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Professional football is gearing up for its biggest game of the season this weekend, but the bigger showdown could take place in the legal arena later this year. There’s a strong chance a labor dispute could result in an NFL lockout next fall. We explore what this dispute says about the business of professional sports and where consumers and fans fit into it.
- Sally Jenkins columnist, The Washington Post; author of "The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed A Game, A People, A Nation" (Doubleday)
- Dave Zirin Sports Editor, The Nation; Author, "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love" (Scribner); author, "A People's History of Sports in the United States" (New Press)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the legal merits of Dan Snyder's lawsuit against Washington City Paper. But first, Sunday is a national holiday of sorts, the day we dedicate ourselves to parking on sofas, grubbing on hot wings and watching grown men clobber each other in the Super Bowl. But the more interesting full contact sport could be taking place in the legal arena later this year.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe NFL's billionaire owners are bickering with the league's millionaire players over a new collective bargaining agreement, a dispute that could result in a strike next season leaving you, the fan, without any football to watch. But the NFL substitute programming for the games may come in the form of its own version of Court TV and Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder is sure to be one of the stars in the debut episode. He's launching a lawsuit against a newspaper that printed negative articles about him and he seems to be out to crush the business. Joining us in studio is Dave Zirin, sports editor of the Nation. He's author of the book, "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love." Dave, good to see you again.
MR. DAVE ZIRINGreat to be here.
NNAMDIJoining us by telephone from Texas is Sally Jenkins. She's a columnist for the Washington Post. Sally, thank you for joining us.
MS. SALLY JENKINSThank you for having me.
NNAMDIBefore we get into the nitty-gritty of the NFL's labor dispute, we need to discuss the legal crusade being mounted by one of the league's most high profile owners, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder who this week announced plans to sue the Washington City Paper and writer David McKenna for defamation. Snyder is seeking millions of dollars in general and punitive damages over a series of articles written by the paper that he believes qualify as libel. What do you think is in it for Snyder by targeting a newspaper like this and what do you think he stands to lose by merely pursuing the case? I'll start with you, Sally, because if I start with Zirin, he might never stop.
JENKINSWell, I think he's obviously trying to pressure the Washington City Paper into firing Dave McKenna, who, by the way, is one of best, most interesting and most acute, you know, reporters in Washington. It would be a real shame if they buckled. But it was clear from the letter attached to the lawsuit that he doesn't believe that the Washington City Paper has a deep enough pockets to fight this legal battle, and so he's trying to bully them into firing a valuable employee.
NNAMDIEither that, Zirin, or Snyder's lawsuit seems to show that he takes his reputation very seriously. At this point, how do you think he can go about repairing that reputation or retooling the reputation that he has locally here in Washington and, of course, your comments on the lawsuit.
ZIRINOh, selling the team would repair his reputation in the Washington, D.C. area.
ZIRINAnd honestly, I don't see anything short of that. You know, there's an old expression that you never sue anybody or any institution with a lower Q rating than you. And it's very, very sound advice because Dave McKenna, I agree with Sally, is one of the great reporters in this city. He's been at the City Paper since 1986 and yet you have to say that probably not more than, I don't know, 20, 30,000 people read the original piece. Now it's on the front of the Yahoo! homepage.
ZIRINAnd everybody is reading Dave McKenna hilarious...
NNAMDIMcKenna's blowing up.
ZIRIN...yeah, A to Z guide. And the City Paper said they're standing strong. And I have to say, my column about this is about this is called "Dan Snyder Offends Everybody," because it's very offensive that he would use his money and his weight to try to crush a publication that's very valued in the D.C. area.
NNAMDIYou got threatened by a lawsuit from somebody who may have a higher Q rating than you do, Rush Limbaugh.
ZIRINYeah, a year ago, Rush Limbaugh -- his lawyer sent me a letter saying that they were intending to sue me for a whole list of quotes that I had accumulated about some things he'd said about people of African descent. And I talked about it with a lawyer if the case had any merits. And the lawyer said to me, look, you have to be able to prove that Rush -- like, they have to be able to prove that there's no way Rush Limbaugh would ever have said these things.
