To the folks at Redskins Park, the idea was simple enough: Send a few players to a shooting range and charge football fans to spend the afternoon with them blasting clay pigeons. Proceeds would benefit children. It would be like a celebrity golf tournament, except with shotguns.
But the sponsor for the first Redskins Sporting Clays Challenge is NRA Sports, a division of the National Rifle Association, which recently started pushing Congress to repeal the District's gun laws.
Five gun-control groups and anti-violence organizations are calling on Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder to cancel the competition, which is scheduled for Tuesday at a skeet range in Prince George's County. The groups say it is irresponsible for the Redskins to partner with an organization that is lobbying to legalize handguns and semiautomatic rifles in the nation's capital, where four people were shot to death in a 41/2-hour period one recent weekend.
Snyder has not responded to the requests. Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said the team does not support repealing the District's gun laws, is not involved in the NRA's political activities and considers the competition a simple fundraiser.
"We think it's a valuable event, and we intend to go forward with it," he said.
The antigun groups said they will press their point. Tomorrow, leaders of Peaceoholics and FLY, two groups that counsel young people in poor neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, plan to go to Redskins headquarters in Ashburn to deliver a letter to Snyder. If that doesn't work, they and others plan to protest at the event Tuesday at the Trap and Skeet Center in Glenn Dale.
"The youth from our organizations are outraged that the Redskins are partnering with an organization that wants to put more guns on D.C.'s streets," the letter from Peaceoholics and FLY says. "Most of us have lost a friend or loved one to gun violence. We do not want more guns, violence, and death in our neighborhoods. We want the madness to stop."
The Redskins Sporting Clay Challenge is modeled on an event offered to corporate sponsors for the past several Super Bowls. Conceived by an association of former NFL players, the target-shooting competition has become one of the Super Bowl's most popular functions, said Remy Mackowski, senior vice president of operations for NFL Alumni.
"At first, we were a little leery because it was the NRA," Mackowski said. But none of the Super Bowl events provoked protest, he said, and the shoots are spreading to individual alumni chapters and specific teams.
"It's something that's kind of new and interesting and different. And so far, there hasn't been any negative fallout," Mackowski said. "We've made it very clear that we don't support the NRA, that in no way is it an endorsement of the NRA and its policies. It allows us to raise funds for our mission, which is caring for kids."
The Redskins asked participants to contribute as much as $25,000 to the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, whose mission is to "make a positive and measurable impact on youth" in the region. And they shipped e-mails to Redskins ticket holders and thousands of subscribers to Redskins Insider magazine.
One landed in the inbox of Josh Sugarmann, a Redskins fan who works as executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a national anti-gun organization. Sugarmann said he was stunned to see his team in league with the NRA, which last month attacked the District's "absurd gun laws" in its magazine, America's 1st Freedom.
The September cover featured "Washington's Newest Monument," a gruesome tombstone that declares the city "America's Murder Capital" (Washington ranked third among big cities in homicides per capita in 2004). Inside, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is pictured with his hands in the air. "D.C. to Criminals: We Surrender!" the headline says.
The article champions legislation by Republican lawmakers from Indiana and Texas that would repeal the District's 30-year-old ban on handguns, along with a law that requires long guns to be registered with police and stored under lock and key. The story says the District's laws let "armed criminals run rampant, while law-abiding citizens . . . cower in fear."
Williams (D) and Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey testified against the legislation, arguing that the city's laws hold down gun violence and protect residents from accidental shootings. They succeeded in getting the proposal stripped from the city's appropriations bill. But NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre Jr. has said the NRA will "keep fighting for this legislation until we get it passed."
Sugarmann issued a news release urging the Redskins to withdraw from the competition, saying the goals of the NRA "cannot be reconciled" with the team's goal to improve the lives of area children.
Other groups have chimed in. Swanson said the Redskins have not responded to any of them. Sugarmann said he thinks the team has been blindsided by the outcry. "I believe if the Redskins had a better idea of what they were getting into, they wouldn't have gotten into it," he said.
The team has not released much information about the event.
In an interview Thursday, Swanson said he had no idea how many people were expected, how much money would be raised or which players and coaches might participate. He did not return calls Friday and yesterday seeking additional comment.