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The week that Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder dismissed head coach Marty Schottenheimer, the New York Times ran a story in which several of the suddenly former assistant coaches alleged that Snyder had electronically bugged their offices during the season. According to the piece, coaches would turn up the stereo during meetings with players, simply to foil the boss’s eavesdropping attempts.
The allegations made in the Times weren’t repeated in D.C. newspapers or given any serious TV or radio airtime in this market. No surprise there.
In the media, there are two Snyders.
There’s Steinbrenner Without a Championship Snyder, the bumbling boy meanie portrayed by most sportswriters and sports-talk-show hosts working elsewhere. That’s the Snyder who fired Schottenheimer only because the Redskins needed a general manager, then reconstructed the front office without a GM. (Vinny Cerrato and Joe Mendes were asked back to Redskin Park to handle personnel chores. In their last stints here, Cerrato couldn’t find a kicker and cut Brian Mitchell, and Mendes crunched the numbers and found enough salary-cap space so Snyder could bring in Deion Sanders and Jeff George. The 2000 squad assembled by Cerrato and Mendes for about $100 million went 8-8, the same record Schottenheimer put up with a far less monied squad.)
And then there’s Earnest Superfan Snyder, whose only fault is wanting to win too much. That’s the Snyder whose excuse for firing Schottenheimer went basically unchallenged in local papers, TV news broadcasts, or on the only sports-radio station in town.
The real Snyder probably prefers the local portrait. But he doesn’t leave it up to chance that he’ll get the all-puffery, all-the-time treatment from the image-makers on the D.C. sports scene. With Ken Lay’s soft dollars attracting so much attention, the time seems right for a look at the ties Snyder has forged with those able to caretake his reputation.
Andy Pollin Snyder hired Pollin two years ago to host a Sunday-morning TV show for the Redskins Broadcast Network, the production company owned by the team. Most fans don’t even know the show, called Redskins Game Day, exists. But putting Pollin, a tireless worker, on his team’s payroll was a masterstroke. Pollin is the sports director of WTEM, meaning he pulls the strings behind the scenes at the only local sports-radio station. Pollin isn’t just management, though. He’s also on-air seven days a week during football season. He hosts all-Redskins shows on both Monday mornings and weekday evenings, plus a postgame show. He anchors a nightly roundtable for WTEM, called The Sports Reporters, and co-hosts an afternoon show on Saturdays that is syndicated on ESPNRadio, as is the daily broadcast of The Tony Kornheiser Show, on which Pollin plays sidekick to the host. Pollin doesn’t divulge to the listening audience the ties that bind him to Snyder during any of these gigs. He neglected even to mention his job status with the Redskins when he brought the boss/owner into the WTEM studios for what was billed as an interview last preseason. Pollin is careful not to open the phone lines to listeners with dissenting opinions, but his endless promotion of Snyder and the Redskins was among the hottest topics of the message board on WTEM’s Web site. The station recently pulled the plug on the board, however.
Pollin understands why listeners could “have a problem with me getting a check from the Redskins” for the TV show, which he concedes has “no objectivity.” His radio gig, though, is another matter. “I’ve never been told by anybody on the Redskins what to say on the radio or what not to say,” says Pollin. Nobody told Pollin, presumably, to take Wednesday’s show to Redskin Park, where he helped Snyder launch the team’s new line of throwback jerseys, which went on sale this week at the Skins Web site for $269.99.
George Michael Shortly after buying the team, Snyder made WRC the official station of the Redskins Broadcast Network, which made Michael the play-by-play man for the team-owned preseason telecasts. (In the NFL, the individual franchises own the rights to all preseason game coverage, although the league controls regular-season games.) Michael hadn’t done play-by-play in years, and his breathless, let-the-words-fall-where-they-may style wouldn’t seem to make him a natural choice for the job. But if Snyder was looking for a missionary to spread his gospel, Michael was the best man. After more than 20 years at WRC—home of the most-watched newscasts in the city, ratings book after ratings book—Michael is now the only sports anchor who matters. His colleagues from WRC’s sports department, including weekend anchor Wally Bruckner and beloved and believed QB Sonny Jurgensen, were also brought into the Redskins Broadcast Network productions. Michael disavows any conflict of interest, insisting he controls every aspect of the show. “Marty Schottenheimer [last year] got upset over something I said and went to Daniel Snyder to complain, and we heard about it. But I said they can go somewhere else,” says Michael. Michael says he was unaware that the microphones he uses onscreen carry the trademarked Redskins logo.
Michael Wilbon The most prolific of sports columnists with the Washington Post (a paper I freelance for) and now the co-host, with Kornheiser, of a daily show on ESPN-TV, Wilbon jumped aboard Snyder’s bandwagon before the 1999 season, when he became the color commentator for the Redskins Broadcast Network. On the job, Wilbon lugs a microphone carrying the Redskins logo. Wilbon says he was unaware that Snyder owns the Redskins Broadcast Network, adding that his contract to work the games is with WRC. “I understand the appearance of a conflict, but anybody who listens to the broadcasts and reads what I write knows I say what I’m going to say, period,” he says. “I’m only worried about what my work is. People can look at my work and decide on their own if there’s a conflict.”
The Post doesn’t always condone such writer-subject alliances lying down. Last week, after a Sally Quinn column upset some readers who viewed the author as conflicted, Post staffers were sent a memo by Executive Editor Len Downie Jr. reminding them that they “cannot belong to, be on the boards of, contribute to or be paid by governmental, political or advocacy organizations of any kind.” Promoting local sports franchises was not mentioned. —Dave McKenna