ZIRINIn other words, if I had printed Rush Limbaugh is a person who believes in justice and equality, then he could sue me, because that's not something he would say. But saying something about Rush Limbaugh's attitudes towards people of color, I mean, that's something that he has a long track record of saying bad things about. So you have to prove malicious intent. And that's not something I think they can prove about Dave McKenna.
NNAMDIAnd it didn't break your bank in order to consult lawyers to decide what to do about that letter.
ZIRINWell, once they heard it was Limbaugh, the pro-bono line was pretty long.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. We're talking with Dave Zirin and Sally Jenkins. Sally Jenkins is a columnist for the Washington Post. Dave is sports editor of the Nation, author of the book, "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love." Is it worth noting that the team favored to win the Super Bowl this weekend, and Snyder says that having a winning team means everything to him, is the Green Bay Packers, a team that's owned by shareholder fans, Sally?
JENKINSWell, here's the thing, if Dan Snyder really wants a winning team in Washington, why doesn't he do the things that prove -- time proven methods for creating winning teams. You know, he's been very reluctant to surrender his personal playful control of the roster to the great, great detriment of the franchise over the years. I mean, the roster needs a lot of work thanks to Dan Snyder, you know, making the team his personal toy and play thing. He appears to believe that he doesn't just own things, but he thinks he owns people, you know. So I'll believe that Dan Snyder really wants a winning team in Washington when he commits over a period of years to doing the right healthy things for the franchise the way the Green Bay Packers have consistently done.
ZIRINYeah, it's so interesting because I don't think there's any way the Green Bay Packers are in the Super Bowl this year if they're not a fan-owned team because Snyder is only the most aggravated symptom of something that happens in many owner's boxes throughout the NFL, which is the person who runs the team feels like they have the right to have a say. Unfortunately, that's like somebody in a restaurant saying, wow, this soufflé is delicious, I want to go in the kitchen and cook.
ZIRINJust because you like the soufflé doesn't mean you know how to cook it. Just because you sit on the board of a hospital doesn't mean I want you taking out my gallbladder. And the great thing about the Packers is that their general manager, Ted Thompson, is because he doesn't have that owner breathing down his neck, he's allowed to have the space to be able to make personnel decisions with a look at the long term. I mean, if Brett Favre was Dan Snyder's best buddy, Brett Favre stays on the team and Aaron Rodgers gets released or he just molts on the bench.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join this conversation. You can also send e-mail to email@example.com, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Sally, the Washington Post, Gene Weingarten, a Giants fan wrote a thank you note of sorts to Snyder in today's op-ed section.
ZIRINIt was funny.
NNAMDIHe said that it was -- Weingarten usually is. He said that thanks to Snyder, Giants fans can count on winning two games this season and that makes him happy. At what point do you think that Dan Snyder will come to terms with the possibility that his approach is affecting the on-the-field performance of this team, as you just said.
JENKINSWell, I mean, the interesting question that you have to ask is just how important is the fan experience to Dan Snyder and just how important is winning to Dan Snyder. You know, he can mouth all the right sentiments, all that he wants but his treatment of the fans over the years has not been particularly good or particularly generous, number one. And number two, his approach to the team has not -- you know, actions speak louder than words. And his actions have not demonstrated a real commitment to building a quality franchise in Washington.
JENKINSYou know, and so I really have to question, you know, just how much losing bothers him and just how much fan discontent bothers him. His pattern over the years has been to silence dissent, you know, to have, you know, fans who hold up anti-Snyder signs last year, you know, the signs received in the stadium and that sort of thing. And, you know, this Dave McKenna suit appears to be more of the same of that sort of thing.
NNAMDII, for one, did not know anything about Dan Snyder over the years outside of what he did with his football team. This lawsuit however gives us all a little bit of insight into one aspect of his personality. Apparently, he's very thin skinned, but not thin skinned enough to walk away from trying to run the team himself.
ZIRINYeah, and that stubbornness plus being thin skinned is kind of a weird combination. We didn't mention another part of this, too. And this is why I called my column "Dan Snyder Offends Everybody," but the accusations of anti-Semitism and him getting the Simon Wiesenthal Center to invoke genocide and the holocaust against the Washington City Paper, which is an alternative weekly mag, it just is so over the top and it -- I believe strongly as a Jew that it trivializes the holocaust to bring it up in something that's so clearly petty. And then, you have to ask the question if he's that sensitive...
