Ups and Downs in Redskins Fandom

I went to two Redskins games this season. On October 19, two of my closest friends met me at my house in DC about an hour before kickoff. We took an Uber to the stadium and had a blast as we watched the Redskins beat the Titans, 19-17. My RG3 jersey was somewhat irrelevant, since he wasn’t playing, but I didn’t mind so much. We took the Metro back to my place, getting home before five.

The other game I attended was against Tampa Bay on November 16. There were six of us, all familiar with our team’s yearly rite of disappointment. The season was virtually over. A win would be nice, but we weren’t going to be upset if we didn’t get it. Regardless of the outcome, we expected a reasonably pleasant experience. We did not expect to be stopped immediately when my girlfriend’s bag was too big to carry into the stadium, whereupon we were told we could leave it in the car that we didn’t bring. We did not expect to miss nearly an hour of the game standing in a security line, though we did take some small pleasure in sneaking the offending bag into the stadium. And we did not expect the team to perform so poorly that the stands had emptied out long before the game was over.

The tale of two teams isn’t new for the Redskins, and it’s nearly universal in American sports. Everyone has good days and bad days. The thing is, the bad days at Nats Park don’t include being stopped for having too large a bag. When you go see the Wizards, you don’t miss a third of the game waiting in a security line. And, importantly, Caps fans don’t have a voice in the back of their head telling them that simply supporting a team called the Washington “Capitals” is inherently offensive.

The Redskins organization has too many problems to count. On the day of the Titans game, as we approached FedEx Field, my friend asked me what I would do if I owned the Redskins. Without hesitating, I replied, “Change the name, change the colors, and move the team to DC.”

As to the first: The reasons are obvious and the change is inevitable.

As to the second: A rebranding to go with a name change would signal a fresh start for a team that has had a putrid reputation in recent years. It would sell merchandise, and I personally would like to see colors that align more closely with the Nats, Caps, and Wizards.

As to the third: Moving back to the city makes the team more accessible, for fans from the suburbs and the city. I’ve been to half a dozen Redskins games in my life, and I’ve come to expect a daylong affair. A city stadium would be more pleasant and convenient than FedEx, and would reconnect the team to local fans.

Of course, none of that addresses the woeful management of the team itself. I obviously don’t have any experience managing an NFL franchise, so I can’t say I’d do a better job in this arena. I do think, though, that I’ve seen enough football to recognize when it’s bad. And the Redskins are bad. The team makes short-sighted moves in the hopes of jump-starting a new era, without thinking about the next year or even the next game.

So yes, there are things I’d do different if I owned the team. But I don’t own the team. Dan Snyder does.

The team’s performance is shitty, the fan experience is shitty, and the organization has an ongoing PR nightmare, but none of that seems to matter to Snyder. Yes, I’m sure he’d rather have a winning team and a fun atmosphere at the games, but either he doesn’t care enough to actually let those things happen, or he’s completely incompetent. Either scenario should disqualify him from owning an NFL franchise, as should his tone-deaf response to the name controversy. Unfortunately, it won’t be easy to get rid of Snyder, and we can’t expect anything to change as long as he’s the owner.

So what can we do? Switch allegiances to another team? That’s a radical move. I don’t know how I could remain a fan of the Washington Nationals, the Washington Capitals, and the Washington Wizards, then every Sunday root for… the Baltimore Ravens? The Cleveland Browns? For me, there is no second team after the Redskins.

So I’m considering- just considering, at this point- simply putting my Redksins fandom on hiatus until it becomes a competent organization. No more going to games, no more buying shit, and no more thinking that next year is the year they turn it around.

As soon as I say that, the voice in my head pipes up: “How do you know they won’t turn it around next year?” True, there’s no way to know for sure. We could even have a winning season, a playoff season; 2012 wasn’t that long ago. But the Redskins’ problems are deeper than poor performance.

If you do decide that the Redskins aren’t worth it anymore, and you must follow another team, choose wisely. Obviously, I’m not advocating anything as crazy as rooting for the Cowboys. We shouldn’t free ourselves from Dan Snyder’s clutches only to join the cult of Jerry Jones. Ditto the Giants. I think once you go down that road, you’ll be hard-pressed to explain how you were simply a Redskins fan taking a break. So think carefully. When the current nightmare ownership has passed, we can once again hail to the Redskins, or whatever they’ll be known as.

Or we could just become baseball fans.

