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PR Genius Tony Wyllie Takes His Talents Away From Dan Snyder

Sports radio station WJFK in D.C. reported today that Tony Wyllie has quit as Dan Snyder’s communications director to take a job with the Special Olympics. If any good PR came Snyder’s way during Wyllie’s nine-year run with Washington’s NFL team, it doesn’t come to mind. As for the gaffes on Wyllie’s watch, well, the internet’s not big enough to list all those.

Wyllie was going to change the reporter/subject tone in D.C., which was horrendous when he started taking Snyder’s checks in 2010. The previous flack, Karl Swanson, had a nasty relationship with the media. Swanson, who described himself to reporters as a “henchman” for the owner, even got caught registering on a sports journalism message board where a poster named “Andyman” who was clearly deep inside Snyder’s organization had been taking shots at the Washington Post and any reporter that didn’t give fawning coverage of the team or its owner. The posts ceased, and one of the more amazing sagas in Snyder’s awful reign ended, after Swanson’s outing.

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Wyllie was well credentialed pre-Snyder, with stints handling PR for the Titans, Rams and Texans, none of whom became the laughingstock of the league on his watch. And sportswriters apparently liked Wyllie before he arrived: The press release from the team announcing his hiring boasted that Wyllie was “the only executive in the NFL” to have won something called the Pete Rozelle Award, an honor conferred by football writers upon the best public relations staff in the league, with three different teams.

Wyllie briefly seemed to want to repair Snyder’s relationship with the media after taking the Skins job. Like everybody else, Wyllie couldn’t stop the Skins owner from doing bad and dumb things, no matter how many Pete Rozelles he had in his trophy case. Constantly trying to defend the indefensible boss constantly made Wyllie look like a stooge.

Back to me: I was writing for a weekly newspaper in D.C. when Wyllie took the Skins job, shortly after which he invited me to eat to talk about the coverage the team and owner were getting.

But days after getting the offer, I wrote a story about a new cigar bar called the Montecristo Club that Snyder had opened on the pricey club level at FedExField. The establishment seemed to flout the Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act of 2007, a bill enacted to protect workers from second-hand smoke that banned smoking in almost all workplaces. Cigars were already out of vogue by 2010, and smoking cigarettes was already banned elsewhere at the stadium but was kosher under Montecristo Club rules, and so I wrote that it seemed pretty obvious that Snyder just wanted to put a smoking court on the club level so he could use it to sell the pricey tickets to folks unable to quit the cancer sticks. The cigar bar/disguised smoking court got shuttered.

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Wyllie canceled our lunch.

Never rescheduled, either. Some months later, Snyder sued the paper and me for $2 million that we didn’t have. There was nothing honest or smart about the lawsuit, and as the owner was getting blasted all over for his bullying, he sent Wyllie on a damage control mission. Wyllie, in sad stooge mode, told reporters all over town that the lawsuit was his idea, and that he’d convinced Snyder that he was a victim of anti-Semitism and had to sue. The evidence was a photo of Snyder with scribbled devils horns that we’d used as a graphic. When hosts on sports radio WJFK questioned Wyllie about the legitimacy of the claim, he said that he had just “called five Jewish friends” and they agreed with him that a hate crime had indeed taken place. The anti-Semitic tack flopped. So when Wyllie also showed up at an alleged journalism ethics seminar at the University of Maryland to again try to make his case for the case, he compared Snyder’s suit to the righteous protests that took place during the then-recent Arab Spring.

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“All we wanted was the truth,” Wyllie said, according to a Washington Post report on the gathering, “the same thing you heard up in Egypt where people were trying to find one thing—people getting hurt and beat up for one thing—the truth. And that’s what this is all about.“

Again, no sale. But when a conference goer asked if the lawsuit was in fact intended to put reporters on notice, Wyllie told it like it was.

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“Some people ask, ‘Well, are you firing a warning shot to other members of the media?’” Wyllie said. “And I’d probably say ‘yes.’”

After just months on the job, the guy supposedly brought in to be something other than Snyder’s henchman admitted he’d already become Snyder’s henchman. Nobody leaves Redskins Park looking as good as they did when they showed up.

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