Friday, September 4, 2009

Inner Workings of the Redskins; Roundup for the Week – Best College Football Traditions

I really don’t want to write about The Washington Redskins this morning. For one thing, I’m pretty sure people around the country really don’t care very much about the team except in those weeks when the Redskins are playing their local team.

In Dallas, they care about the Redskins twice a year even though here in Washington when the Cowboys are next on the schedule everyone starts talking about Dallas Week as if it is the football equivalent of Thanksgiving or Christmas.

That mentality is symptomatic of the obsession with the team here. All cities are NFL-centric these days but, having traveled to a lot of NFL cities, I can tell you none are quite like Washington. I know I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating because it is so symbolic. When I first started working at The Washington Post, the NFL draft was still held mid-week and wasn’t on TV. (Yes, I am THAT old).

On the day of the draft in 1978, the great Ben Bradlee, then the executive editor (he was played by Jason Robards in ‘All The President’s Men,’ if you’re scoring at home) came striding back to the sports section shouting at sports editor George Solomon, “hey George, who’d we get?”

I had only been at The Post for nine months at that point but had already been indoctrinated into the all-that-matters-is-the-Redskins mentality and was already pretty sick of it. So, I couldn’t resist.

“Gee Ben,” I said, “I didn’t realize The Post had a pick in the NFL draft.”

Without missing a beat, Bradlee whirled on me, pointed his finger and said without a hint of a smile, “listen Feinstein, you don’t like the ------ Redskins you can get the ------ out of town. You got that?”

Given the look on his face, my response was swift and to the point: “Yes-sir.”

In those days of course, Bradlee sat in the owners’ box every Sunday with then-team President Edward Bennett Williams, who was also The Post’s lawyers. There’s no need to even get into any possible conflict of interest issues because they didn’t matter: The Post was like the rest of the media in town. As the late Jerry Claiborne, then Maryland’s football coach once said to me, “Every time I pick up your paper it’s nothing but Redskins, Redskins, Redskins.”

Believe me, I felt his pain. And his frustration.

Amazingly, if anything, it has somehow gotten worse over the years. The Post now has three reporters assigned pretty much full time to the Redskins. There’s a god-awful show that runs on local TV here every night ALL year called, “Redskins Nation,” for which the script must be written by the team’s PR department. I think Dan Snyder was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize on the show one night. It is the highest rated show on Comcast Sports Net.

All of that said, a lot of people in this town have gotten pretty tired of Dan Snyder’s act. He’s owned the team for 10 years and, like any owner, would be forgiven pretty much anything if the team was winning. But after being a truly great franchise from 1982 to 1992, the Redskins have won two playoff games since Snyder bought the team. Every year he spends huge money on free agents because he loves having his picture taken with them and bragging about how rich he is to other owners and then, because all the team’s cap money is spent on a half-dozen players, the Redskins usually fold somewhere along the way when the inevitable injuries that hit every team hit them because they have no depth. Hearing Joe Gibbs talk about injuries during his four year return as coach almost moved people to tears. The Redskins, it appeared, were the only NFL team that EVER had an injured player.

While Snyder has spent big money on big names, he has done everything in his power to make every possible dollar. Some call this good business; others call this ripping off a public that adores the team. He’s jammed more seats—many of them obstructed—into the stadium, upped prices every chance he gets, charged outrageous ($35) prices for parking and tried a few years ago to more or less blackmail club seat holders into renewing with years left on their contract at twice the price by threatening to raise prices even more if one didn’t renew instantly. A lot of people—I was one of them—didn’t take him up on it.

At the same time that Snyder was paying $107 million for Albert Haynesworth this winter, he was laying off office employees. Again, fans will forgive that if Haynesworth produces and the Redskins win. Winning will get you forgiven for just about anything.

But now Snyder may have crossed a line that there’s no coming back from. The Washington Post reported this week in a two part series that employees in the Redskins ticket office even with a waiting list that the Redskins claim has 160,000 people on it, bypassed that list for at least two years to sell tickets to brokers—who then re-sell them at profit. The brokers got the tickets, the Redskins got the brokers to buy some of those club seats they can’t sell (I’ve received several letters since dropping mine offering me the ‘opportunity,’ to buy back in at a ‘bargain,’ price).

A nice deal for the Redskins, a nice deal for the brokers. Those on the waiting list, well, too bad. The Redskins claim they learned of this last spring and stopped it. My guess is they got scared they were going to get outed. None of the employees involved have been fired, merely, ‘discipline,’ according to the team.

