By Leonard Shapiro
Tuesday, October 31, 2006 12:02 PM
With the Washington Redskins' 2006 season spiraling downward with each passing week, WTEM Radio's 'Sports Reporters' show keeps re-playing an angry phone call from a clearly outraged fan who dialed in to a recent post-game show and went off on team owner Daniel Snyder. The rant described the owner as a "megalomaniac" running an organization that, like a dead fish, stinks from the head down and keeps ripping off the football fans of Washington with a product hardly befitting the second highest ticket prices in the NFL.
In many ways, the caller was probably speaking for many Redskins followers who surely by now must be wondering why they still bother to spend hours in beltway traffic jams before and after games, investing hundreds and even thousands of dollars on seats, parking, $6 hot dogs and $10 brewskies to watch the worst team Snyder's money can buy constantly fail to live up to expectations.
But don't expect Daniel Snyder, a man who, ironically, made his fortune in the communications business, to step up to the plate and take a little heat, or even a single question from the media. Snyder has declined all media interview requests during the football season for years and hardly does any interviews in the offseason either, with the exception of a blinders-on friendly puff piece in a recent edition of Washingtonian.
Unlike Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, a stand-up guy in good times and often in bad (e-mail Ted and he e-mails right back), you're not going to hear Snyder on any local sports or news talk shows -- including those on his own Red Zebra group of Snyder-owned radio stations -- or fielding questions from the anchors at Channels 4, 5, 7 or 9.
Unlike Wizards owner Abe Pollin, who has been answering questions on the air and returning phone calls from local reporters for most of the last four decades, Snyder simply won't talk to the people who cover his team in the local print or broadcast media.
Why is that?
Surprise, surprise, Snyder wouldn't comment.
Karl Swanson, his long-time spokesman, said, "after the first season, he discovered that anything he said relating to the team had a disproportionate amount of scrutiny and interpretation and he felt that he has people who are the appropriate people to talk about the team. Football questions belong to the coaches. If Dan talks about it, it triggers the idea that he's involved in the football operation. Frankly, given that there has been a view that says he's meddling, it's best he doesn't say anything."
Oh please. He's not involved in the football operation? Excuse me, who hired the coach? Who won't hire a general manager? Who approved $2 million contracts for the two coordinators? Who goes on recruiting trips to sign free agent stiffs who love to take his money and then don't run anywhere except to the bank?
If nothing else, wouldn't it be nice to hear from the owner that he's still got complete faith in Joe Gibbs and his ability to turn the team around and win some football games over the second half of the season?
Said Swanson, "any remarks he has on the coach are between him and the coach."
How about questions on ticket prices (second only behind New England, which wins Super Bowls), on the high cost of parking, on the incessant blaring artificial noise and moronic public address announcer in the stadium, on relieving traffic congestion on the beltway, on the inability of some fans to find the game on any of Snyder's three low wattage radio stations?
How about other legitimate questions as to why he insists on not hiring a strong general manager, or why the team keeps trying to build with high priced free agents instead of top draft choices? How about why the owner has allowed his Hall of Fame head coach to yield the play calling to his offensive coordinator?
But don't ask Dan, the man at the top, where the buck is supposed to stop. He doesn't want to talk about any of it, especially, heaven forbid, to the people who keep showing up week after week, despite the constant losing, and so many other indignities heaped upon the public that pays his team's way.
Several members of the local broadcast media say they'd love to get Snyder on the air, but they've pretty much given up trying.
"The fact that he won't even go on his own radio station is stunning to me," said WTEM Sports Reporters host Andy Pollin. "You think they'd ask him tough questions or give him a hard time?"
Pollin hasn't had Snyder on the air since the owner hired Gibbs three years ago. He said he once asked Snyder why he won't appear every now and then and been told by the owner, "nothing good ever comes out of it. He says people will just rip you. I've talked to him about twenty different times.
My feeling is he seems like a very shy, insecure man. He's not happy unless he has a lot of people he knows around him.
"It's an odd thing. I really do think he's socially inept. Most men in his position can walk into a room and own it. He doesn't seem to be that guy. Is it a mistake (not to speak with the media)? Maybe it ties in with who he is. Maybe he's smart enough to realize he can't sway an opinion in an interview. He's not like (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones. Jerry is provocative; he understands this media thing. I don't think Snyder is that kind of guy."
George Michael over at Channel 4 said he can't remember the last time Snyder appeared on one of his shows, though he remembers the owner once telling him that "when he sits down with me, he feels like I'm the prosecuting attorney and he's in the witness stand.
"But I have questions. Everyone has questions. I've got a job to do, and if you're in a position of authority, maybe you don't want to answer those questions. But I haven't asked him (to appear) in years. I think he feels he's got nothing to gain by sitting down with us."
Channel 5's Dave Feldman also believes Snyder is making a mistake by ducking the local media, particularly the television crowd.
"I think if he did go on, he could paint a more positive picture of himself," Feldman said. "He could explain a lot of things and people might see where he was coming from. If I was guessing, I'd say he's probably saying to himself that if I do it, I'll get hammered, so why do it? But if he came out and said 'hey, we're 2-5 and we're not happy about it,' if he gave his perspective on it, I think people might be more understanding. But like a lot of people, he's sensitive to criticism, so he puts himself in position not to get ripped."
Mostly though, Dan Snyder puts himself in a bunker, surrounds himself with yes-men who rarely whisper a discouraging word in his ear and sadly plays duck and cover with the media whenever it suits him, which is virtually all the time.
As long as Redskins fans continue to sell out his stadium and line his pockets, his no-accountability media policy is not likely to change. But with this kind of football team perhaps one day he may have to show his face on television, if only to beg the ever-increasing number of ranting fans to come back.