Turnover at a major D.C. government department is raising questions about local businesses, political contributions and influence in city politics.
Sports media is a billion dollar industry and few media companies command as wide an audience or as hefty a profit. But during the course of the past year, several stories have triggered questions about the relationships between the journalistic organizations that cover sports and the sports industry itself — including ESPN’s recent pulling out of a documentary series about concussions and football. Join us as Kojo explores the future of sports journalism.
- Dave McKenna Sports Writer; Former "Cheap Seats" Columnist, Washington City Paper
- George Solomon Columnist and former Sports Editor, The Washington Post; Shirley Povich Professor, Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; also former ESPN Ombudsman
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Football is a billion-dollar industry in the United States, and few people understand the money involved better than the media who cover the games. ESPN, which was -- which will broadcast Washington's season opener tonight, pays the National Football League nearly $2 billion a year for the rights to carry Monday night games.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut recent stories have provoked questions about whether the news organizations that partner with major sports leagues are capable of carrying out their journalistic mission of holding them accountable. Last month, for example, ESPN pulled out of a collaboration with FRONTLINE on a documentary about head injuries in professional football, all after, according to several reports, being pressured by the NFL to do so.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis hour, we're exploring the relationship between the business and the media behind major sports and what it means for the future of journalism. Joining us in studio is George Solomon. He was assistant managing editor for sports at The Washington Post from 1975 to 2003. He's also a former ombudsman for ESPN. George Solomon is currently a journalism professor at the University of Maryland where he is the first director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. George, good to see you again.
PROF. GEORGE SOLOMONGood to see you again, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Dave McKenna. He is a journalist and writer based in Washington. He's the former "Cheap Seats" columnist at Washington City Paper. Dave McKenna, good to see you too.
MR. DAVE MCKENNAGreat for having me. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Do you think the news organizations that both cover sports and broadcast games do an adequate job of covering the leagues that they have business partnerships with? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. George, you have seen this from lots of different perspectives.
NNAMDIFor a long time, you were the point person at the Post on sports coverage. But you also served as ESPN's first ombudsman. How would you describe, characterize the current relationship between major sports organizations and the news networks that have to pay for the rights to broadcast their events like ESPN?
SOLOMONKojo, I know for a fact that ESPN's news division separates itself from the business side in that ESPN and its news organization, you know, covers the league, covers the teams. And the, you know, the issue that you mentioned about ESPN pulling its people and its support of the FRONTLINE operation, I think that was a business decision made apart from the news organization. And, Kojo, as we all know, occasionally the business side wins out, and in this case, it did.
SOLOMONBut more often than not, ESPN tries to do a good job of covering the news and covering the teams and covering the leagues and as well as the colleges. And I think, you know, in my experience with ESPN, they do make that effort.
NNAMDIIn an ideal world, what would you say is the purpose of sports coverage, particularly television sports coverage? An organization like ESPN might be invested in both promoting the games it broadcasts and in reporting on them, the same way journalists would report on any subject.
SOLOMONWell, you know, television networks, like newspapers, Kojo, and like radio stations, are in the business to make money. I mean, that's why they're there. And in your case, your organization attempts to serve the public, as does The Washington Post and ESPN, but they also have an obligation to turn a profit. And I think that very often causes a conflict in that how do you juggle that conflict?
SOLOMONESPN, more often than not, makes, you know, makes an attempt, you know, to balance it, and they balance it pretty well. The Washington Post, you know, has advertisers, just like ESPN, and there is a separation of church and state between the advertising department and the news organization. But at times, you know, there will be a conflict.
NNAMDII guess in order to follow up on that, before I get to you, Dave McKenna, when you were the editor for the sports section of The Washington Post, how do you divide the obligation between the kind of investigative journalism that tries to show people what's going on behind the scenes and the fact that you know that, in this town, most of your readers are likely to be fans of this team, whether it's the football team or the basketball team, the baseball team, especially the football team?
SOLOMONWell, you know, as we used to tell the reporters and now I tell my students, if you wanna be a fan of a team, don't go into sports journalism. You're first a journalist, then you know about sports. That's all fine. But you're first and foremost a journalist. And good editors, which they have at the Post, which they have at ESPN and they have in lots of places, look for the stories. And right now, ESPN and FRONTLINE felt that the concussion issue in the NFL was certainly worth a story as, you know, The Washington Post did a five-part series on that.
SOLOMONDid that make all the fans happy? Will that cut into tonight's attendance the fact that a couple of guys might get concussions? And you'll see for yourself, Kojo, probably the answer is no.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. What do you believe sports coverage in an ideal world should be for? Is it about selling newspapers and attracting eyeballs? Does this kind of journalism have the same end goals as the other kinds of reporting you see, for instance, in the rest of a newspaper or a news broadcast? Give us a call, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIDave McKenna, you have reported and written on pro football here in Washington, D.C., at great length, some say rather mercilessly, so much to the point where owner Dan Snyder once tried to sue your former employer, Washington City Paper, into oblivion. What do you see is the purpose of sports coverage?