NNAMDIComment posted to our website from Terrence. "Irony alert."
NNAMDI"The owner of a business with a bigoted name Redskins accuses a newspaper of being bigoted. One year after that business fought a lawsuit accusing the business of profiting bigotry. Nice try, Mr. Snyder."
ZIRINThat's where I was going.
NNAMDIPlease go ahead.
ZIRINNo, it's just -- that's where I was going. I mean, the name Redskins has a history that's rooted in George Preston Marshall who's a segregationist. People go to the archives of the Washington Post and read Shirley Povich's brilliant column skewering Preston Marshall for his bigotry at the time and how it hurt the team. And it is very rich to have Dan Snyder invoking genocide in the holocaust in a very trivial way when his team unfortunately does stand as a celebration of genocide of Native American people.
NNAMDIGot a call -- go ahead, please, Sally.
JENKINSI was just going to say, I mean, two qualities that I think most people wouldn't, you know, ascribe to Dan Snyder are humor and irony.
NNAMDIHere is Dave in Columbia, Md. Dave, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVEWell, I guess there's two things to say. And the first is, apologies to John Heisman, but Dan Snyder got his reputation are old fashioned way, he earned it.
DAVEAnd secondly, what took Dave McKenna so long to write such a great article about somebody who (word?) so much, you know, food for a great article like you wrote. I'll take my -- your comments off the air.
ZIRINCan I answer that, just because I'm a longtime McKenna reader. And McKenna has been writing this stuff about Snyder for years. You go in the archives, he's been cataloguing every instance no matter how petty. We know that the Redskins were selling beer in the bathrooms because of Dave McKenna and his reporting. The column in question -- which is just disgusting, by the way.
NNAMDIThat's the third time you said that on this broadcast.
ZIRINAnd the article that Snyder objected to, there was no new reporting in it. What it was was an A to Z compilation of everything that McKenna had reported on over the course of years.
JENKINSWell, it's funny because, you know, when you read McKenna's article and then you read the lawsuit, I mean, you get the distinct impression that McKenna was just holding up a mirror. And so it's almost like Dan Snyder is suing himself.
ZIRINIrony alert again.
NNAMDIAll right, okay, now we have to move on. There's a chance that this Sunday's game might be the last NFL football game we get to see for a while. The NFL Owners and Players Association are playing a game of legal hardball that could very well end up in a lockout next fall. First you, Sally, what do you make of the dispute that's taking shape and how do you expect it will resolve itself?
JENKINSWell, I mean, my understanding of it is that the owners made a bad deal in the last contract or at least the deal that they feel is a bad deal and now they want the players to take an 18 percent pay cut. You know, I think that's highly unrealistic. It's, you know, this is not an instance where the players are threatening to strike if they don't get what they want. This is an instance of the owners threatening to lockout the players if they don't get what they want. And that is a very hard sell in terms of public opinion.
JENKINSWhen billionaire owners whose revenues are astronomical and who are playing -- have teams playing in stadiums that are funded by taxpayer, you know, public funding and public taxpayers, then turn around and tell their employees you have to take an 18 percent pay cut because we don't think we're getting enough revenue, that's going to be a very hard sell for the average fan.
ZIRINI agree with Sally's analysis 100 percent. What I think, this has been gearing up since 2006 and since the last deal that was struck between Paul Tagli-abue and Gene Upshaw. Those two men had a generally very cordial relationship. Roger Goodell and Demaurice Smith do not. And Demaurice Smith is playing a very, very tough public relation's game. Demaurice Smith is going out there and saying, if you lock out the players, you're also locking out every concession worker, you're locking out every waiter and waitress getting an extra shift by the stadium.
ZIRINYou're going to actual cripple urban centers in this current economy. And Demaurice Smith has to do that because that's the only leverage he has, is public relations. Because, like Sally said, this would be a unilateral lock out and the owners would still get their network money. So they feel like they can weather this lock out.
JENKINSYou know, I'll give you a good example. You know, the New York Giants are one of the most valuable franchises in the NFL. I think they're somewhere in the top 5. They play in a newly built stadium. And by the way, there was nothing wrong with the old stadium except that it didn't have enough luxury boxes to suit Giant's management. And so what they did was they got New Jersey to give them a huge tax break.
