“A fucking picture of coach’s pants? I should print that picture, wrap it around a baseball bat, and beat the john-fuck out of you with it. It’s training camp, you moron! Go outside. Take a picture. Ask a question. What is your fucking problem?” —commenter “California Skins Fan” on the Official Washington Redskins Blog, July 23
Matt Terl started last week as the Official Washington Redskins Blogger. The “official” part of that means he’s on owner Dan Snyder’s payroll, and Terl, who previously ran his own Skins blog pro bono, is believed to be the first fan blogger hired by a professional sports franchise.
He plans to move near Redskins Park soon, but for now he’s been leaving his downtown Baltimore home by 5:30 a.m. each day—no days off during training camp—for the 90-minute drive to Ashburn. “I was lucky once and got home by 7 p.m.,” he says. “But that was one time.”
He’s also stayed overnight on the job, just like Joe Gibbs famously used to.
Commute and long hours be damned: Terl, 31, says he’s thrilled to have the gig. He grew up in Silver Spring worshipping the Redskins. Now his obsession is also his profession.
His last job was as a technical writer for an HMO; he blogged rather anonymously about the Skins in his spare time. For all his interest in sports, he’d never gotten anywhere close to a big-time sports operation. “I ran cross-country in high school, but my school [Jewish Day School in Rockville], didn’t really have a locker room, so I’d never even been in a real locker room before this,” he says.
He was more than intrigued about learning how a team runs from the inside. And working for Snyder wasn’t an issue, especially on a project as novel as a team-sponsored fan blog.
“I’m writing, which is what I want to do, and I’m writing about my favorite team, my favorite sport,” he says. “So it wouldn’t be wrong to call this a dream job.…You see things like the equipment room [for the first time], you think, ‘Wow, that’s neat!’ I promised myself, if I get the job, I’m going to stay that way. If there’s any surprise, well, it’s that everybody’s been really nice—I mean really nice. The players, everybody has been very friendly to me.”
Well, not everybody.
In the first few days of the Official Washington Redskins Blog (theredskinsblog.com), Terl’s readers—at least those who posted comments—were brutal to Terl.
“Oh, he took a beating. Oh, a beating!” says Adam Littlefield, a producer and blogger at Comcast SportsNet and lifelong Redskins fan who also interviewed with the team for the official blogger job.
Littlefield says he’s been reading Terl’s postings, and the comments, religiously since the blog started last week. He thinks the pounding came because Terl wavered from his original intention to provide a fan’s view with an early post titled “Redskins in the Media: Compare and Contrast,” which went after Washington Post columnist Mike Wise and other writers for not gushing enough about the Jason Taylor trade.
“I don’t think he did it on purpose, that he was told to write that,” says Littlefield, “But people assumed Matt was going to be just another mouthpiece for Snyder and his media conglomerate, and doing that right off set Matt back.”
Chris Mottram, who co-founded the Mr. Irrelevant sports blog and runs the blog on the Sporting News Web site, took time out from his own blogging to post some advice to Terl in the comments section.
“[Y]ou probably should’ve wait[ed] at least a few days before openly defending Snyder,” he wrote. (Mottram, too, interviewed for the job Terl got, and he says he would have taken it had he thought that Snyder would let him write what he wanted. “As a company,” he writes in an e-mail, “the Redskins just aren’t an organization I’d like to work for.”)
Other critics weren’t so civil. A poster going by “Captain Caveman” wrote, “This is just party-line bullshirt.… This blog sucks. All you do is…repeat the Danny talking points. This isn’t a blog. It’s propaganda. Go to hell, Matt. You’re just a corporate tool.”
Terl quickly got back to writing for folks as wide-eyed as himself, with postings about the backstage operation, including the equipment room and the laundry room, places that about 99.99 percent of Skins fans had never seen before.
But for a few days after the anti-media post, commenters put him through the Internet equivalent of the Oklahoma drill. The haters realized that the new blog hadn’t been set up with a profanity filter, so every post from Terl met with a barrage of “shits” and “fucks” and “fags,” as well as threats to his physical well-being and his job, delivered with a lot of capital letters and exclamation points.
When Terl posted pictures of the equipment room, for example, commenter “Clinton Portis” (probably not the real Clinton Portis) wrote “he either needs to get fired or get his ass kicked.” “Slater” came up with “Homo.” And commenter “Matt Terl Is a Turd Burglar” cleaned up with “DEATH TO MATT TERL.”
Terl posted a group shot of NFL referees who were at Redskins Park to call the practices. Though that’s now commonplace around the league, the fact that zebras roam the grounds during training camps was surely news to a lot of fans. “Karl” (probably not Skins spokesperson Karl Swanson) started off the round of comments to this post with “Matt Swallows.”
As the week went on, the haters got devious. The blog was set up so posters could link their comments to a Web site. So commenters who defended Terl against the mob found their screen names linked to porn sites; the commenter “Mister Daniel Snyder” linked his name to a Wikipedia entry on dwarfism.
Terl now admits being awed and a little overwhelmed by the onslaught.
“To go from anonymity, nowhere near a public figure, to having hundreds of people, literally hundreds, commenting on you and many not liking you, that was strange,” he says. “It’s weird being on this side of things.”
But Terl took the beatings and stayed the course. He drew up a mission statement midweek that asked for support but politely advised folks who weren’t finding what they liked to go elsewhere.
The brutality didn’t end immediately. In response to the about-this-blog post, “Matt Terl” (definitely not the real Matt Terl) posted: “Good news, guys! I’ve finally gotten my head out of my own ass. I’m going to take a walk outside and look around.” Commenter “This Blog is Craptastic!” asked “How long until Matt quits or gets fired? Danny the Dwarf hates admitting a mistake. So we’ll watch this thing fall apart, piece by piece, until little Matty is crying like a little bitch while we pummel him.”
Then Terl added a profanity filter and disabled the commenters’ link feature. And kept on posting. He followed the orders of some haters and included more words and images about the actual training camp practices alongside his backstage musings.
And by the weekend, the haters were almost gone. Terl’s posts about Fan Appreciation Day, which drew an estimated 28,000 people to Redskins Park, garnered only words of encouragement—though from a much smaller pool of commenters than he had the previous week.
“People have asked, but I haven’t been deleting any comments or editing negative comments. Really, I haven’t,” Terl says. “I think the people who found it and liked what I was doing have stayed; the people who were a little less than happy with me have either accepted me or moved on.”
Littlefield says he’s impressed with Terl’s quick on-the-job evolution.
“He got off on the wrong foot,” says Littlefield, “but he’s doing a great job since.”
Mottram agrees that Terl “found his stride” by the end of the first week and thinks Snyder is onto something with the official-blog concept.
“Actually, it would be pretty difficult for a team blog not to work,” he says. “Just give the people what they want: a behind-the-scene look at the team and players
they love and they’ll be happy. Or, in the case of the Skins, just leave the camera on Cooley and Portis all day and let the magic make itself.”