Many Redskins fans back action on drunks

Robert McCartney
Columnist January 9, 2013

In the gush of responses to my recent column describing the frustrations of attending a Redskins game, my favorite came from 75-year-old Sara Ruschaupt of Loudoun County.

A lifelong Redskins fan, Ruschaupt saw the team play at Griffith Stadium more than 50 years ago on dates with the man who became her husband. Today she’s enraged that the team doesn’t do more to rein in drunken, boorish behavior in the stands.

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

Sitting in Section 202 at the playoff game Sunday, the day my column appeared, Ruschaupt was dismayed in the first quarter when a tipsy fan in the row behind her emptied a Budweiser bottle on her.

“It covered my seat, my blanket, my cushion, my clothes. I smelled like beer,” Ruschaupt said. Moments later, she said, one of the guy’s friends “came falling forward over the seat and nearly knocked me to the ground.”

Ruschaupt went for help, but the nearest usher was busy breaking up a fight.

“The drinking and abuse have gotten out of control, and nobody is policing it. [Team owner] Dan Snyder says he is taking care of it, but I don’t see evidence of it,” she said.

Ruschaupt’s complaints echoed the overwhelming majority of e-mails, phone messages and Web site comments prompted by the column. It’s clear that large numbers of Redskins fans share my vexation over the unpleasantness that accompanies a visit to FedEx Field — and particularly inebriated fans.

Many, like me, put up with it because we so relish reveling with fellow enthusiasts of the burgundy and gold. But some, especially older fans, said it’s too much. They’ve given up going, albeit reluctantly.

“The last game I went to here, I went with two adults and a kid. I would never subject a kid to that again. Profane language and drinking, and fights and puking,” said Rick Reinhard, 57, who lives in the District.

Many writers said the atmosphere was more festive and less aggressive when the team played at RFK Stadium. They also noted that the crowd is much better behaved at baseball games at Nationals Park and put much of the blame on the culture of the National Football League. (Other football teams have similar issues.)

“Maybe it’s the nature of the sport. Baseball isn’t basically a contact sport, so it doesn’t bring out the animal feelings you have in football: crush the guy, kill him, knock him over,” said Richard Fidler, 71, of Bethesda.

Now, lest you think that I and others are snobbish prigs, as a few naysayers suggested, please be assured that I love the raucousness at FedEx Field. That’s part of why I go.

It’s also fine with me if people drink, even to excess — as long as they don’t drive, get violent or shout obscenities. (The frequent homophobic insults are particularly offensive.)

Regrettably, such ugliness has become the rule. Once Snyder is sure that RGIII’s knee is mending properly, he ought to devote some time in the offseason to trying to roll it back. (The Redskins declined to comment for this column and the previous one.)

Snyder could start by hiring more ushers and instructing them to do more to actually enforce the proclaimed Fan Code of Conduct. It’s supposed to prohibit “unruly, disruptive” actions, “intoxication . . . that results in irresponsible behavior” and “foul or abusive language.”

By that standard, the upper-tier section where I have a season ticket would lose at least a dozen fans each game. A woman sitting behind me Sunday unleashed X-rated vulgarities every few minutes. (Also maddening: She repeatedly accused the refs of blowing calls that were perfectly accurate.)

I hold out little hope. The sad truth is that the Redskins, like the rest of the teams in the NFL, make a lot of their money by promoting, or at least enabling, what’s politely called “overserving” of alcohol.

Beer profit swells pretty quickly at $9 a bottle. And the league hardly wants to crack down on an industry that buys so much advertising, both at the stadium and on television.

“All you have to do is look at the commercials on the Super Bowl. Look how many are bought by beer companies. It goes hand in hand,” said Jimmy Lynn, a sports management consultant and Georgetown University lecturer.

Longtime fan Ruschaupt has her own theory about what might improve the culture. She thinks the “good” fans who used to come to RFK have been selling their season tickets on the Internet to a less-desirable element because the team has been playing so poorly (until last year).

“Maybe with the good teams we’ll have in the future with RGIII, maybe loyal fans will come back and not give up their tickets to lowlifes,” she said.

I discuss local issues Friday at 8:50 a.m. on WAMU (88.5 FM). For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/
mccartney
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