The anticipation built as I walked toward FedEx Field with my two boys, 7 and 10, on a beautiful fall Sunday last month, under blue skies and bright sunshine. That their first Redskins game soon turned into a rout for the visiting Atlanta Falcons was disappointing, but did little to diminish their joy in attending their first NFL game.
Those memories, however, will be tainted by something foul: the endless stream of expletives coming from multiple people in the stands behind us, in front of us and seemingly everywhere in between. It’s not that my kids hadn’t heard these words before, and in fact I warned them ahead of time that some people say bad words at NFL games. But the almost nonstop nature, both during play and breaks in the action, was still jarring, prompting numerous knowing looks and nervous smiles with my kids throughout the game. And you can be sure they told mommy later that evening about the “many bad words” they heard.
One might think the Redskins, facing a well-documented drop in attendance in recent years, would be doing everything possible to create a welcoming environment for all ages. One might also think the NFL, a league that should be concerned about its future as the dangers of head injuries drive more and more young people away from the game, would be doing everything possible to grow its next generation of fans. Instead, our experience was anything but kid-friendly.
That’s not to say paying customers don’t have the right to say what they want within reasonable social norms, and even to curse from time to time. That is often the reality of adult conversation, and parents bringing kids to a sporting event do so at their own risk, knowing that offensive language might be overheard. But no child or family should have to endure four quarters of hearing every curse word under the kitchen sink, no matter how frustrating the product on the field might be.
Perhaps the crude culture my kids and I encountered in the upper deck of FedEx Field — and it’s hard to imagine this was an isolated incident that we were “lucky” enough to experience — is simply a reflection of the loss of decency that seems to be plaguing our society as a whole. That, however, doesn’t mean the Redskins and the NFL are helpless to address the problem. If anything, they have an opportunity, and maybe a responsibility, to encourage a respectful discourse inside and outside the stadium.
The third quarter scoreboard video of kids urging adults to talk nice and behave well was a cute attempt at this. But it appeared three quarters too late, and did not make a dent in the flow of foul language that continued through the end of the game. The video ends with a way to contact stadium staff if there’s a problem, and in hindsight I could have tried engaging an usher or even the offenders themselves. But I wasn’t in the mood to make a scene, and for the price of admission it’s the Redskins and the NFL who should take the lead in enforcing a more family-friendly atmosphere.
After decades of dominating the local sports scene, the Redskins are now competing with perennial contenders in the Nationals and Stanley Cup champion Capitals for the hearts and wallets of Washingtonians. I can say from personal experience that while Nationals Park and Capital One Arena are not immune to issues with foul language, the situation at FedEx Field felt significantly worse. In fact, unlike the Redskins, the Nationals and Capitals seem to make a concerted effort to embrace families rather than drive them away.
Would I take my kids to another Redskins game? I would certainly think twice after our last experience, especially given all the comforts of watching the game at home. It wouldn’t surprise me if many other moms and dads felt the same.
Dan Stillman is a native Washingtonian and a contributor to the Capital Weather Gang.
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