to sell teams they ruined in myriad ways. The teams they are leaving behind in shambles, if not the fan bases whose fanaticism they’ve extracted like some bloodsucking arthropod, should be compensated before those owners sail away on their yachts with billions in profit. Indeed, the fine that the government imposed on Mozilo was returned to harmed investors.
Who among us who have cheered for the team Snyder bought in 1999 doesn’t feel harmed by his management? I know I do, and am.
My father grew up in LeDroit Park in the shadow of old Griffith Stadium, where the team first played and he first witnessed it. I grew up in Section 312 of RFK Stadium. My parents told me I was on their lap there when it was called D.C. Stadium. We were among those lucky households to have season tickets.
I was there for the greatest New Year’s Eve party in world history: Dec. 31, 1972, when the burgundy and gold beat the Cowboys, 26-3, to take this city to its first Super Bowl. I learned to know what the end of the world feels like when, in the last game of the 1979 season, the Cowboys came from behind in Dallas with less than a minute left to capture the NFC East with a 35-34 win. It was a loss that wound up eliminating our heartthrob home team from the playoffs because the Cardinals laid down like roadkill to the Bears and lost, 42-6, allowing the Bears to beat out John Riggins and Co. for a playoff spot on a four-point edge in point differential. I took my fiancee in 1989 to a special dinner to celebrate the team’s trades for Gerald Riggs and Earnest Byner, which I was certain would result in another Super Bowl trip. I pleaded with my sports editor to let me go to Super Bowl XXVI as a fan and not a journalist, which he granted.
But over the past quarter century, all of my irrational fanaticism for the team I grew up with has been sapped by Snyder. First was poor ownership that resulted in losing season after losing season — and in embarrassing fashion. Then came utter obstinance over refusing to change the team name after learning unequivocally that it was a slur and was hurtful to an entire people. Then came revelations that the headquarters was all but turned into a personal bacchanal in which women eventually came forth in depositions and congressional hearings to courageously tell in public how they were harassed. The charges cost Snyder’s franchise a $10 million fine. That’s it.
Through it all, Snyder only denied and deflected. Shirked responsibility. Attacked those who pointed out his failings. Maybe even borrowed a page from Mozilo, whose Countrywide contract included an indemnification clause, like that which Snyder is said to be demanding from the NFL, requiring the company to cover some legal bills associated with his reign.
Now Snyder is poised to sail away with a boatload of billions, leaving in his wake a sea of ruins.
I don’t know what an appropriate fine should be for having steered this franchise over a cliff. But the government added one more ignominious penalty to Mozilo that seems proper: It pinned him with a lifetime ban from serving as an officer or director of any public company.
It should be decreed that this is the last time Snyder can ever touch a pro sports team.