MCKENNAWell, it's part of the -- I mean, it's -- as long as it's packaged with the news divisions, it should be treated, in a perfect world, you'd think, treated as news. I mean, that's -- that ship has kind of sailed. I mean, the way WRC has covered the Redskins since becoming the official station of the Washington Redskins is an example of how it's really not possible to cover them accurately -- I mean, the way they covered, for instance, when Snyder sued me.
MCKENNAThe stations in town that got involved were -- and actually entered amicus pleas in the lawsuit -- were the stations not business aligned with Snyder. WTTG and Channel 4, the two stations that were aligned with Snyder, did not, while the other three did. And were the other three being -- have some kind of journalistic integrity by jumping into the lawsuit, or were they just kind of jabbing the ones who, you know -- had Channel 9 been the official station, would they have jumped in?
MCKENNASo -- but I think, as George was saying, that the business decision made by ESPN with PBS -- I mean, it was definitely a business decision, but should it have been made? Was it a good business decision, like what did they find, what did they expect to find when jumping in bed on a documentary about concussions? They weren't -- there was no chance that they were gonna find that concussions were a good thing.
MCKENNASo -- and then pulling out at this late date, I think, was a bad business decision -- forget the journalism -- 'cause it calls into question all the future reporting on the issue.
NNAMDIAnd I'm -- I suspect a lot of people in the investigative division at ESPN are still probably pretty unhappy about that. But as George said, in that situation, the business side prevailed. You mentioned the relationship that Channels 4 and 5, WRC and WTTG, have with the Redskins. Talk a little bit more about how that relationship was reflected and how WRC in particular covered during the time of the late respected George Michael?
MCKENNAWell, George -- it all goes back to George Michael. Dan Snyder did a very smart thing when he got -- when he first bought the team, and that was aligning himself with George Michael, who, subsequent to Glenn Brenner's death, became the king of local sportscasters and a very powerful person. And he put George Michael on the payroll for Redskins broadcasting. He made him the announcer and also gave him the shows.
MCKENNAHe took back all independent shows that were a mainstay of Washington television. Every local station during the glory days of the Redskins had their own Redskin programming, and Snyder eliminated all of them. Unless you got in bed with him, unless you became an official partner, he became the producer of every single one of them. And that -- you know, people didn't wanna lose access, like the next year when Deion Sanders came and Mark Carrier and all the -- Bruce Smith.
MCKENNAAnd people didn't wanna lose access. So they -- everyone pretty much, except for Channel 7, WJLA, jumped in bed and became an official partner. And Channel 7's reporter, which, renting out at the time, was forced to report from the parking lot.
MCKENNAAnd you'd think, in a perfect world, the other journalists would have said, you know, we're not gonna stand for this. But, no, they chose the fear of -- they let fear of losing access reign. They didn't -- no one supported (word?). So -- and I think the coverage of Channel 4 through the years where they had a sportscaster actually wear a Redskins gear on the set -- or, excuse me, during the 11 o'clock news while reporting on a Redskins, I don't -- you know, that wouldn't wash if -- you couldn't -- Jake Tapper couldn't show up with a Obama shirt and report on, you know, Obama.
NNAMDIThat would probably not happen, but it caused me to remember one of George Solomon's reporters being banned from the owner's box at Washington Redskins Stadium under a previous owner. Wasn't that -- I think we actually discussed that on the show once.
SOLOMONWell, I think -- I mean, there's a history over the years of adversarial relationships between the Post and whoever happened to own the Redskins. Worst-case scenario was George Preston Marshall suing Shirley Povich in The Washington Post, and this was 1943. And, you know, if Marshall had won that suit, you might be talking to someone else right now, Kojo, but the Post won the suit.
SOLOMONAnd, you know, it's journalistic history to where news organizations don't have, you know, very often do not have a cozy, good relationship with the owners of any team. And more often than not, the owners of most teams in town are unhappy with many of the news organizations, including the TV stations. I think David makes some good points. On the other hand, there have been some very solid, very respected, very good independent reporting by Washington TV and radio sportscasters over the years, and not all of them have jumped into bed with the Redskins.
SOLOMONThere's also, over the years, whether it's George Allen or Jack Kent Cooke or Dan Snyder, there's been some tough, difficult, you know, times between the Redskin ownership and the Post and other news outlets.
NNAMDIYou began your tenure as ESPN's ombudsman shortly after ESPN had weathered a similar situation with the NFL that it's going through right now. At that point, it was over a fictional television series that the network had been airing called "Playmakers." It only ran for one season, and ESPN stopped promoting it, then cut it after that one season. How would you compare the network -- the circumstances the network was facing a decade ago to those it's facing now?
SOLOMONOK. I remember that show. In fact, when I was writing a column after I stopped being sports editor to the Post, I used to write about it. It was a fictional characterization, and...
NNAMDIDidn't even mention the NFL.