JENKINSThe new stadium in New Jersey means that city's really -- financially strapped cities like Newark are taking in a whole lot less tax revenue from the New York Giants than they did before, at a time when they are cutting firefighters, cutting police and public schools in New Jersey don't even have enough paper for the students. So it's a very, very tough thing that these owners are doing and it -- to me, anyway, I find it a little hard to choke down, particularly when cities are suffering the way they are.
NNAMDII'm going to get back to that collective bargaining agreement with Zirin, but I know you have to leave shortly, Sally, so I wanted to bring this up with you first. While we're watching the game on Sunday, we can be sure to hear lots of commentary about redemption, how Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was accused of rape during the off season and who was suspended earlier this season for violating the league's personal conduct policy, is now a more mature person, how he learned from his mistakes and is now a better leader and a better man for it.
NNAMDIWe talked a lot about this last year in Roethlisberger's case when his off-field behavior became the issue. We're going to hear a lot about how he has redeemed himself or other players have redeemed themselves. Of course, there's Michael Vick -- or grown personally when they get on the field and start winning again. What do you make of the Roethlisberger's story and how is it different from the challenges that have faced the aforementioned Michael Vick or Tiger Woods?
JENKINSWell, Michael Vick served a sentence in prison and was punished, you know, within every inch of the law for what he did. I think that's far more of a genuine redemption story. Vick appears to have taken his medicine to have become a more mature human being. Ben Roethlisberger got off Scott free. They couldn't prove anything against him. However, Sports Illustrated Magazine has certainly detailed in its pages exactly what his behavior was that night in Milledgeville, Ga.
JENKINSAnd it wasn't good, whether or not a full rape did occur. So -- and then we have a report here in Texas that Ben Roethlisberger was out drinking rum and cokes and singing at a piano bar last night. TMZ has just moved that little nugget. So I'm not at all convinced that Ben Roethlisberger is a truly reformed human being. He's an unbelievably great football player. But virtue on the field, obviously doesn't translate to virtue off of it. I don't know how long or how many times we have to learn that lesson.
ZIRINYeah, I mean, if there's one thing we've learned about the morality of sports, it's that when you win, you're a changed person, no matter what you do off the field. And so I believed, for example, that Michael Vick deserved a second chance last year because he'd served his time, the Humane Society gave him their stamp of approval and he was going out and speaking in schools. That's what I was looking for. This year, everybody was, like, Michael Vick has changed. Why, because he was lighting it up on the scoreboard.
ZIRINThere's really no demonstrable proof that Ben Roethlisberger has changed at all, other than some very fawning articles and the fact that he's taking his team to the Super Bowl.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. Sally, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDISally Jenkins is a columnist for The Washington Post. She joined us by telephone from Texas. Dave Zirin is sports editor at The Nation. He's author of the book, "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love." Dave is still going to be with us. If you have already called, stay on the line. If you'd like to call, whether it's about the Dan Snyder lawsuit, the possible strike or lockout next year in the NFL, basketball, college basketball, pro basketball or anything else in sports that you'd like to talk about, the number's 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIBack to our conversation with Dave Zirin on the eve, so to speak, of the Super Bowl. It is coming this Sunday. Dave Zirin is sports editor at The Nation. He's the author of the book, "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love." To the telephone, here is Michael in Greenbelt, Md. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELYes, very interesting topic here. I actually met Dan Snyder about 20 years ago. And I don't know what he's like now, but I'm guessing he's probably essentially the same type of person. I found him to be very hard working, professional individual and I support what he did regarding the City Paper. I've read the City Paper for probably about 20 years or so, maybe longer and I find it very entertaining newspaper. I realize it is alternative. I've traveled quite a bit throughout the United States, the world and read, you know, hundreds and hundreds of different types of newspapers and publications and magazines in my life.
MICHAELAnd I found the slant of the City Paper to be periodically anti-semantic. I don't want to say that absolutely, but I really do think there are problems with the City Paper's viewpoints on things. I think they tend to take a, sort of, a scathing and sort of this...
NNAMDIThat's who they are.
