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As both my readers know, the Unsportsman of the Year balloting has historically been as one-sided as a Vanilla Ice 45.
Guess that makes this year historic: Dan Snyder, stay on down! You’ve won again!
Throughout 2011, Snyder and his enterprises showcased all the unsportsmanly traits that brought him home the hardware in the past. The Redskins, who on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks sold Pentagon hats for profit, commemorated this year’s 10th anniversary of the tragedy by taking out a full page advertisement in the Washington Post showing a drawing of the Pentagon with a big team logo pasted right about the spot where the plane hit.
Crass act, indeed.
Then there’s the email Snyder’s marketing geniuses blasted out earlier this month disguised as a holiday greeting. The email was actually an advertisement from Audi, a major Redskins sponsor, which hailed those Redskins fans who “enthusiastically embraced” such “traditions” as wearing “feathers and war paint” to feel “oneness with the tribe.”
Hey, Dan, 1932 called! It wants its cultural sensitivity unawareness back!
And while Snyder continued shunning most real interviews for another season, he did sit for a Q and A in October with a Leesburg fifth-grader named Sully. That encounter ran on Redskins Nation, a daily infomercial produced by Redskins Broadcast Network, which Snyder owns.
Snyder’s never been too successful at staying away from labor lawsuits, and he kept that going this year: The Snyder-controlled Dick Clark Productions was hit with a class action suit last month in which a contract employee named Charles Griffin led a group accusing the company of chronically stiffing low-end workers on awards shows. “[L]ate payment of wages is customary rather than exceptional,” the complaint alleges. For years, lawsuits alleging that he and his businesses stiff the little guy have followed Snyder the way a Labrador retriever follows his master. In 2007, a nanny for Snyder’s children won a suit filed over illegally withheld wages, and in 2010, a class of litigants made up of staffers in the Redskins ticket office got paid after suing the team for ignoring overtime laws. (Briefly back to Dick Clark: Snyder does deserve some huzzahs for the company’s recent revival of Bloopers, which for decades was appointment TV for shots-to-the-gonads aficionados. Yet, for Redskins fans, discovering Snyder is behind a show called Bloopers should be as surprising as learning Kim Kardashian is involved in a show called Kim Kardashian.)
Then there’s all those Redskins season ticketholders who paid their 2011 invoices on time during the last offseason because of a promise of free tickets to either Manchester United v. Barcelona, University of Maryland v. University of Notre Dame, or a Kenny Chesney concert at FedExField. Many on-timers later took to message boards claiming the team offered them the Chesney tickets after they requested the football or fútbol ones, due to high demand. Over the weekend, after the last home game of the season was played on Christmas Eve against the Minnesota Vikings in front of what looked on TV like a half-empty stadium, Snyder’s crack media staff issued a press release opening with, “The game was the Redskins’ 368th consecutive sellout.”
Unsportsmanlike conduct! Half the distance to the goal line!
And of course, there was also the matter of the lawsuits he filed againstWashington City Paper and me. More on that later. But, in the end, Snyder earned his latest dishonor as much by what he didn’t do as by what he did.
Bottom line: An awful lot of unbuilding went on this year.
The handling of the unbuilt “party decks” at FedExField showed a typical degree of unsportsmanship. Last spring, fans at the Redskins draft day party noticed thousands of seats were ripped from the upper deck. This deconstruction came amid mountains of anecdotal evidence, from message boards and newspaper comment sections to sportstalk radio callers, that demand for Redskins tickets was lower than in generations, and fears that home games could be subject to TV blackouts come the 2011 season. But Snyder’s chief spokesman, Tony Wyllie, pooh poohed the blackout talk, telling me at the time that the team would soon announce plans about new “party decks.”
No such plans were ever released, of course, and no new standing room sections ever materialized. By the first weekend of the season in September, Wyllie was displaying hilarious amounts of unsportsmanship whenever attempting to explain the unprecedented reduction in ticket supply: “The reasons for removing the seats were the ingress/regress with parking, [to] create shorter concession lines,” he told me, “and to improve and enhance the entire fan experience.” Good golly!
Another unsportsmannish non-build overseen by Snyder in 2011: the retaining wall, above the C&O Canal, that once sat behind his home in Potomac.
