Ted Leonsis paid a man $100 to stop singing ‘American Pie’

October 31, 2013

(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis met with a group of writers and editors at The Post this afternoon for lunch. The two-hour discussion covered topics like the Wizards’ and Capitals’ profitability (Wizards are a few years away, Caps are closer), the future of Monumental Sports Network and why he hasn’t fired any general managers.

Below is a story that has nothing to do with any of those things, but was the only part of the meeting I recorded because Leonsis prefaced it by saying that Dan Steinberg would have blogged about it if he’d been there. Good enough for me.

Leonsis began by explaining the restrictions on his company’s new flashing billboards at Verizon Center, which went live last month to the chagrin of some neighboring residents and businesses. The signs, which could generate millions in revenue for Monumental Sports and Entertainment, can’t be considered a traffic hazard. They also can’t be illuminated after 11 p.m., and — this part is most relevant to the following story about Leonsis paying a man a hundred bucks to stop singing “American Pie” outside of Verizon Center — they can’t have any sound. So, the story:

“Every day, this guy would show up right under my office with his guitar and his speakers,” Leonsis said. “He’s performing, and he’s raising money, begging for money. First thing, I don’t think he pays 10 percent on what he’s raising like we do with all of our revenue. But this guy was really loud, and he wasn’t that talented.

“And this one day last week he was playing ‘Bye bye Miss American Pie’ for like an hour. And he was picking up the pace. [Leonsis then quickly demonstrated by singing the Don McLean song in double time while strumming an air guitar. Pretty great.] And it’s going on and on and on and on, louder louder louder, I couldn’t hear, so I called our security people and I said, ‘Look, we can’t have audio on our signs. Can we have him moved?’ And I got back, ‘No, we can’t.’ And I said, ‘Well why? He doesn’t have a permit.’ [They said] the police won’t do anything and, you know, you shouldn’t [do anything].”

(At that point, Post columnist Mike Wise interjected to say that it might not be the best PR move for a billionaire to kick a homeless guy off his street for playing “American Pie,” which is certainly a fair point. Some of us, though, might argue that it’s kind of an annoying song.)

Leonsis went outside and approached the man. “I said, ‘I’m not gonna bore you with the whole backstory, but you’re playing really loud underneath, and it’s wrong on so many counts.’ And I gave him a hundred bucks. Play as loud as you want down there, but not here anymore.”

Questions I should have asked, but didn’t: How did he pay? Does he carry around $100 bills? Was it four twenties and two tens? A personal check?  An IOU, because who even carries cash or checks around anymore?

Anyway, Leonsis was then asked about whether he would ever wade into the debate about the Redskins name, and he reiterated his previous comments on the issue.

“I think it’s not appropriate for me to do it for a number of reasons,” Leonsis said. “One, I wouldn’t like another sports team owner weighing in on Bullets, Wizards, and these things, even here, I’ve had Washington Post people tell me, ‘You need to and you should change the name back to the Bullets.’ But I’ve had other people tell me, ‘If you change the name back to the Bullets, I’m gonna kill you.’ …

“That’s why I’ve said, I’ve got other things, I’ve got to make the Wizards into a winner, that’s what I’m focused on,” he said.

Asked whether he had the Pollin family’s blessing if he did want to change the name back to the Bullets, Leonsis said that wasn’t the case.

“Even there, I think Mrs. Pollin would think it’s appropriate, I think Robert Pollin would think it’s inappropriate. Who wants to wade into that?”

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Sarah Kogod | October 31, 2013