MICHAELWell, I think it's not good. I think anti-Semitism, racism, these are things that are -- should not be tolerated in our society. And I think when you have a publication espousing in this day and age where you have, you know, Islamic terrorism, is a...
NNAMDIOh, wait, wait, wait, back up for a second. The City Paper, for the record, has never endorsed Islamic terrorism. And if the complaint you're making has to do with the sketch of Dan Snyder that was featured in the Dave McKenna article, then here's Dave Zirin.
ZIRINYeah, and I have read -- been reading the City Paper since 1996 and I just -- and I don't work for the City Paper. I have no dog in the City Paper's fight, but I do have to say that I completely disagree with you about it being anti-Semitic. And the response that the City Paper put to Dan Snyder, it said that we are not anti-Semitic and neither are our Jewish staffers, writers, editors or the people who edited the article about you. I think it's an absolute canard being used by Daniel Snyder and I think it de-legitimizes real instances of anti-Semitism and therefore it's dangerous.
NNAMDIWhat do you say...
MICHAELWell, if you...
MICHAEL...you know about any history of anti-Semitism, there is a period in time where cartoonists and also painters and artists painted -- depicted Jewish figures with horns on their heads. And, in fact, Satan was considered to be Jewish in Christian Dogma. And I think what Dan Snyder was pointing at was these historical connections to anti-Semitism.
NNAMDIWhat do you make of the City Papers explanation for that picture?
MICHAELThat's exactly what I'm saying.
NNAMDIWell, do you know what the City Paper said?
MICHAELYou know, there's a lot of things that can be said and illustrated. I, myself, am trained as a (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIDoes it make any difference -- does it make difference to you that some of the editors for that photograph are themselves Jewish and did not find it anti-Semitic?
MICHAELNo. Because if you go -- if you look at World War II -- are you familiar with Capos?
NNAMDIYep, but I'm not sure I want to go there. Dave, (unintelligible) .
ZIRINThis isn't World War II, for goodness sakes. I mean, they took a picture of Dan Snyder and they drew horns, a mustache and a beard on him. And I'm familiar with what you're talking about in terms of the anti-Semitic artwork. It looks nothing like it. It's a -- such an absolute canard to raise this as reason to -- that the City Paper should be driven out of business. Like, I don't think anybody of good conscious -- I don't care where you are in the political spectrum, if you believe in a free press, you should oppose what Dan Snyder is doing because what he's doing is saying, I'm not going to win this lawsuit.
ZIRINBut they're openly saying, I'm going to drive you out of business. It is not worth your financial portfolio because I got a billion dollars and I'm going to take you to court and you can't afford to defend yourself. That should be opposed by everybody.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Michael. And here is Mary Jane in Silver Spring, Md. Mary Jane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARY JANEYes, thank you. I -- it's a very interesting conversation. I've been wondering how the football league could take Michael Vick back as a player after he was convicted of a crime which involves the sole purpose of the animal cruelty, the dogs that he was raising is for gambling. And I don't hear much talk about his gambling involvement.
NNAMDIWe don't hear much talk about any gambling at all when it comes to professional sports and the NFL in particular.
ZIRINYeah. I mean, players lose tremendous amounts of money gambling all the time. And that's not a good thing. And actually, some leagues have tried to crack down against it. And, frankly, gambling was very, very low on the list of things the NFL was upset about when it came to Michael Vick. And the question about whether or not he would come back into the league, it was certainly not an automatic that Michael Vick would be reinstated, not after two years in Leavenworth.
ZIRINIt took a series of meetings with Roger Goodell, it took testimonials from other people, it took very serious statement from the Humane Society that Michael Vick would do more good as an NFL player speaking out against animal cruelty than as somebody who was ostracized from the game.
NNAMDIMary Jane, but thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDII've got to read this e-mail, even though it's a fairly long one. But I'd like to ask you, Dave Zirin, to what extent do other NFL teams have the same practices? Brenda says -- writes, "My 43-year-old husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died two years, seven months after his diagnoses. It was and is and forever will be the hardest thing I've ever been through. Everyone that he knew was in complete and utter shock. We had been huge Redskins fans and season ticket holders for years, spending thousands upon thousands of dollars. My husband would be totally hoarse after every game."