SOLOMON...and very stereotypical of football players that were, in the most part, I felt, unfair. Now, you know, why did ESPN drop it? You know, I don't know, other than the fact, you know, it was too stereotypical of characterization of football players. Can you compare it to the unhappiness by the NFL over the reporting of the concussion issue by, you know, the FRONTLINE crowd...
NNAMDIThat's what I was looking for.
SOLOMON...and the Fainaru brothers? And I don't think you can compare that. I mean, one was fictional. This is not. And I think ESPN made a mistake by, you know, pulling its people off. Once you give somebody permission and give them the green light to participate in such a project, I think you have to let them go through with it. And I think ESPN made a mistake, and I think a lot of ESPN officials would agree with that.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Rob in Baltimore, Md. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBHey, how you guys doing today?
ROBThis particular topic is pretty funny. Just earlier today, (unintelligible) Ravens team. And I listen to, you know, local sports stations. And it's funny 'cause, you know, the game last Thursday night was pretty terrible for the Ravens. And we were just trying to figure out what questions would be asked from the media. But it's funny because most questions from local media, regards to what team it is. It's more like a softball question because if, you know, that media member knows he'll be pushed out.
ROBAnd you just had an example earlier from the, you know, the reporter -- report from the parking lot. So it's just -- and I don't know, you know, if it comes down to maybe national media. I don't know if it's, you know, that much pressure to ask the certain questions but, you know, most NFL, you know, teams or whether it be coaches or owners or whatever, they kind of pick and choose which media member can ask them which questions.
ROBAnd also, I've got one question. Are most media -- when it's set up to do an interview, are most questions OK'ed or, you know, say, not able to be asked at this time or something like that before they even ask, you know, questions that (unintelligible)
NNAMDII'll start with you, Dave McKenna.
MCKENNAWell, the questions is, are there ground rules before interviews?
SOLOMONAre questions looked at by the teams...
SOLOMON...before they're asked.
MCKENNAWell, I have never been a beat reporter, and so I wouldn't be the perfect -- I think George might be better for that one. But I think, in most cases, you -- I mean the...
NNAMDIYou don't have to submit questions beforehand. That's a general rule.
MCKENNANo. I -- well, I mean -- but Snyder is very -- he knows he's not gonna get the questions. He doesn't submit -- he doesn't ask to be -- questions to be submitted. He doesn't do interviews with non-employees. I mean, look at -- the interviews he's done in this offseason have been with Larry Michael, who is the head of the Redskins broadcasting and Chris Cooley, employee of WTEM, the station owned by Snyder. And so he doesn't have to worry about -- you don't have to submit questions because he's not gonna do your interview.
NNAMDIAs a general rule, you don't have to submit questions beforehand.
SOLOMONNo. And I'll say this, most news organizations would not accept that, that if you're a legitimate news organization and a team says, all right, you have to submit your questions beforehand before you can ask them, most would say, you know, we'll take a pass on this particular press conference or whatever. They won't accept that. Now some, you know, some, you know, some might. You know, I'm not saying no, no one would, but, you know, reputable news organizations would not agree to that.
MCKENNAHow would you deal, George, with Dan Snyder today, like, because he does do zero interviews with any real reporters, like, yet his interviews with his own employees are treated as real interviews. It's like David Frost interviewing Nixon when Cooley gets to sit down with him. So would you ignore what he said in those interviews? Or would you just...
SOLOMONNo. You're not doing the reader a service by ignoring anything the owner of the team, whether it's the Redskins or the Wizards or the Nationals or the Capitals. You don't do -- you're not doing the reader a service. So you'd get as much information as you can from whatever sources. Now, if you really want an interview with Snyder, you'd put somebody in front of his door and sit there until he actually talks to you. You know there were months where Abe Pollin, who we all respect, you know, wouldn't talk to the Post.
SOLOMONSo you just, you know, you stake it out. And it's just like, you know, you wanna talk to Obama and he doesn't do interviews, well, you know, you have people who will cover the White House and you just stalk it. And that's called reporting. And...
NNAMDIThere's another aspect -- go ahead. Finish it.
SOLOMONAnd it's called reporting. And you keep working it until you get what you need.
NNAMDIThere's another aspect to what Rob asked about that I'd like to address to you, Dave McKenna, because not every news medium in this town has the influence or the impact that The Washington Post has. And for a lot of media, access is what's really important. So when our caller Rob talks about lobbing softball questions all coming from local media, that has to do with the notion, as he said, that if you ask really tough questions, you might get shut out. And if you get shut out, not having any access means that you're not in the game, so to speak.
MCKENNAThat was always the excuse for the treatment of Snyder. The people didn't wanna lose access. But actually, what access do you have to him or to his players that you need? In this day and age with Twitter, you can get -- players don't say -- the postgame interview is so anachronistic now that people know not to say anything. What access could you possibly lose that would actually hurt the reader? I don't think there is any.
