Last week, Washington Capitals management asked the NHL to take its logo off a line of hats licensed by the league called “sniper fitted caps,” out of sensitivity to gun anxieties in the market. “Sniper,” it turns out, is the tag hockey insiders put on a team’s best scorer. Peter Bondra, therefore, is the Caps’ sniper. The NHL quickly pulled not only the Washington model, but the entire sniperwear line.
The Caps’ fellow tenants in the MCI Center, the Wizards, also have a history of altering marketing practices because of local gunplay. Owner Abe Pollin says the primary reason he changed the name of his basketball team from the Bullets before moving into the city four years ago was because he didn’t want in any way to glorify the violence that was common in some downtown neighborhoods.
So, with the recent shooting spree having so many area residents running down-and-outs to and from their automobiles, it was odder than usual to hear the same old National Rifle Association advertisements during Sunday’s Redskins radio broadcast from Green Bay.
The NRA has been a major sponsor of the Redskins radio network for three years now.
“They’ve been good to us,” says Steve Johnson of WJFK, the flagship station of the Redskins Broadcasting Network. “They do a good job of getting the word out about how they want their organization to be perceived.”
The tie-in to football makes fine marketing sense for the group, which has its national headquarters near Dulles. Firearms references are such a common part of the game’s lingo that play-by-play announcers promote the culture of weaponry without even trying. There are shotgun formations, run-and-shoot offenses, run-and-gun offenses, and now, with the arrival of Steve Spurrier, fun-and-gun offenses, at the center of which are quarterbacks with rifle arms who throw bullets and hit their targets.
In turn, there has also been some gridiron referencing during the sniper’s run. After several of the killings, police and newscasters have described the shooter’s distance from his marks in terms of the length of a football field. It’s been pointed out that the combination of a .223 caliber bullet of the sort that’s been pulled from the victims’ cold, dead bodies and a common rifle such as the AR-15, Colt’s “civilian” version of the military’s M-16, is accurate for at least 600 meters, meaning any decent rifleman could pull off a head shot even if he’s six football fields away.
The main mouthpiece on the NRA’s local spots is Dave Butz, a defensive tackle with the Redskins from 1975 to 1988. Butz should be in town this week at a dinner honoring the 70 Greatest Redskins, of which he is one. He rarely spoke to the media but acquired a good ol’ boy reputation around these parts that was to a large degree due to his infamous uncle, Earl Butz. Uncle Earl was secretary of agriculture under Presidents Nixon and Ford but resigned in 1976, shortly after his nephew put on the burgundy and gold, when it was reported that he’d made a horribly racist attempt at humor. (“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want,” Earl Butz reportedly said. “It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”)
Butz was elected to the NRA board last year, alongside Bob Barr and Ted Nugent. His official bio says that his shooting bona fides include wins in events such as the Charlton Heston Celebrity Shoot, the Schwarzkopf Cup, and the Louise Mandrell Celebrity Shoot. In the most frequently run radio spots, Butz tells Redskins fans that the NRA is the leading promoter of gun safety, and that NRA members are also a very good source of food for the hungry. There is no mention of the group’s tireless efforts to keep such guns as the Colt AR-15 off the list of federally banned assault weapons.
According to Johnson, there wasn’t any pressure on station management or Infinity Broadcasting, the national chain that owns WJFK, to remove the NRA ads from the broadcast of the Packers game.
“Obviously, with what’s going on around here, I can see how there could be some sensitivity to the [NRA] ads,” he says. “But as far as I know, there’s been no complaints.”
The NRA didn’t ask the Redskins to take the ads out of the ballgame, either.
“I haven’t heard anything like that here,” says Kelly Whitley, a spokesperson for the NRA.
And so they ran. The last NRA spot of the game was broadcast during the break for the two-minute warning. It followed a commercial for Home Depot, site of last week’s sniper killing in Falls Church. —Dave McKenna