NNAMDI"A passionate fan was truly an understatement. We ended up giving all of our tickets away the year he was sick, but he watched the preseason games from the hospital bed at John's Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Unbeknownst to me, we had just signed for -- up for another three year contract before he was diagnosed. When I contacted the Redskins after his death, they refused to let me out of the remainder of the contract. I cannot tell you how completely shocked I was at how little they cared. Upon speaking with my estate attorney, she told me of another woman client whose husband died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving her very little money."
NNAMDI"Dan Snyder's attorney's came after her estate and they basically told me that they would also come after my husband's estate. After begging and pleading, they let me out last year, but charged me $10,500. Yes, that's how much I didn't know we were paying for club level seats for the second year, even though I was currently not working and did not plan on attending any of the games. These are great seats and they could have easily been resold. Dan Snyder is an insensitive and insufferable modern day Ebenezer Scrooge. And I hope that he will realize one day how meaningless accumulating vast amounts of money is in the grand scheme of things, but I doubt that he'll ever be that enlightened."
NNAMDIHow routine is that practice on the part of NFL teams, that even if somebody dies, you don't let the surviving spouse out of a contract or you don't let the person's estate out of the contract?
ZIRINNot routine at all. And, of course, we can't speak for the veracity of the e-mail. But we do know...
ZIRIN...the veracity of a woman named Pat Hill. This was a cover story of the Washington Post. A woman over the age 70, a grandmother, living, I believe, in upper Marlboro and she could not afford to re-up on her Redskins tickets because she was on a fixed income. Economic times are tight. And the Redskins took her to court. Most NFL teams -- all NFL teams that practice in that situation is you say, okay, you can't pay for your season tickets, you lose your tickets. We pass them on to the next person on the waiting list.
NNAMDIThis is fairly easy, usually?
ZIRINYeah, it's usually very easy. The Redskins brag about their long waiting list. Most people think, at this point, that's actually fictitious that they have a long waiting list for these tickets. But they took Pat Hill to court, she had to hire attorneys and it bankrupted her. So she went from defending herself against the Redskins to being in bankruptcy court. The picture on the cover of the Washington Post was of a woman in a burgundy and gold sweatshirt, sitting on a couch that had Redskins paraphernalia on it and her weeping into her hands.
ZIRINThat's the kind of public relations Dan Snyder does. And the City Paper escapade is just the latest chapter.
NNAMDIHere is Evan in Cabin John, Md. on another topic. Evan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EVANWell, you know, I -- that was my favorite story, was when Snyder went after the season ticket owners, like the one you just mentioned. And also, it's ironic that we have Snyder and then in Baltimore we have Angelos (sp?) ...
EVAN...uprooting a story franchise. My question to Dave is -- I love his work. He's done so much good stuff. And your show, too, Kojo.
NNAMDIOh, stop flattering him. He's going to do more.
EVANRight, exactly. Is the -- do you ever look at the Auburn football program? I mean, they have a backer who's now, you know, under investigation by the FBI and SEC. They have all sorts of play for pay scandals going back many years, not just the Cam Newton one, which hasn't been proven. And it's just a real cesspool. And, you know, the NCA just hasn't really be -- come up strong against him. And so I was kind of glad when this kid from DaMatha, yesterday, you know, changed his mind. I hope he doesn't go there because the place is just a cesspool. And I hope he finds a cleaner place to play. But I just wondered if Dave had had a chance to look at Auburn?
NNAMDIFor those of our listeners who are not familiar with it, Dave, could you give them a brief description of what happened in the Cam Newton case?
ZIRINOh, sure. Cam Newton was somebody whose father, who was a man of the church, had tried to tell Mississippi State, you need to give me a set amount of money, six figures, I believe it was. I believe it was $180,000, if you want my son to play for your school. Now this is, of course, in tremendous violation of the NCAA. But because it could not be proven that he had -- there was a similar agreement with Auburn, Cam Newton was not suspended. He was allowed to play and he had the finest season. Arguably, you could make the case in the history of college football.
NNAMDIHe did have a great season, indeed. Now, about the DeMatha kid who decided not to go to Auburn. What else do you know about Auburn's football program?
ZIRINWell, I actually know very, very little, except I know that it's in the Southeastern Conference, which has won the last, typically, four or five NCAA championships. And the South...
