I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of the Washington Redskins. In fact, there was a time in the mid-to-late 1980s when I was consumed with hatred for the team, one that was fueled in no small part by suffocating local news coverage that elevated every win or loss to the level of an international political crisis.
But over time, that hatred was replaced first with mirth and then pity in response to the team’s declining fortunes under Redskins owner Dan Snyder, a man whom Washington, D.C. has come to love to hate. And now thanks to The Washington Post, we have definitive proof that’s the case. On Sunday morning, just a few hours before the Redskins would defeat the Arizona Cardinals to post their second straight victory of the young NFL season, The Post revealed that it had loosed its polling unit on the question:
Twenty seasons after the Redskins won their last Super Bowl, just more than half of area sports fans say they view the team favorably. But more than a third have negative feelings about the hometown football team, according to a new Washington Post poll, and fans hold even stronger negative views about its owner, Daniel Snyder.
D.C. fans direct considerable ire toward the man who owns the team. A majority of all D.C. area sports fans hold unfavorable views of Snyder, with more than one in three having “strongly” negative impressions, according to the poll. The owners of the other major teams, Ted Leonsis and Ted Lerner, are far less-known than Snyder but generate dramatically fewer negative reviews.
That Snyder isn’t seen as an unvarnished success story in these parts is nothing short of astonishing. What we’re talking about is a Washington, D.C. native — Snyder spent most of his formative years in Montgomery County — and college dropout who grew up to purchase the football team he rooted for as a child. Did I forget to mention he did it before his 34th birthday? What’s not to like?
And while the franchise hasn’t enjoyed anywhere near as much success on the field during his tenure as owner as it had in the past, Snyder has still managed to turn the Redskins into a giant cash machine, leveraging the brand in ways that late owner Jack Kent Cooke didn’t dream of and wouldn’t have dared. Even Snyder’s critics have to concede that he purchased an undervalued asset and turned it into one of the most valuable franchises in not only the National Football League, but all of professional sports.
The rub here of course is that the Redskins have been something of a joke on the field and in the front office, finding new and inventive ways to lose while piling through seven head coaches in the last 12 seasons. But while I’m sure that the team’s failures eat at the very core of Snyder’s being like battery acid, I’m sure revelations like The Post’s poll don’t keep him up at night.
If you think Snyder’s approval rating is a problem, you ought to think again. Because while 34% of the folks who were polled by The Post might have negative feelings about Snyder, I’m sure the folks who are selling tickets for the Caps, Nationals, Wizards and D.C. United would like to have the same problem. Why do I say that? Because if you take a closer look at the poll, you’ll find that similar percentages of folks who answered said that they didn’t know enough about those teams to have any opinion about them one way or another.
Locals hate Snyder because they care about the Redskins and NFL football more than any other team or sport. So no matter how many goals Alex Ovechkin has scored over his first six seasons in the NHL (301 for those of us who keep track), or how much anticipation there might be concerning the impending super-stardom of Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Redskins still own the hearts and minds of Washingtonians — which has to be seen as something of a stinging rebuke to those who claim that Snyder’s time as owner has irreparably damaged the Redskins brand.
Better still for Snyder, time is on his side. Later this year, he will celebrate his 46th birthday. Given the improvements in medical science, there are many years left in his reign as owner and plenty of opportunities for time to heal all wounds — that is, as long as the team starts to win again. And as it turns out, there’s plenty of precedent for such a rehabilitation.
It wasn’t long after George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees in 1973 that a significant chunk of New York sports writers decided to hate him for his meddling ways. But when “The Boss” died in the summer of 2010, nary was heard a discouraging word. All of the voices who had accused him of destroying baseball in the 1970s by paying top dollar for free agents were silent. Any actual malfeasance that Steinbrenner participated in — whether illegal campaign contributions that required a presidential pardon to erase or the hiring of private investigators to spy on his own players — was hardly mentioned at all.
All that mattered was that his Yankees had won seven World Series and 11 American League pennants. And when the team and its fans said goodbye, it seemed as if all of New York wept. One day in the distant future when Washington bids farewell to Dan Snyder, might Redskins fans weep too? You might laugh at that thought today, but stranger things have happened.
Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.