The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘I feel betrayed’: Redskins fans erupt in fury after latest reports of front office dysfunction

Two fans at the end of the last Redskins season. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

John Hunter Biebighauser follows politics, votes regularly, and keeps up with current events, but he had never signed a petition in his 33 years. That changed Wednesday night.

The cause that finally nudged him into put-your-name-on-the-line activism? Anger at Redskins President Bruce Allen, at the team’s chaotic front office and at the apparent ouster of beloved General Manager Scot McCloughan. Wait, really?

“It felt pretty stupid, to be honest … but I think they might actually read it, because they care so much about their image,” Biegbighauser said in a phone conversation late Wednesday night. And why now?

A Redskins-McCloughan separation seems to be a question of when, not if

“They’ve been an embarrassment for going on 20-plus years,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. But it’s actually having something that appears to be good go away.”

That’s the easiest way to explain why Redskins fans detonated Wednesday night. Their fragile faith in this team had been patched together not just by the barely winning records of the past two seasons, but by the idea that a competent football man was running the organization — free from petty interference and the drama of the past. The Post’s blockbuster exhumation of the past few months, published Wednesday night, seems to have blown away the last wisps of that faith. For many, raw fury was left behind.

An online petition “to remove Bruce Allen from power,” launched late Wednesday afternoon, had more than 1,900 signatures by Thursday morning. A Redditor urged fans to bombard the Redskins with phone calls of protest. Some fans began organizing a Friday morning “March on Ashburn.” A popular Redskins blogger posted purported contact information for Allen. By Thursday morning, the Junkies on 106.7 The Fan were brainstorming ideas to tap into this anger, including creating a Bruce Allen piñata and inviting fans to “come down here and beat the hell out of it,” as host Eric Bickel proposed.

“Fill it with lies,” John Auville suggested.

Another host said the station could host a mini-circus inside its studios. Fans, a producer noted, could “get their faces painted with disappointment.”

This all sounds like hyperbole, and maybe it is. But I spent Wednesday night talking to random Redskins fans on the phone. They were almost distraught.

I feel betrayed,” said Michael Pettiford, a season ticket holder the past six years who said there’s now a 5 percent chance he renews. “I mean, it’s an embarrassment, and I just can’t financially support it anymore. … They made a good hire with Scot McCloughan. But if they’re not going to let him operate, there’s no point in thinking the team’s going to be good. And you just can’t support it.”

Look, I’ve spent way too much of my life writing about angry D.C. sports fans. Sometimes — remember the start to this Wizards season — the angst later seems overblown. The team rallies, mistakes are corrected (or turn out not to have been mistakes), and the anger dissipates. That’s certainly possible here. And I’ve obviously sought out frustrated voices, because they’re the loudest and most quotable. But there’s a level of bleakness here you don’t really expect to find among NFL fans in early March.

If you’re sick of the Redskins’ chaos, maybe it’s time to start following the Wizards

“There was something about being a season ticket holder that made me feel like I was being a really good fan,” wrote Chris Wooden in an email. “When I went through my divorce or was laid off from my job, it was a sanctuary for me. I love hanging with the people I sit near and tailgate with. I love the atmosphere, even when half the fans are from the other team.”

Now? He also said he’s 95 percent sure that he’s done, even if he might still buy tickets on the secondary market. And he’s trying to encourage other season ticket holders to post their displeasure — and their account numbers — on social media, to show the front office that they’re real and they’re serious.

“I do know that the team does listen and feels embarrassed,” he wrote. ” I feel this is the only way that as fans we can show Snyder that we are not an open bank [and] will not keep spending money on a dysfunctional product.”

Thursday morning, I got a call from Kyle Spitzer, a 42-year old season-ticket holder from Rhode Island who travels to FedEx Field with his two sons five or six times a season. He told his sons on Thursday morning that they were done, and he ripped up his invoice.