MCKENNAI mean, I stopped going to games in about 1999 or 2000 with -- and, you know, but again, I wasn't a beat reporter, but -- the beat reporter quotes don't really seem to hold any weight anymore. So I don't know -- I mean, I think that phenomenon totally exist. You look at the coverage of the Washington Redskins locally versus the coverage of Washington Redskins nationally. It is -- it's -- they're nothing in common.
MCKENNAAnd I wrote about a little comment in Deadspin last week about this because -- and I mentioned one issue, which was a weird RG3, the local hero, and deservedly so for now, but the -- he was involved in a alleged scandal where he was tweeting things on his wedding night, allegedly, you know, whether it's true or not, and people -- it became a national story. The Washington Post would not touch it, yet Jay Leno was making jokes about it. And like -- The Washington Post was so afraid, it seemed to me.
MCKENNAAnd I use The Washington Post because that's the only local news outlet that paid attention to it anywhere, and the others I don't think paid attention to it either. But, like, what were they afraid of? Why not mention it? Why -- 'cause it was a very entertaining story, whether it's true or not.
SOLOMONWell, you said it yourself, whether it's true or not. Perhaps the Post couldn't verify the fact that it was true, and that's maybe why they didn't touch it, Dave. I don't know the -- I didn't follow that. I didn't follow it nationally.
MCKENNAWell, that's not how...
SOLOMONI really didn't care what RG3 was gonna do at his wedding. But...
MCKENNABut the rest of the country did. So why should -- if it's good enough for the readers in Poughkeepsie...
MCKENNA...why isn't good enough for the readers in Washington?
NNAMDIThat's an editorial judgment that you make, don't you?
SOLOMONBut perhaps the Post couldn't verify the authenticity of what was being tweeted. And in that, you know...
MCKENNABut this is (unintelligible)
SOLOMON...would you go with it anyway? And in my, you know, my opinion, the answer is no, unless you could verify.
MCKENNAWell, they published his wedding registry before they verified that it was actually his wedding registry.
SOLOMONI don't know that to be a fact.
NNAMDIBut I'm interested in pursuing this discussion even though we need to go to a break for a second because for a lot of listeners, what RG3 does on his wedding night is simply -- has no relevance to anything having to do with his sports career.
MCKENNAAgain, that is an example...
NNAMDIAnd so some people might make an editorial judgment...
MCKENNAI -- it's not -- and as I wrote, it's not the Pentagon Papers, but it was just an example where this had become such like -- all this -- every national news organization wrote about it yet the local ones didn't. And again, yeah, I'm not saying this was some -- it wasn't gonna appeal for anybody either way. But it was the quickest example I could come up with. And it's a clear example of how people are afraid. Like RG3 -- everything about him was written, everything. And so if you're gonna write the good, you know, throw out the negative stuff too.
SOLOMONBut what if you couldn't verify it?
MCKENNAThe what -- you can verify that Jay Leno was doing jokes about it.
SOLOMONOK. I'm not talking Jay Leno. What if you couldn't verify that those tweets actually came from RG3 or those quotes came from RG3?
NNAMDIDo you write about the fact that Jay Leno was talking about it?
NNAMDIWell, we're gonna take a short break as we ponder whether or not sports journalism today needs to pay attention to certain personal idiosyncrasies that may not be verifiable. 800-433-8850 is the number you can call. What do you think explains the massive appeal sports currently have in our society and the massive amount of money the business of sports broadcasting is now worth? 800-433-8850, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking sports journalism with George Solomon. He's currently a journalism professor at the University of Maryland where he's the first director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. Also with us is Dave McKenna. He's a journalist and writer based in Washington, former "Cheap Seats" columnist at Washington City Paper. George Solomon was assistant managing editor for sports at The Washington Post from 1975 to 2003. He's also a former ombudsman for ESPN.
NNAMDIGeorge, we got this email from Daphne in Silver Spring. She says, "I am not a football fan but a Washington Post fan, and I can tell from reading the Post during football season that the Redskins are very important to the paper, as in sometimes it seems like football coverage takes up about a third of the paper that gets delivered to my door every morning. So I'm curious to ask George, just what do sports but pro football in particular mean for the business of a paper like The Washington Post?"
NNAMDIWhen you were editor of the Post, George, I guess this is the same question that she was asking in another way. How important was your pro football coverage in particular to the daily business of selling newspapers?
SOLOMONWell, the Post has always put an emphasis on the coverage of the National Football League and the Redskins in particular. And we've always, you know, when I was sports editor, put, you know, many of our best people on it, and our columnists would go to the games. And then, you know, in the Super Bowl, we used to get criticized for over covering the Super Bowl. And, you know, maybe having 12 to 15 people including style people, including metro people, cover those, you know, Super Bowl games. So there's always been a big emphasis on the National Football League and the Redskins.
SOLOMONWhen the Redskins play on Monday night, in the day -- I don't know the circulation figures now, Kojo, and as we know they're a little different -- the Post would add 25 to 40 -- 35,000 extra papers for its Tuesday paper when they would play on Monday night. And -- but, you know, the same thing when Sugar Ray Leonard would have a boxing match, you know, you would add 35,000 papers, you know, on that day. So, you know, sports is important to the, you know, the daily circulation. There's no doubt about that.