NNAMDIAlabama won it last year.
ZIRINYeah, Alabama, LSU, Florida, I mean, it is where the best players usually go to play. But as far as a place that takes the idea of being a student athlete seriously -- I mean, but then you're talking about all of college football. And, I think that the phrase Evan used is absolutely correct when you're talking about a cesspool. This is what college football is. This is what it's become. The water is dirty and everybody drinks it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Evan. We move onto Saret (sp?) in Baltimore, Md. Saret, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SARETThank you, Kojo. Love the show, I agreed with the previous caller, Michael's comments about the chilling effect of the lawsuit against Dave McKenna here and how (unintelligible) Snyder's kind of bullying McKenna around here. I am -- I find it scary or surprising that so many fans dislike Snyder, yet they still love the team, still show up and still pay as much as they do to see the games. I feel like fans have an opportunity to not support him and not come to games. But they're just not willing to do that.
ZIRINWell, it's interesting that you say that. I mean, you're talking -- first of all, you're right, that a ticket to FedEx field is the most expensive in the NFL. They're a team that makes you pay for parking, even if you don't come in a car. I mean, this is one of the many reasons why the fan experience that Sally Jenkins eluded to is considered to be so noxious at FedEx field. But I'll tell you something, when you talk about the relationship between the burgundy and gold in the D.C. community, it goes back decades and it's very deep.
ZIRINAnd at RFK, you're talking about a waiting list a mile long. Today -- and just to -- as a response to what you pointed out, there are empty seats at almost every home game. Today, you could get a ticket to a Redskins game for any Sunday that you wanted to. So without question, Dan Snyder, because of years of mediocrity on the field and his behavior off the field, has eroded the support in the D.C. community, a connection that I thought was unbreakable, certainly has become frayed.
NNAMDISaret, thank you very much for your call. I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly invite Daniel Snyder to appear on this broadcast to refute any and all of the allegations made against him or to state his own case for ownership of the Washington Redskins and for suing the City Paper. We're gonna do that publicly and we're also going to do it privately. We'll be extending the invitation to Mr. Snyder to appear here. But speaking of Sunday and the Super Bowl, what will you be doing Sunday, Dave Zirin?
ZIRINWell, it's funny you should ask that, Kojo, and I'm very excited about this. I want to invite everybody out there in radio land to watch the Super Bowl with me because I will be at a non-militarism Super Bowl party at the Iraq Veterans Against the War House at 707 Ingraham Street Northwest. It's gonna be an absolute blast. If you throw a couple dollars in, that would be amazing. It's all gonna go to support Iraq veterans against the war. And what's so important about it is that it's a Super Bowl party for people who love the game, but at the same time do not like the way the game is used to promote militarism.
ZIRINAnd everyone knows what I'm talking about. It's General Petraeus flipping the coin as he did two years ago before the game. It's the planes that fly overhead before the game. I mean, it's a military procession that, frankly, I think would put a lot of things in Red Square to shame.
NNAMDIBut you would hard pressed to make a distinction between the game of professional football as we play it here and militarism, because all the analogies that's the sports announcers use. All of the analogies that the coaches use seem to be drawn from the military.
ZIRINAnd that's why the pregame show at our non-militarism Super Bowl party we're going to watch my 60-minute documentary, "Not Just a Game, Power Politics in American Sports," where we explore just what Kojo describe.
NNAMDIStop with the advertising.
NNAMDIHere is Patrick in Arlington, Va. Patrick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PATRICKHello. Very quickly, I just want to support Dan Snyder's effort to financially kill the City Paper. They've got one foot in the grave and the other on bankruptcy banana peel.
ZIRINBut that -- but I'll tell you something. I mean, like I said...
PATRICKI think that's great. We need to get rid of the -- need to get rid of the City Paper.
ZIRINI mean, so you support the idea of billionaires threatening financially in peril media with lawsuits for the purposes of...
ZIRIN...putting them out of business?
PATRICKEspecially, when it's leftist media.
ZIRINOkay. So when it's politics you don't agree with, you're for billionaires putting them out of business?