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Friday Night Lights

by H. G. Bissinger

 

If you haven’t heard of this book, you might have seen the recent, and popular, TV show of the same name. Or the movie, which came out around ten years ago. Or hopefully you’ve at least heard of either of these.

If you haven’t, the expression ‘friday night lights’ refers to high school football (college football is played on Saturday, pro football on Sunday), particularly in towns where football games are the biggest events of the year.

Now, I didn’t grow up in such a place. When I was in high school I never went to a game, and the only time I can remember going to a high school game was when I was around eight. I went with my friend, whose brother was on the team, but we kids mostly just played around under the bleachers. Even when I started enjoying sports, and though I still have pride in my high school, I never had much interest in going to W-L football games, and most of my friends were the same way.

But in Texas, it would seem that things are different. Friday Night Lights indicates that, at least in Odessa and at least in the 1980’s, city life virtually revolved around high school football: the Friday night game was the highlight of the week, football season was the highlight of the year, and for many kids playing varsity football would be the highlight of their lives. Bissinger relates the story of Permian Panthers’ 1988 season primarily through the eyes of a diverse group of players, whose biggest dream is winning a state championship.

Friday Night Lights is about more than one team’s extraordinary efforts on the football field. Bissinger, almost by accident, finds himself exploring deeper, and darker, themes in 1980’s America. It begins with Odessa’s clear educational priorities. The school district, after a prolonged fight against desegregation, ended up drawing new school boundaries to ensure that Permian would get a larger share of black students, seen by the school as potential football stars. Varsity players often did not have to do their homework or even attend class. And academic achievement was largely ignored. One football player, Brian Chavez, is a star with the Panthers, which takes precedence over his other main achievement- being valedictorian.

Bissinger doesn’t stop with Texas education policy. He critiques 1980’s American economic and political culture, and the disaffection many felt from our leaders and their policies. Friday Night Lights is, at its core, about the false promises of America, and the uncommon endurance of the American Dream.

If that sounds grandiose, yeah, it is a bit. Bissinger takes pretty powerful, self-evident examples, and attempts to use them as evidence of an entire nation’s failings. Though I was born in 1989, I didn’t really live through that era. My guess is that Friday Night Lights would have had more meaning for me if I had actually experienced the 80’s, experienced desegregation and oil busts and booms and the 1988 presidential election. The book might be seen in a whole new light with the proper cultural context. So it is unfortunate that I never got that chance.

On the other hand, I get the benefit of Bissinger’s retrospective. He claims to have received death threats from Odessans, who understandably felt betrayed by an outsider who came into their town, had unique access to the team, and seemed to be caught up in the glory of the Permian Panthers. Bissinger makes it clear that he was indeed caught up in the team’s season, regardless of the problems the book exposed.

Similarly, the reader, too, gets caught up in the story of an unlikely group of kids that seems destined for great things. Rich and poor, black and white, the Panthers have their share of ups and downs through the season, struggling to prove that an undersized team from the middle of nowhere can achieve great things.

Friday Night Lights is more than a sports story, it is a very interesting critique of American society. I would highly recommend it, if you think you can handle it.

Superbowl

First off, I know this is a blog about books. But fuck that.

Second, if you weren’t rooting for the Patriots last night, I don’t even know… what… I mean, yea, Tom Brady went to Michigan, but really, fuck the Giants. I was shocked so many people in D.C. were rooting for them. Then again, a surprising number of people disapproved of my Redskins jersey. Strangers. In D.C.

What I really wanted to talk about was the whole ‘Finger-gate’ controversy: M.I.A.’s middle finger to American families, as the Parents Television Council put it. During Madonna’s halftime show, which I actually enjoyed for once, she performed a new song featuring Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. NBC apparently approved of this, even though Nicki might be one of the most sexed up musicians out right now. Take a gander at her latest guest appearance, titled ‘Ass’:

Wobbledy wobble, wo-wo-wobble, wobbin’

Ass so fat, all these bitches’ pussies is throbbin’

Bad bitches, I’m your leader, Phantom by the meter

Somebody point me to the best ass-eater

But maybe that’s not a problem, because half of the Superbowl ads are selling sex anyway. I mean, there’s the Fiat ad, in which a man is berated for mentally undressing an Italian woman who turns out to be a car. The perennial GoDaddy ads implying that you’ll be able to see Danica Patrick naked on godaddy.com. Then there was that bizarre ad just showing David Beckham in his underwear. (You can check all of these out on Youtube.) So obviously, NBC doesn’t have a problem with a little sex, unless God forbid a nipple should slip.

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