Addressing the state of the disunion: Local teams again are nothing to brag about


Quarterback Robert Griffin III lies on the ground in pain after injuring his knee in Washington’s playoff loss to Seattle last January. Washington last won the Super Bowl in 1992, and the city has not had a major professional sports champion since. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Mike Wise
Columnist January 28

Speaker Zimmerman, Vice President Griffin, Members of the Billionaire Owners Club, underachieving athletes, and fellow beleaguered District, Maryland and Virginia fans who have not driven or danced atop a championship float since 1992:

Our unheard plea for a parade declares that from time to time the president shall give to the people information about the state of D.C. sports.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Almost 12 months ago, I spent my ninth year as your czar marveling at the bright future ahead. The football team had just come off a division title and its first home playoff game in 12 years. The baseball team was a mere strike away from its first National League Championship Series. Alex Ovechkin was months away from his third Hart Trophy, leading that forever-contending NHL team back to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Wizards were often still the Wizards, but John Wall was finally healthy, his stride so full of elan and grace.

Promise abounded.

A year later, it’s gone.

Really, things went splat so fast — didn’t they?

After 3-13 on the gridiron, after a disappointing NL East finish on the diamond and another two coaching changes, as the Wizards improve yet fail to scale .500 and the Capitals’ struggles invite the real possibility that the Verizon Center could be completely vacant by late April for the first time since 2004, we have reverted to being an illegitimate big-time sports town.

Eight in 10 Washingtonians still cannot brag about their local teams. The two that can could not find their way from the Gray Lot to Fed Ex Field and are still missing.

So I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They’re not new. I know this because I just plagiarized those two lines from my 2011 State of D.C. Sports address.

Look, we are at a fork in the road of our shared misery. Despite our deep divisions, we need to decide now whether to pull together or be pulled further apart in the hope that one fine day, confetti will rain down upon us.

Tonight, in order to achieve the dream, I am proposing legislation for a Minimum Win scale, whereby a fan can go to a game and feel like being charged $25 to park and $50 to eat steamed pork and nitrates was worth it. By requiring D.C. teams to reimburse fans for every game attended after their sorry squad is eliminated from playoff contention, this legislation will make fans feel like they have pulled themselves up by their $49 burgundy-and-gold bootstraps — the officially licensed bootstraps of Robert Griffin III and image-rehabbing athletes everywhere.

Greater Washington has been struggling below the poverty line when it comes to its self-esteem as a fan base for too long. It’s time for D.C. fans to realize the American dream that fans in places like Boston and New York have kept to themselves.

I wouldn’t be forthright if I didn’t acknowledge that this address is delivered amid the lowest-approval ratings of my 10-year, self-declared reign, with a divided readership that has largely stalled much of my agenda. Let’s be frank: some of you don’t even consider me or my cabinet fit to lead and wonder aloud what planet is this clown living on? I ask myself the same question about Steinberg.

Yet any sports writer worth his salt, who knows the immense pride this region has for its favorite franchise, must compromise — even on issues as polarizing as a possible name change. Which is why, tonight, I intend to put forth legislation to change . . . the Capitals to “The Gerunds” or “The Participles.” Hell, after their recent seven straight losses, I might just go with “The Lowercases.”

A year ago at this time many were distraught over Ovechkin’s inability to play like a superstar. They worried he wanted to return to Mother Russia. The good news is, he is again a scoring machine and no one is worried that he will use the coming Winter Olympics in Sochi to defect from the Capitals. The bad news is some of his teammates need to defect to any country that appreciates uninspiring hockey.

There are signs of hope on the horizon. For example, Jay Gruden, entrusted with re-molding our best and brightest. There will be free agency, lo and behold, without a salary-cap penalty. Matt Williams. Doug Fister. The NBA’s awful Eastern Conference after Miami and Indiana. And George McPhee, who has no contract beyond this season and must make a good deal by the NHL trade deadline.

Also, with costs rising everywhere, some of our wealthiest have come to the fore to bridge the gap between the 99-percenters and themselves. I’d like to thank Representatives Leonsis and Snyder for helping me roll out our new Affordable Season Ticket Act, which is much easier than going to healthcare.gov.

For all the price-gouging, we should point out that a seat to see the basketball team went for $5 on StubHub several months back. And it cost just $8 to stand and watch the football team be blown off the field in miserable weather against Kansas City this past December.

As we speak, more Washingtonians have opportunities to buy more affordable seats to see their teams generally lose. Yes, the Affordable Concessions Act has gone nowhere in Congress. But just today, the administration has announced more local draft brew at Nationals Park this coming season.

I know. There is still a general feeling of hopelessness, as if we have all been consigned to the cellar of our respective divisions. We have not been champions of pro football since 1992, champions of pro basketball since 1978 and champions of baseball since 1924. We have never been the champions of hockey.

If we’re being honest, we were good for a year and now we’re bad again.

There. That’s it.

The truth is, the state of D.C. Sports is surgically repaired and still wearing a brace. He may be back from Hawaii yet, we’re not sure.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless Robert Griffin III.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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