ZIRINThat's disturbing. I think there's a guy in Egypt holding onto power who'd like to talk to you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Patrick. I wanted to get back to the issue of Ben Roethlisberger and, like, in a second, because after the Tiger Woods story broke in 2009, do you think we've learned anything about using a celebrity's work or an athlete's performance to paint a picture about who that person is on a personal level?
ZIRINHave we learned something? I don't think we've learned a thing. Not at all. Because the storyline is too attractive and it's too simplistic and I think that's what makes reporters fall in love with it so much. And there's this confusion, and there always has been this confusion in sports between on the field exploits and if it's -- that's some sort of proof of inner virtue.
NNAMDIBut when I was a kid, all of the sports figures that I liked, I innocently attributed to them personal qualities..
NNAMDI...that they may not have had. How do we -- how do we teach kids to separate the athlete from the person?
ZIRINHow do separate the art from the artist? I mean, this is an old question. And I do consider athletes to be artists and it's one that's very difficult. I mean, you just -- I mean, we need some serious role modeling, some serious parenting. And one of the things I try to do in my house is I try to highlight athletes who may not be the best athletes, but who do a lot of community service or do a lot of politics, who stand up. I mean, in my house, trust me, we celebrated Etan Thomas a lot more that Gilbert Arenas when both those guys were on the Wizards.
NNAMDIFor those people who don't know who Etan Thomas is, he played with the Washington Wizards. He had more of a reputation as a socially conscious poet.
NNAMDIHere is John in Indian Head, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNYeah. I just wanted to -- just wanted to mention a couple years ago the Patriots got caught cheating by...
JOHN...videotaping the opposing team's field calls. And they almost made it to the Super Bowl that year and everybody was talking how, oh, Tom Brady should be MVP and all this nonsense. And I'm sitting here going, these guys just got caught cheating at the beginning of the season. That doesn't -- none of that seems right.
JOHNAnd, you know, it seems like, well, the better a team does, the more people just seem to forget they got caught doing something wrong. I'm a Steelers fan. I love -- you know, my Steelers have won six Super Bowls, going for number seven. Ben Roethlisberger's a great quarterback, but I think he is an awful human being.
ZIRINYou know what's crazy about you saying that -- and you know what, I'm glad you called in. I'm really glad you called in because I have to give some props to Steelers Nation on -- Steelers Nation on this because, Kojo, you just talked about are we ever gonna learn to separate conduct and on-field performance. The sheer number of Pittsburg fans who stepped up and said and even if it costs us a Super Bowl, I want this guy off the team, speaks very well for the culture and history of that franchise. And it is worth noting.
NNAMDITime for one more call. It's Dave in Leesburg, Va. Dave, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVEYeah. I just want to say something. I belong to an interesting minority group, the military, who always seem to get tarred if anything -- what's wrong with some F-15s or 16s flying over the Super Bowl? What's wrong with that?
ZIRINI mean, I think the bigger question is what's right about that? I mean, it's a game and it's -- when you do that, what you start to do is infect the game that sports is somehow war. And so what also ends up doing is painting...
ZIRIN...I think a very false view of what war actually is. I mean, I've got family who served overseas and war is not football. It's a very serious business.
DAVENobody is saying that's -- that's not war. Those are men and women who are...
ZIRINIt's a commercial for war, though. This is why the...
DAVEThat is not war. It's men and women performing as a team working towards excellence. That's what fighter pilots are. And those are not evil people...
ZIRINNo one's saying they're evil.
DAVE...those are people who are willing to die so that you can besmirch our character.
ZIRINNo one's saying they're evil or besmirching character. That's why I'm watching the game with vets -- with Iraq Veterans Against the War. It's not the character of the soldiers. It's using this incredible spectacle that is the Super Bowl to get young kids to sign up for the military. That to me is very problematic.
NNAMDIWell, all I know is that when the Baltimore Ravens -- Ed Reed found that his brother had died and they asked him how he responded to it, he said, look, this is a child's game that we play.
ZIRINYes. And Ed Reed's a special guy, actually.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. Dave Zirin, thank you so much for joining us. I may ask you to stick around for the next segment when we'll be talking to an attorney about the legal merits of the Dan Snyder lawsuit. 800-433-8850 if you'd like to join that conversation. I'll try to hang onto Zirin for the next few minutes. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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