“We’re just fed up. We all thought McCloughan was the savior,” Spitzer said. “They can all go rot. They’re depriving me and my family and millions of fans of what every fan wants: just a normal, stable organization. They don’t have to win every year. But we can’t even have that.”

That’s why this is all apparently happening now, after two winning seasons, in the middle of the offseason. Because the team’s down payment on respectability had been the spoken promise that finally, finally, finally they would be normal. Before McCloughan, they had hired a hotshot college coach in Steve Spurrier, a newcomer in Jim Zorn, a Super Bowl winner in Mike Shanahan, and a revered icon in Joe Gibbs. They had acquired prominent quarterbacks via free agency, via trade and via the draft. They tried non-prominent quarterbacks, too. They had invested in big-money out-of-town stars, and they had gotten big-money out-of-town assistant coaches.

But they had never really tried this: a respected football scout with a winning pedigree who wanted to do things the “right” way: building through the draft, stocking up on homegrown talent, remaining independent from ownership, keeping the sideshows at bay. And now McCloughan appears to be on the way out, with hope and faith following on his heels.

For the first time we were establishing credibility and a clear direction. Now what was once our savior is being driven out of town,” wrote George Carmi in a series of late-night texts. “I have no faith in the front office, I distrust the owner and all of my favorite players are leaving. What do I have left?”

Scot was what we thought was our last sort of hope,” said Matthew Cafritz, 26, who said this month’s chaos convinced his dad to give up his season tickets after 15 years. “I’ve never experienced winning football, but the consistency with which this team steps on its own foot is just insane. At this point, I’m trying to make the decision not to suffer through it for no reason, because they’ve given nothing to people my age. … I can’t in good conscience continue to think this team is worth investing four hours in every Sunday, or an entire weekend when I go home for the games. I’m kind of using Scot as a blessing in disguise; if they’re going to send him out of town, then finally I can stop being mocked for being a Redskins fan.”

It’s just absolutely devastating,” said Greg McKillop, a D.C. native who now lives in California. McCloughan “just seemed to bring so much confidence about finding good players, building from the ground, drafting well. All these things, in my lifetime, have been massive cavities, and he was a guy that was going to fill them. And to find all this out, it’s really tough to swallow. I can’t really in good conscience consider supporting the team because, to me, that’s just like supporting Dan Snyder. And I’d rather eat a wine glass.”

“I have been a fan of the Redskins for over 20 years and my family has had season tickets since I was 6,” wrote Nader Pishdad, in an email he also attempted to send to Allen. “Never have I been so upset and despondent over the team. This is the bottom. … Consider this the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Similarly minded fans posted emails on social media that they were writing to the team, which were too profane for me to include. They talked about this being their lowest moment, an almost unimaginable claim for fans of a franchise that has been through so much over the past two decades. They got #FireBruceAllen trending on Twitter in D.C. They still hoped for a way out, too, which is why so many of them wanted to demonstrate their anger in a public forum. Maybe, they thought, the team just doesn’t understand how much of their faith was resting in McCloughan.

“I’m just tired of seeing Skins fans complaining, saying I’m switching teams, saying I can’t take this anymore,” said Zieynaba Dem, who launched the petition “to remove Bruce Allen from power.”

“Most Skins fans saw Scot as hope,” she said. “And if he’s gone, we’re losing hope, because that means Snyder hasn’t changed at all.”

Online petitions are less successful than a last-second Hail Mary, but she figured she might as well try, and so this 22-year old from Indiana eventually motivated a 33-year old from Atlanta to sign the first petition of his life. Unlike some of the other furious fans, Biebighauser said he could never start supporting another team. Still, he had grown up going to games with his season ticket holding grandparents, and he still has vague memories of the last Super Bowl season. This latest reboot felt like “a huge opportunity, and they’re just completely shooting themselves in the foot,” he said.

“It’s anger today, just because some of the specific things coming out,” he said. “I’m sure tomorrow I’ll go back to the apathy I had for 15 years before. It didn’t have to be that way.”