Once again, on the things that matter most, Washington is a city divided.
Twenty seasons after the Redskins won their last Super Bowl, just more than half of area sports fans say they view the team favorably. But more than a third have negative feelings about the hometown football team, according to a new Washington Post poll, and fans hold even stronger negative views about its owner, Daniel Snyder.
The Redskins, the most established sports franchise in Washington, generate more negative views than the city’s less-storied baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer teams. Fewer than half of the area’s football fans — many of whom, to be sure, moved to Washington from other regions of the country — pick the Redskins as their favorite National Football League team.
Still, 55 percent of fans view the Redskins at least somewhat favorably, with longtime residents particularly supportive. “It’s more than just a football team. It’s part of the whole community,’ said Jim Hoebel, 45, a lifelong fan from Northern Virginia. “That’s why I still feel very strongly about it, and why I choose to still be a fan.”
The survey was conducted during the NFL preseason and before the Redskins opened their second regular season under Coach Mike Shanahan with an impressive 28-14 win over the New York Giants. In forums such as sports-talk radio and Internet message boards, many fans are expressing an optimism about the team’s direction not felt in recent years, and oddsmakers favor the Redskins to win their second straight game when they host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon.
Among all area sports fans, 34 percent express unfavorable views about the Redskins, compared with 26 percent for the Wizards, 12 percent for the Nationals and low single digits for the Capitals and D.C. United. Among avid sports fans, 14 percent have a “strongly” unfavorable view toward the Redskins. Among the other teams, only the Wizards, at 10 percent, have a strongly unfavorable score in double-digits.
More than two-thirds of fans who grew up in D.C., Maryland or Virginia hold favorable views of the Redskins; it’s barely four in 10 among those who grew up elsewhere. Newcomers, younger fans and upscale residents are far more enthused about the Capitals and Nationals.
Several newcomers interviewed for this story say they would like to see the Redskins succeed as a way to increase civic pride, but that the team must first improve its results.
“It’s the one team here where I feel like cheering for them is really a native D.C. thing,” said Zach Cockrum, a 25-year old from Indianapolis who described the Redskins as his second-favorite NFL team. “That’s definitely part of it, fitting in and cheering for the team in my adopted city.”
D.C. fans direct considerable ire toward the man who owns the team. A majority of all D.C. area sports fans hold unfavorable views of Snyder, with more than one in three having “strongly” negative impressions, according to the poll. The owners of the other major teams, Ted Leonsis and Ted Lerner, are far less-known than Snyder but generate dramatically fewer negative reviews. Just 3 percent express strongly negative views toward Lerner; less than 1 percent express this view toward Leonsis.
Fans cite a variety of complaints about the Redskins owner, from his recent lawsuit filed against the Washington City Paper to a perception of impatience and meddling. Snyder dropped the suit against the paper on Sept. 10.
“He needs to change his persona and his actions to have a better standing in this town,” Hoebel said.
The Redskins declined to comment for this story. When asked earlier in the week about the direction of the franchise, though, Snyder expressed optimism.
“I think the fans, like me, feel that we’re in good hands with Bruce Allen, Mike Shanahan,” Snyder said. “They see the leadership of the players and I think they’re excited about the future, as we all are. I’m just looking forward to this Sunday. I take them one at a time.” Allen is the Redskins’ general manager.
Washington sports fans — those who cheer for the Redskins and those who root for other NFL teams — interviewed for this story identified the same reasons for having unfavorable opinions toward the club: two decades without playoff success, annual feelings of unmet expectations and a sense that the front office lacked a consistent plan.
“It just seems like there’s no long-range planning, that there’s sort of a knee-jerk reaction to managing a team,” said Jeff Riggs, a 32-year old native of Hartford, Conn., who has lived in the Washington area for five years. “People want them to be a good team, people want them to be a success and they’ve wanted it for a long time, but they’re frustrated.”
“It’s just kind of been miserable,” said Shelby Oakley, a Western Pennsylvania native who is married to a die-hard Redskins fan and has lived in Northern Virginia for a decade. “I just feel like they have just been losing for so long, and I feel like they never give anything a chance to work before pulling the plug or trying to buy someone else.”
Other fans say that nothing could sever their relationship with the franchise.
“I don’t even know that I could come up with a scenario that bad, other than them moving or changing their name,” said Will Oakley, Shelby’s husband, who has spent tens of thousands of dollars on hundreds of items for his Redskins collection. “If they’re wearing burgundy and gold, buddy, I’m all in.”
The poll was conducted by telephone and online July 29 to Aug. 29, among a sample of 1,010 Washington area adults whose addresses were selected at random from a U.S. Postal Service database. The results from the full survey have a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points and five points for the 806 sports fans surveyed.
Polling director Jon Cohen, polling manager Peyton Craighill and staff writer Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.