NNAMDIIs it any way -- is there any way of evaluating, Dave McKenna, whether the enthusiasm for a sports team is reflected in media or driven by media?
MCKENNAWell, I mean, that's a great question. No. I mean, it's such so cut and dried with the Internet -- the click era. You can tell who's hitting your page.
MCKENNAAnd I think that's the new -- it's kind of the new dollar is the click. You go -- you can tell if you're successful or not by how many clicks you got. I don't know if the money has followed yet, but maybe someday it will.
NNAMDIHere now is Ray on Capitol Hill in D.C. Ray, your turn.
RAYYes. Hello. I was wondering if we could explore the meaning of the terminology business decision that was used by ESPN for withdrawing from the concussion documentary. Did that mean that they were afraid of losing subscribers at $5.50 a pop? Or were they afraid of losing their status as a rights holder of NFL broadcast?
NNAMDIWell, according to the reports that I read, Ray, the decision was made after there was a lunch meeting between the NFL and ESPN executives. So George may know more about this than I do, but I suspect it had to do more with making sure they held on to the rights to broadcast this.
SOLOMONI think the rights are very important to ESPN, extremely important, but -- and to the Disney company, the parent company as well, Kojo. And, you know, we all report to someone, and then the ESPN crowd reports to the Disney Company. And who made the final decision? I don't know. And as I pointed out, you know, I don't think it was, you know, a real smart decision.
NNAMDIWell, also, Dave McKenna, there's a relationship there. If you use the rights to carry the game, you use a lot of those $5.50 subscribers.
MCKENNAAnd -- yeah, and the relationship is a rare and unbelievably profitable one, I mean, meaningful one to both parties. It's $1 billion. There's not many $1 billion business relationship in this world and that's one of them.
NNAMDIRay, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Larry in Largo, Md. Larry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LARRYThank you. Tonight, there will be 100,000 people at FedExField, but very seldom do I see a story that talks about the economic impact of the NFL football team being in Prince George's County or the relationship between Prince George's and the team, that is, often times see where various players will be doing signings or various events in Virginia.
LARRYBut I think the only time that the players, coach, the team, the owner, any of them, ever come to Prince George's County is during football season for the eight games that they play at FedEx. So I would like to see, you know, some stories about the relationship between the team that plays in Prince George's and, you know, them staying away from the county otherwise. And then also...
NNAMDIWell, let me deal with one issue at a time, Larry. Have you reported on that at all, Dave?
MCKENNAWell, yeah -- well, sort of. The relationship, I think is shown in the power that Schneider has wielded in PG County. He got pedestrians banned from walking in the stadium because that would take away parking revenues. And using a bogus rationale, it was a safety issue, and we get the county put that on the books, and that was clearly a sign of their influence in the county. He also runs a cigar bar there in the stadium, and I thought of, like, smoking was banned in public. That was supposed to be outlawed. I wish somebody would look into that.
MCKENNASo I think he has a lot of power there. Yet, as opposed to with their presence in the county, he has presences in different jurisdictions. He got money from Virginia to claim his -- that the Loudoun County is the official home of the -- practice facility of the Washington Redskins. So he, you know, he spread it around. So I think he claims Maryland. He does what he can for Maryland on game day. He does what he can for Loudoun County during practice.
NNAMDILarry, you had another question?
LARRYYeah, well, just as a follow up to that first. I like to know what he does for Prince George's. I mean, you say that, but what does he do? But my second question was, I would like to see more coverage...
NNAMDIWell, wait, allow me to follow up to that question because you're talking to a station that's located in the District of Columbia, and you know that all of D.C.'s leasers would like to bring the team back here again. George, in your day editing The Post, were there stories done about what the location of RFK Stadium and the games played here did for the economy of the city?
SOLOMONWell, there's only been 200 -- 300 stories about the issue. (laugh) And first of all, I'm not sure how much tax revenue from the Redskins go to Prince George's County. I don't know that. And I'm not sure how much D.C. lost when the Redskins moved elsewhere. And it's -- like at Nationals Park, a whole neighborhood developed around there to where there are restaurants and apartment complexes have sort of evolved from it. In Prince George's County, around the stadium, I see a lot of housing areas being developed, and I see that, but I don't see a lot of restaurant traffic.
SOLOMONAnd so I don't know, Kojo, how much impact the Redskins have in Prince George's. And around RFK, in the day, down on Capitol Hill, on Redskin day, it certainly, you know, the bars and restaurants did good business. But it was still a long walk from Capitol Hill to RFK Stadium, but many people took it, or they took cabs. And, you know, it is a different fan base that goes to FedExField than RFK Stadium. You know, if the Redskins moved back to the District at the RFK site, you know, what would happen? I don't know.