That wall fell down in 2005, which may have been related to soil erosion after Snyder ordered swaths of trees chopped down a year earlier from lands protected by federal and local easements. The cuts gave Snyder a great view of the Potomac River and, according to a Post piece from 2005, added “$500,000 to $1 million to the home’s value.”
Well, he’s still got that great view.
“The wall is not built,” says Mark Pfefferle, forest conservation program manager of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which has an easement on the land Snyder went all Black and Decker on. As of last week, Pfefferle says the retaining wall ain’t the only thing the property still lacks, all these years after the initial clearing: “We’re short on trees, too,” he says. Initial replanting work was never finished.
Pfefferle says M-NCPPC had hoped the land in its easement would be reforested years ago, but Snyder was told he must come up with an environmentally acceptable plan to replace the fallen retaining wall before more trees can be replanted. No such plan yet been put forth by Snyder, Pfefferle says, adding that his agency hasn’t “heard anything” about the project since “probably 2007.”
“We’ll only wait so long before we just go forward ourselves,” Pfefferle tells me.
This continued lack of greenery makes Snyder’s 2011 pose as a tree-hugger even more unsportsmanlike.
In September, he showed up at FedExField to pump up the installation of solar panels at the stadium, which he owns. The project was funded by NRG, a New Jersey alternative energy company. Shortly thereafter, alas, word got out that Snyder had bought a $70 million yacht with a 55,212-gallon fuel tank. Even if the big boat mostly stays in port, it’ll crank far more pollution into the atmosphere than the solar panels at his stadium will ever save.
Bottom line: The environment made out about as well in Snyder’s solar panels/mega-yacht swap as the Redskins did in the draft picks for Donovan McNabb deal.
But if Snyder wants to remove the unsportsmanly stains on his green résumé, Pfefferle says he’s eager to discuss getting the rebuilding and replanting started pronto.
“I’d tell him it’s a good time to plant trees right now,” Pfefferle says. “The best time of year, really.”
Also unbuilt: The practice bubble at Redskins Park.
Just over a year ago, as his team was preparing to face the Dallas Cowboys, coach Mike Shanahan was forced to tell players to drive themselves to a local health club to work out because a snowstorm had left the team’s practice fields unusable. After the ad hoc indoor workout, Shanahan declared to the press that getting a practice bubble was “a priority.”
The Redskins lost to Dallas. The next day, a release was posted on the team-owned website headlined “Redskins to Install Heated Field, Practice Bubble.” Shanahan reiterated in the piece how important the bubble was to his team’s future preparations. “So that’ll be done,” he said.
The Post reported last week that, as the 2011 season ends, it ain’t anywhere near done yet.
Why not? Well, for all the urgency Shanahan expressed a year ago, former Loudoun County councilmember Kelly Burk told me earlier this year that the Redskins didn’t even apply for a permit to build a practice bubble until September—or about nine months after the press release proclaiming the structure was coming.
“If you started building a bubble in December, it would be ready for the next season,” says Steve Staudenmier, president of Staudenmier Sales & Services, a major bubble builder based in Sabillasville, Md. Staudenmier spoke with Redskins management about constructing a rainy-day practice space “seven years ago,” but those talks went nowhere.
While Snyder wasn’t building a practice bubble, the Redskins were talking with various powerful people in the D.C. market about relocating the practice facility; Redskins Nation recently devoted a program to the possible relocation of Redskins Park to the District.
Snyder, of course, would need the support of the D.C. Council to make that happen. During his lawsuit against me, Snyder’s lawyers mocked that very same D.C. Council, arguing in a motion that city lawmakers are constitutionally prohibited from enacting laws that protect D.C. residents from frivolous lawsuits of the sort he filed.
Snyder dropped the case before a ruling on his novel argument could be handed down. Still, there’s plenty of legal precedent to show that elected officials in this town do have the authority to tell a guy who just paid $70 million for a boat that he’s not getting a dime of taxpayers’ money to build a training facility, with or without a practice bubble.
And a final note: This will be the last Cheap Seats column. In our 25 years and 51 weeks together, City Paper and I have gotten everything out of each other we’re going to get. I’m grateful for all the people who told me their stories, and anybody who ever read my attempts to retell those tales in this space, and, well, anybody who didn’t read but sued me anyway. Be well…