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Does the NFL Constitution allow the league to force an owner to sell a team?



With all the turmoil the Washington Football Team has been wrapped up in, one overarching question has remained: Will Dan Snyder sell the team? That answer has historically, and appears to remain to be, no. However, can Roger Goodell and the National Football League force Snyder to sell the team? This answer is not as clear as a simple no.


Article 8 of the NFL’s Constitution and Bylaws deals with the Commissioner and his powers.[1] Specifically, tucked away in Article 8.13(A), there is a clause that could become relevant. The clause states that the Commissioner can remove the owner and terminate any contract between him/her and the league.[2]

This occurs if the owner violates the NFL Constitution and Bylaws or is “guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football.”[3] Article 8.13(B)(1) gives Goodell the power to refer the matter to the Executive Committee with a recommendation that could impose “cancellation or forfeiture of the franchise in the League of any member club involved or implicated.”[4]

Cutting through the legalese, the Constitution states that Commissioner Goodell can recommend the forfeiture of a franchise if the owner is guilty of conduct detrimental to the league. Article 9 highlights actions that would constitute conduct detrimental to the League and professional football.[5] Though not specifically listed under the prohibited conduct, the verbal and sexual abuse allegations that have been levied against the organization certainly appears to be conduct detrimental to the NFL.


There is nothing written in the NFL Constitution and Bylaws that states the listed prohibited actions are the only actions that constitutes detrimental conduct. Sexual harassment and abuse occurring at the top of an organization are both terrible in character and harmful to the league. It would appear that this is the type of conduct that would enable the Commissioner to use his Article 8 powers.


However, it is important to note that no owner in the history of the league has ever been stripped of his/her team. The most recent instance of this type of action occurred in 2018 when the league fined former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson for a record $2.75 million for various types of workplace misconduct, including accusations of sexual misconduct and the use of racist language at work.[6]


Amidst the allegations, Richardson decided he was going to sell the team and exit the spotlight. The NFL, however, did not force Richardson to sell the team, and he was forced to pay the record fine after the $2.3 billion sale of the franchise.[7] It would be wrong to compare the substance of the situation in Carolina with what is currently occurring in Washington. Both are disastrous for the victims involved and both are embarrassing for the league. Yet, the lack of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell’s involvement back then is telling as to how they may act in the present.


The biggest difference between the current situation and Jerry Richardson’s is that Snyder was not personally accused of any wrongdoing. While the acts that occurred under his watch are despicable, it appears unlikely that the NFL will step in and force the sale of the team. The more likely outcome, should the NFL act on the allegations, would be a fine and potential loss of draft picks.


If the Commissioner Goodell wanted to make a statement and make an example out of Snyder, he could issue a fine that breaks Richardson’s record-setting amount. As Adam Schefter stated on ESPN, “It goes to making fundamental changes that are required in our society, of things that are completely unacceptable that have gone on allegedly in their organization from these various individuals.”[8] While many may hope that Snyder sells the team, either on his own accord or through a forced sale, that action remains unlikely.

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Jordan is a second-year law student at Brooklyn Law School.

[1] Constitution and Bylaws of the National Football League, https://www.onlabor.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/co_.pdf.

[2] Id. at Article 8.13(A).

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at Article 8.13(B)(1).

[5] Id. at Article 9.

[6] Thomas Barrabi, Can NFL Forced Washington owner Dan Snyder to sell the team?, Fox Business (Jul. 16, 2020), https://www.foxbusiness.com/sports/can-nfl-force-washington-owner-dan-snyder-sell-team.

[7] Id.

[8] Zachary Neel, Adam Schefter doesn’t think Dan Snyder will be forced to sell the team, Washington Wire (Jul. 16, 2020), https://redskinswire.usatoday.com/2020/07/16/dan-snyder-potential-sell-of-washington/.

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