MCKENNAI think it is important -- like anecdotally, it is important to look at the impact around FedExField because football -- the difference between football impact -- a football stadium's impact and a baseball stadium's impact or an arena's impact, I think, would be glaring. There is zero economic impact obvious from FedExField being in Landover. There's just, I mean, it is really low-end retail and check cashing places on the ride out there. It's not a pretty retail ride. It's not the Miracle Mile (laugh) or whatever.
MCKENNAAnd so -- and as we will face the issue of building a stadium -- I mean, the same thing, I think, happened at RFK. When RFK was here, there was nothing. That neighborhood never blossomed. I mean, it's a myth that a football stadium would spur immediate economic booms around or...
NNAMDIWhat's the distinction between that and a baseball stadium or a basketball stadium...
MCKENNAWell, 81 dates...
NNAMDI...because both Verizon Center and Nationals Stadium seem to be fueling economic development in that area?
MCKENNAWell, I mean, I have issues with public funding in stadiums anyway because I think Columbia Heights boomed almost exactly at the same time and in a very similar fashion to Chinatown, and there is no arena in Columbia Heights.
NNAMDIYeah, but there's USA mall.
MCKENNAYes, and there's also -- it came at a time when the -- there was the Clinton-Gore economy when everything was -- that's when it was -- those projects were approved. I think a great economy is a much bigger boom for the economy (laugh) than a football stadium.
NNAMDIAll right. We got to take to a short break. When we come back, we will get to the issue of the name of the Washington football team, the Washington Redskins. So if you'd like to call right now, do you think Washington's professional football team should change its name from the Redskins? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking sports journalism past, present and future with Dave McKenna. He's a journalist and writer based in Washington, former "Cheap Seats" columnist at Washington City Paper. George Solomon is currently a journalism professor at the University of Maryland and the first director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism there. He was assistant managing editor for sports at The Washington Post from 1975 to 2003 and a former ombudsman for ESPN.
NNAMDIGeorge, you were the sports editor at The Post. The last time this conversation about whether the Redskins should change its name was this heated. During the past year, several local and national media organizations have pledged that they will not longer refer to the team as the Redskins. Meanwhile, Dan Snyder has essentially said there is zero chance he'll be pressured into changing anything. How does this latest conversation compare to other's you've observed in the past about the name?
SOLOMONWell, there is much more of a push for the Redskins to change their name. Peter King, a very, very respected columnist and reporter and commentator for Sports Illustrated, said today that he would no longer use the word Redskins. And, I mean, that's a big deal when a Peter King says that. And I'm, you know, and I think that's very, very significant.
SOLOMONAnd there a number of newspapers, a number of columnists around the country that, you know, do not use the name, you know? And, you know, I think there is more pressure on the team management and the owner to consider changing the name.
NNAMDIDave, what kind of pressure do you think media organizations can exert by refusing to use the current name?
MCKENNAWell, I mean, it can't get any bigger than Peter King, and Bill Simmons of ESPN also said the same thing, I believe, this week that he won't use it. That seems to be a tide that's turning. And it's a very -- I'm from here. I've worn every part of Redskins apparel, you know, through -- in my years, and I really -- like it's become -- ever since Snyder came out in -- with that bold proclamation, you can use, you know, put it -- you can use caps. Never gonna change the name. It reminded me of George Wallace saying, segregation, you know, now, segregation forever.
NNAMDINow, segregation forever.
MCKENNALike the stance, rather than embrace, or -- 'cause Snyder didn't come up with this name. He didn't come up with -- it's not on him, but rather than...
NNAMDIBut like you, he grew up with it.
MCKENNARight. And rather than, like, come out with some appeasement and just say, you know, that's a great point. Let's use this to raise awareness for Indian issues. I mean, he's in a tough position, no question. But he made it so much worse. And I went back over, like, in -- the defenders are in such a hard place right now because they got to say it's not offensive.
MCKENNAAnd I went back through The Washington Post archives up through the early '30s when Marshall, who was a Washingtonian, named the team the Redskins and tried to find, you know, if there was any evidence of this term of respect and endearment. And they're zero. It is -- it was always a slur in modern America, and I found -- like, I found one story, 1912, breach of etiquette.
MCKENNAThis is -- it was the headline and it's, it is one thing for the savage Redskin from reservation teepee to pawn them self off as an American and help the United States team to win victories for the national colors at Olympic games. But quite another one, he embroils us in an international complication and shows himself so ignorant of the communist -- of the commonest matters of etiquette as to bring a blush of shame to the civilized cheek.
MCKENNAAnd this was like an article about the -- I believe Jim Thorpe in the Olympic. And then you look at the lyrics to the song "Savages" from the Disney movie "Pocahontas," which is recent, and they're savages, savages, dirty redskin savages. Now, we sound the drums of war. It's an ugly word, and like, I can't -- as a Redskin fan, I can't avoid the ugliness anymore.
