Last Thursday in Richmond, going on 1 p.m., I pulled out of the parking lot and left the smiling, satisfied fans. Navigating through a maze of reddish-brown pigmented heads without torsos (logos adorning ballcaps, bumpers, car flags, onesies in strollers), I took a hard right, up I-95 past Fredericksburg. Driving right through the epicenter of a state forever politically torn — now at war over gay marriage and a monstrous Confederate flag flying in Stafford County — it occurred to me there is one entity yet to splinter Virginia, and maybe one alone.
Dan Snyder’s still-locally-popular NFL team with the increasingly polarizing name.
“If I’m not incorrect, all the players live in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Friday morning at training camp. “Most season-ticket holders come out of Virginia. So we sort of view the team as our team here in Virginia.”
The self-professed job creator wanted no part of the name-change scrum, basically explaining his state could be bought off infinitely quicker than any dead-broke tribe in Montana.
“I come at this as the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said a man who accepted a $25,000 campaign donation from Snyder. “I have a team here that is growing our economy. Just look in those stands. Look at the economic activity. I’ll be hosting the team over at the mansion on Tuesday night.”
Drink up, Gov. Draft a new stadium proposal. For better or worse, your adopted state wins the right to become the next permanent home of the NFL team formerly of Washington. The owner, the coaches, Robert Griffin III, the nostalgia of Sonny and Sam, of Riggo and the Hogs, the last 15 years of mostly baggage . . . it’s all yours.
If the owner and his employees were honest, their hearts and wallets have resided much further south of the Mason-Dixon line for some time.
It’s not a coincidence their training camp is now in the former capital of the Confederacy, which last year used city funds to build the team an $11 million facility, a team it pays $500,000 annually just to practice in Richmond for three weeks.
Griffin and his teammates purport to be Washington’s team, to represent the District, Maryland and Virginia. The truth is, they belong to the Commonwealth. They’ve been going south for almost three decades.
For 22 years, the team headquarters have been in Ashburn. All the players and coaches either live in the suburbs or nearby. They practice, shop and pay taxes in Northern Virginia. The three Lombardi Trophies that Joe Gibbs’s teams won more than two decades ago gleam behind the glass there, not on the other side of the Potomac.
Now more than ever, the owner and team President Bruce Allen — son of George the coach, brother of George Jr., the former Virginia senator — need their Virginia cocoon. During these delicate ChangeTheMascot.org times, Virginia is where the team has organized all of its remaining political support.
While half of the U.S. Senate and the bipartisan New York legislature have demanded Snyder change what the U.S. Trademark and Patent court defined as a slur, and while the largest governing body of Native Americans and 70 sovereign tribes representing tens of thousands have all bonded over a common cause, the Commonwealth is the only state in the union with an actual “[R-word] Pride Caucus.”
In a Roanoke Times editorial last month, House Delegate David I. Ramadan (R-Loudoun) summed up his fellow Virginia officeholders’ passion for keeping the name: “It’s no mistake that members of this newfound caucus come from around the commonwealth. For generations, the [R-words] have been Virginia’s team, even the South’s team.”
The South’s team.
That’s precisely what George Preston Marshall called his faux-Indian franchise. It’s the same reason the original owner who named the team was the last to integrate his roster in 1962, 16 years after the NFL’s color barrier had been broken. And that came only after the Kennedy administration threatened to prohibit Marshall’s team from playing on federal land.
This is the part of “Our shared heritage and history” that never made it into Snyder’s impassioned, keep-the-name letter last fall to fans. Beyond the Fun Bunch, Darrell Green, Art Monk and the rest, this is unavoidably also part of this franchise’s past.
And the further south the owner and his team retreat — the more stubborn, bunker-down mentality takes over as proponents of changing the name grow — the more the symmetry grows with some of their Commonwealth neighbors.
Take the Virginia Flaggers, a group of about 40 stars-and-bars activists determined to fly the Confederate flag and show its true meaning to offended folk who think it just represents slavery and oppression. Familiar, no? Loyalists telling the offended that a symbol’s historical association is misunderstood.
If this franchise really wants to go there with history and tradition, it should at least acknowledge there is no connection to the District anymore. Counting nights before games spent in a nearby hotel, Maryland is home just 20 days per year. And if Virginia has the only politician willing to admit this isn’t about principle, it’s about the Benjamins, baby, then McAuliffe can at least free up enough funds to pay for Snyder’s appeal in federal trademark court by the Aug. 18 deadline.
Bottom line: No bribed tribe wants to reap financial benefit from Snyder’s team more than the Commonwealth. No state loves these players and cherishes the rich, storied, sullied and ultimately complicated history of this team more than Virginia.
D.C. and Maryland have been mistresses for far too long. It’s past time to stop fantasizing that the athletic heroes of the area’s youth will ever come home and genuinely commit again to living, practicing and playing anywhere near the city. And even if they did, would you even recognize them anymore?
They’re the Commonwealth’s now, economic drivers and gougers of an original colony, one the team has helped with a newly inspired advertising campaign to lure tourists.
Virginia isn’t for lovers. No, it’s for leavers.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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