Apologists for Snyder—one of whom is a friend of mine who is a famous TV star—say that the season ticket waiting list isn’t nearly as large as the Redskins claim and that not that many people were affected. Really? What if the list only has 16,000 people on it—one-tenth of the team’s claim. All those request probably could have been filled if they hadn’t been bypassed to sell a few club seats. My same friend says Snyder is in “private business,” which apparently means he can do whatever he wants—including suing season ticket holders who, in this economy have been unable to pay for their club seats. Instead of just taking back the tickets, they’ve gone to court to sue these people—who it is probably fair to assume were loyal fans when they bought the tickets hoping to see the team play.

A professional sports team is NOT a private business in a moral sense. There is a public trust you take on when you put the name of a city on the uniforms worn by your most important employees. It is the public’s interest in your team—buying tickets, helping jack up TV and radio rights, buying licensed gear—that makes you money. Snyder had a profit on the Redskins (not so much on his other businesses) last year of $90 million. He owes the public something other than bypassing waiting lists, law suits, outrageous prices and remarkable arrogance n return.

My same friend, let’s call him TK, insists the Redskins will win 12 games this season. If he’s right, a lot of people will calm down because that’s what winning does. If he’s wrong and it’s another 8-8 year filled with excuse-making, a lot more people are going to be angry with Snyder and his henchmen. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.


A couple of quick notes based on some comments this week. Someone asked about college football traditions I enjoy other than Army-Navy. A few come to mind quickly: The dotting of the I at Ohio State which I’ll get to see on Saturday; anytime they play the fight song at Notre Dame; the Clemson players being bussed to the opposite end of the stadium so they can run past ‘Howard’s Rock,’ down the hill into Death Valley; the Williams players going into town for their postgame haircuts after the Amherst game and Traveler, the white Trojan horse being ridden around the stadium whenever USC scores a touchdown while the fight song plays. When I was a junior at Duke, the opener was at USC and Ricky Bell ran wild and the final score was, I believe, 35-7. Afterwards Duke Coach Mike McGee was asked if he saw any weaknesses in Southern Cal: “Yeah,” he said, “that horse was looking a little winded in the fourth quarter.”

Would love to hear others that people enjoy and have witnessed through the years.

Finally: There are always going to be people who object when I inject politics into the blog. Sorry. Politics are part of sports at times and vice-versa and I have opinions—just like all of you---on political topics. We can disagree, heck Chris Wallace is a good friend and we NEVER agree as was Bob Novak, but let’s not pretend the issues don’t exist. For example: President Obama is right: there should be a football playoff. Just about all of us can agree on that.


aaron said...

Keep doing your thing, John. I truly enjoy all your comments and your honesty. You books are great, your columns are great and now your blog...can't get enough. I listen to you on the Sports Reporters all the time and hope you are a regular guest on the new TK show starting next Tuesday. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I read about the Redskins shenanigans (sp?) in the Post yesterday. Sure they are able to do what they want with their tickets, but it just sounds really really slimey. And I'm no lawyer, but it ought to be like a lease for a condo, if you back out they have the authority to resell the tix and that money goes towards your contract. And you pay the difference. Sounds like they were double dipping, which should be illegal.

wick said...

Redskins fans the most obsessed? Hardly. I was in Pittsburgh for the Holidays and subjected to Radio Replays of all of the Steeler Super Bowls (then 4). That's about 18 hours per day of 30 year old football, for those keeping score. When Bill Cowher resigned, coverage was like a hostage crisis or the election of a new Pope. Almost 24/7. Don't misinterpret a proliferation of media outlets, and Snyder's access to them, as fan interest. And don't even get me started on the Red Sox...

Glen said...

Timely post - I just re-read "Next Man Up" as I was traveling, and I was laughing at your pointed comparison of Snyder and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. Snyder manages to make Jerry Jones seem positively humble...

Anonymous said...


Your appearances on TSR (along with Knoche) are the best thing about that show. I also look forward to hearing you on the latest incarnation of TK's show.(pearls before 980Danny swine)

Oklahoma-Texas is an annual treat for those on either side of the Red River and I hope OU-Nebraska will regain it's must-see grip that it had in the 70s and 80s. Curious to hear that OU and Army have agreed to play home and home later next decade. I hope to be at Michie in 2018.


Sarah said...

Wick-no kidding about the Steelers. Even here in MN they get too much press, and that's saying quite a bit since the on-going medicare debate known as Bret Farve. (Or maybe as a Seattle Fan I'm still not over that time we got ripped off in the Superbowl....)
My favorite college tradition is waiting to see which weeks the Wisconsin band will be barred from playing at the games. Always a fun past time.

atman84 said...

Somehow I fail to be surprised that the team with the sleaziest ownership in professional team sports is in the city where some of the sleaziest politicians (& former pols now working as lobbyists) follow the team weekly.....