NNAMDISince you mentioned earlier the relationship that NBC 4 here in Washington has with the team, I got to mention that their longest-serving anchor, Jim Vance, did a passionate commentary against the name of the Washington Redskins football team. Vance would not allow me to go without mentioning that. On to the telephones. Here now -- we go to Nick in Crofton, Md. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKThanks, Kojo. Very thought provoking. And, you know, you have your two writers there and they -- this segment, you know, very -- in fact, that writer that just spoke very informative where I didn't know that part of George Preston Marshall's history. I did know that he was very racist, and I think it follows that he would've been against Indians. Anyway, I know he was against African-Americans.
NICKAnd let me just take a little quick tongue-and-cheek shot at your two writers there, Kojo. That's definitely a lot better commentary than two writers sitting there critiquing whether RG3 should or should not have tweeted or somebody should've covered that or not. So this is definitely more informative.
NNAMDIWell, do you think he should've tweeted? No. I'm just kidding. Go ahead.
NICKYes. I think he would probably. Well, I was on a -- I'm Baltimore Ravens fan. I was on a Baltimore talkshow as a caller, of course, on Saturday. And my thing is, hey, you know, no self-respecting person wants to be disrespected. Nobody does. And you just take that name Redskins and whatever -- and we all some ethnicity, you just take a city and put the worse slur about yourself and you put that together and run around with that and should be like to wear the colors of that and celebrate that.
NNAMDINick, thank you so much for your call. Id' like you to keep listening even as we go to Lydia in Germantown, Md. Lydia, your turn.
LYDIAHello, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call.
LYDIAI believe that we should keep the Redskins name, Redskins. It's about the only full American name that we have. Everybody has the cowboys, you know, everything else. But this is like the original American name, and I really don't see why they should change it. There's nothing offensive to it, and I quite frankly think, sure, we had Indians in the land. We had them in South America, Central America. We had, you know, we have headshrinkers, all kinds.
SOLOMONI see two clubs seats for Lydia for tonight's game if she wants it.
NNAMDILydia, yes, I think you're making friends with the people in the highest places of the Redskins' organization at this point. But it is -- go ahead.
MCKENNAThis is -- George mentions the club seats. Dan Snyder who has used, like, the tradition argument and his defenders in the name thing, it's a tradition. Well, he showed recently that he would -- the tradition doesn't really mean that much to him when it comes to the bucks 'cause the club level where Lydia's gonna get her club seats tonight was called the Joe Gibbs level until tonight will be the first game. It is now called the StubHub level. He sold out Joe Gibbs for a dollar. They now have naming rights. So if you sell a Joe Gibbs, you know, I think you can sell a George Preston Marshall.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call, Lydia. Good luck to you with those club tickets. Even though there are those of you who have called about the Redskins name, stay on the line. We will get to your call. But there are couple of more issues I'd like to discuss. George, there is also the issue of how networks are affecting what happens on the field. For the past several years, colleges have changed conferences so quickly, it's tough to keep track of it all.
NNAMDIThe University of Maryland is leaving the conference where it played for decades for the Big Ten next year. One college athletic director told The Boston Globe, we're doing what the TV networks are telling us to do. What would you say to that?
SOLOMONWell, I think college sports in general are changing dramatically. I think the NCAA -- this is in last year, the BCS, that we're gonna have a playoff. I think the NCAA, for what it is now, will be dramatically changed in the next five years. I think that all the conferences, Kojo, are changing dramatically. Like, look at the ACC. That, you know, there are some people who feel that Maryland should not have moved because of the tradition of being in the ACC since it's inception.
SOLOMONBut, you know, with the advent of Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh coming into the ACC along several years ago, the addition of Miami, Virginia Tech, the ACC wasn't what it was when it began. So college sports dramatically has changed. And, of course, the reason forcing this change is money. Millions and millions in -- of dollars are impacted here, and, you know, and it's a big money sport.
NNAMDIOutside of the fact that the writers for The Diamondback newspaper and your students probably had a whole lot to say about this issue, what's the importance of stuff like this for the university as a whole?
SOLOMONI think the university as a whole is dramatically affected by this. You have alumni and friends of the university and people in the community who feel a strong allegiance to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the University of Maryland. But the university felt that, you know, for it to be more solvent and for it to be in a better position to move ahead in it's, you know, athletic future, the Big Ten was a better deal. And -- but, you know, I think that, you know, a lot of people agree with it and some people disagree with it. I think Maryland going to the Big Ten is a plus.
NNAMDIYour thoughts, Dave McKenna.
MCKENNAWell, one thing it doesn't do for -- I mean, it does poorly for education as kids can't, you know, the Big Ten now has 14 teams, and the Big East had San Diego State (laugh) for a while. So, I mean, you can't avoid it, like saying it's a bad thing. That's the point. That it's gonna happen. It's sad for people like me who remember the ACC tournament growing up around here, you took the Thursday off on when there was like eight teams in the league or whatever, for the first day of ACC tournament of basketball.
MCKENNAAnd it was just an amazing day. And that'll be never happen again. These conferences are -- these mega conferences, you won't have these rivalries that mean as much to what the conference rivals meant to kids at one point. But, again, it such -- it kind of pulls the facade. It is a big business. It's a huge business, and they can't claim the student athlete myth anymore. It's about professional athletes, the professional athletes.
