When Mayor Muriel Bowser recently asked, via Twitter, if District residents wanted DC’s burgundy-and-gold NFL team to return to DC proper, the response was almost universally negative. (One man even said he’d rather burn down his house than see the team back in the District.) It was clear that not only does the city not want the team back, but that people HATE this team. But why? In sports, it’s common for a city to adore its teams (the Boston Red Sox, for example), or even to be relatively indifferent to them (the Atlanta Hawks), but for a city to hate its team? That’s rare.
So why does DC hate it’s NFL team? Let’s look at the reasons.
Dan Snyder is probably the most reviled owner in sports, now that the former NBA owner Donald Sterling was booted after taped phone calls exposed him as a racist. People HATE Snyder. Listing the reasons why could be a thousand-word post in and of itself. He sued the local Washington City Paper after it ran a story that criticized him (and he pretty much admitted it was a baseless nuisance lawsuit designed to bankrupt them). He illegally cut down old-growth trees to improve views from his tacky McMansion. He made his fortune in telemarketing, a word which automatically induces rage in anyone who ever owned a landline. And he’s converted the football team into a cynical profit-wringing mechanism with the sole purpose of separating fans from their money. I mean, even bad sports owners make a token effort at winning, but Snyder just wants to keep printing money, product be damned. (If you think about it, sports is the only business where you can keep making money even when the product sucks.) Of course, one could argue that ALL sports teams are cynical profit-making mechanisms; thing is, most owners are a little more subtle about it. Snyder is like the person you go home from the bar with who not only doesn’t make a token gesture and ask for your number the next morning, they point and laugh at you while shouting “I used you and I don’t care if you know it!”
Pundits and fans agree that FedEx Field in the remote exurbs is among the very worst stadiums in sports. It’s like a stadium that was built by a high school student using Windows 95 “stadium simulation” software. A huge concrete monument to mediocrity, poor planning, and anti-aesthetics, FedEx is notorious for selling seats that are located directly behind massive concrete support pillars – seats from which you can literally not see any of the field. And these aren’t cheap seats. These are still expensive seats. And it’s not like they were unforeseen consequences of poor design – they didn’t put the no-view seats in until 2004! Which means someone made the decision, “yeah, let’s install and sell seats from which people literally won’t be able to see the field, just to wring a few more dollars out of this pit! Ha ha!” There are commercials blasting at earsplitting levels nonstop, the food vendors are notoriously bad, parking costs as much or more than the overpriced tickets, and even the field itself is crap – a player caught groundskeepers on video spray-painting a grassless patch of the field bright green instead of re-sodding it. Oh well, it’s not like there are elite athletes worth millions of dollars whose only assets are their bodies running around on that field.
Oof. I mean, if the team had won the Super Bowl or something, these other things might not be forgiven, but they’d recede into the background a little. But the team SUCKS. They’ve had three seasons over .500 in the past decade, and even those seasons ended in a whimper. The rest of the time they played at approximately the same level as if you took sixty random dudes from a sports bar, suited them up in football gear, and played them against a legit NFL team. It’s not even like they’re giving it an honest effort and just falling short either – they’re a disgrace. They didn’t even have a professional guy running the team until a couple years ago – for most of Snyder’s ownership reign, he just let one of his buddies run the team. And it showed. When they’d draft or sign players, it was like if you sent a nine-year-old to the store to pick up groceries for dinner. They’d come back with, like, ice cream, hot dog buns, and soy sauce. “What am I supposed to do with all this?” “Uh, I dunno?” Fans will (sometimes) forgive you if you’re pursuing a vision that just doesn’t work out, but one thing they can’t forgive is incompetence. And this team is definitely incompetent. Even when they lucked in a good player in Robert Griffin III, they promptly did to him what they did to the team itself – ran him into the ground for short-term gains until he was utterly ruined. Well, at least they’re consistent.
This is a somewhat sensitive subject; on one side of the debate, you have people who think the team name is racist and should be changed. On the other side of the debate, you have people who are wrong. Unfortunately, the owner of the team is in that latter group. Not only is he wrong, he utterly fails to understand why he’s wrong, and is dug in for war. His efforts to rebut his critics have been either tragic or hilarious, depending on how dark your sense of humor is, peaking with a nonprofit he founded to ostensibly help Native Americans, and then putting the racist team name right in the nonprofit’s name! That debacle was so offensive that even Stephen Colbert’s parody of it offended people! These are off-the-charts levels of offensiveness. And really, it’s not a hard issue to think through; Chris Rock’s take on it, back in the Nineties, is still the truest. (Google “Chris Rock” and the team name.)