NNAMDIAnd I have been to events at the Shirley Povich Center that George Solomon has organized, which discussed these issues at some...
SOLOMONAnd we're gonna discuss them on Nov. 5 this year.
NNAMDISee, I gave him a chance for a plug.
SOLOMONSure. The eighth annual Shirley Povich Symposium and you can...
NNAMDIWhat's the issue this year?
SOLOMONMaryland to the Big Ten. And the Big Ten commissioner, Jim Delany, will be there along with Kevin Anderson and a really big panel.
NNAMDIMaryland athletic director?
NNAMDIYou've written, Dave, for an alt-weekly newspaper. You've written for a site like Deadspin, which broke the story early this year, debunking so much of the drama of Notre Dame's previous football season that -- about the team star linebacker's girlfriend dying during the season. And you showed that the -- Deadspin showed that that was completely untrue. You mentioned this a bit earlier, but what role do you see for non-traditional alternative media in sports reporting going forward from here?
MCKENNAWell, I also -- I've been doing stuff, like I've kind of -- people may think negatively speaking of ESPN and Washington Post today, but I also worked for both (laugh) those organizations.
NNAMDII see you're byline in The Post all the time.
MCKENNAI'm doing reviews for 20 years, little things, and ESPN. I write stuff for Grantland, which is a -- kind of taken up the role that once filled by alternative weeklies in long-form journalism, which has kind of disappeared from a lot of publications. They are allowing stories because you don't have to kill a tree to, you know, for the extra pages. They'll let you go as long as you wanna type. And it's become a form for these long form pieces that no longer appear. It used to only appear in the alternative weeklies.
MCKENNAAnd Deadspin is kind of a similar to what -- when I started city paper, it was the only place in town where you could curse, and, you know, that if you're young and you're writing, you think that's very cool.
MCKENNAAnd now Deadspin is kind of the snarky -- it is -- of all the sports publications, it is the wittiest and smartest that I've seen and dirtiest also of the smart places. So, I mean, they're filling these roles that the alternative press once did fill and, I think, doing it very well. Those are the two that I've -- I'm most impressed by.
NNAMDIAll right. Back to the telephones where people wanna talk about you know what. Here's David in Washington, D.C. David, your turn. Hi, David. Oh, David dropped off, so we'll go to Campbell in Washington, D.C. Campbell, your turn.
CAMPBELLThank you very much, Kojo. And I think that it's important to realize when you're talking about the Washington football team that that terminology that is used to describe them as a nickname is something that came from the era of just genocide against native people in this country. At one time, Europeans were paying for scalps of native people but -- so that they wouldn't be scalping each other.
CAMPBELLYou had to keep a piece of redskin from the scalp onto the scalp to get the full value from whomever you're bothering to scalp with. And that, I think, brings a little bit different. We aren't just talking about a hue or even the N word, which people can say in some...
NNAMDIYou're talking about a more sorted history other than that. And thank you for sharing that with us, Campbell. Here on the other hand is Trip (sp?) in Baltimore, Md. Trip, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TRIPYeah. I'm, what, 61 years old, used to have season tickets to -- let's see -- the last year party and then (unintelligible) glory years and all that stuff. And, you know, I kind of saw the point of the Redskins. I saw, you know, this institution, at least the name. And, you know, I've changed my point of view. And I think it's the strangest part of the same phenomenon that's breaking down or the peeling back of some sort of (word?) arrogance that, you know, marriage is a sacred institution. Team name is a sacred institution.
NNAMDISo you think...
TRIPMaybe we're having an institutional awakening.
NNAMDIYou've changed your mind, Trip. You think it's about time to change that set. In about a minute or so we have left, talk about what you think the team is going to do this season. First you, George Solomon, and then Dave McKenna.
SOLOMONI think they have a good team. You know, it depends on Griffin's health and whether or not he can go through the season. And also Cousins and the defense. But I think they have a chance to win 11 games, and we'll have a good season.
NNAMDIHow important is RG3's health to the success of this team, Dave McKenna?
MCKENNAI think he's all -- I think Shanahan showed last year, he doesn't really win without a stud quarterback. And I think it's all about RG3. If he -- I bought into the myth, like I remember watching the Seattle playoff game last year. I didn't want him out. I didn't want him -- I wanted him to stay 'cause I was sure he was gonna do it and then like after the game I watched it, like, what the heck was I thinking? He was -- he's like Barbaro.
NNAMDI(laugh) He has bought into the hype. We will tonight whether or not the hype this year is warranted. George Solomon is a journalist and professor at the University of Maryland, where he's the first director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. George, always a pleasure.
SOLOMONMy pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIDave McKenna is a journalist and writer based in Washington. He's the former "Cheap Seats" columnist at Washington City Paper. Dave, thank you so much for joining us.
MCKENNAThank you everybody for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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