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Sketches of Redskins Fandom

Football is a game of numbers, statistics, metrics, predictions, analysis, massive crowds, huge salaries, gigantic men.

My relationship to football, my personal connection to it, is far different – its basis in the intimate and not the organized – I never played for or cared about my junior or high school teams, but spent afternoons in the neighborhood, running post routes in the street, tackling my friends into piles of dog shit; and Sundays on the couch, shouting at the TV.

My perspective on the ‘big picture’ is ever evolving, during some seasons I get in such a disgusting funk over the whole thing I can’t bear to watch, other seasons it’s all I can do not to replay a game three times during week. I’ve at times been casual, meticulous, and absent in my fandom. I’ve been zealous, and then skeptical, and then angry, and then glad. It comes and goes.

I sometimes see it as a big scam. I rage at the huge sums of money, the off-field behavior of players, the incomplete promise it gives to young aspiring athletes, the get-out-of-jail-free passes it provides in schools, and universities.

At those times, I can’t offer my time or interest. But then occasionally, it feels like an old, strong glue – one of the few remaining things that can hold a transient, ever sprawling community together. Or it can feel like a badge, one only earned after staying put for a few decades. Yes, I remember that game from 1997. And if you do too, well, we’re probably going to get along just fine.

(Ironic, considering players virtually never suit up for their hometowns, and that they’ll be gone the moment someone offers them more cash elsewhere.)

Sketches of Fandom

Redskins Birthday Cake, Late 80's

Redskins (Jay Schroeder) Birthday Cake, Late 80’s

Four years old, basement with family, Skins v Falcons 1988

I’m maybe four or five, and it’s a basement party at my house with my parents and aunts and uncles, and I vaguely remember it being around the holidays, and the opponent being the Falcons, and someone explaining to me how evil they are, just the worst. Everyone is shouting like crazy and I think it’s great fun. We are all on the couch, with pizza and snacks.

Now I’m an adult with the internet, and I can find out this was probably December 17, 1988, and the Skins held on to win 31-30, finishing the season respectably at 10-6.

First game, bus ride

I’m something like six or seven years old, and my Dad and I are boarding a bus that will drive us to the stadium. I remember standing in the parking lot waiting, and then we’re on the bus and there are a lot of adults being loud, something I’m not used to.

We get to the game eventually and my memory of it is foggy, but I remember at some point two men in the bleachers arguing, one of them a fan of the opposing team, and one of them a fan of the Redskins, and I could sense my Dad getting tense, the protective instinct overtaking him.

I’ve never seen this many people in the same place before. I’ve never been in a crowd larger than the Moms who assemble at a grocery store on Saturday afternoon, pushing carts. I’ve never heard anyone scream in public. I’ve never seen so many people wearing Red.

Christmas, 1991(?)  Art Monk shirt

Christmas, 1991(?) Art Monk shirt

Skins Zubaz cap. Crosswords with Pata, 1990?

Skins Zubaz cap. Crosswords with Pata, 1990?

Church, Darrell Green

I’m in Junior High (or Middle School as we call it in my part of the country, in this generation) and I’m spending the weekend with a friend’s dad, who has moved away to another neighborhood following a divorce. We have a great time all weekend watching TV and playing with Nerf guns, and on Sunday, find ourselves in his Dad’s church, a big black gospel church with more singing and dancing and praising than I’ve ever witnessed in my life.

After the main worship takes place, small groups break away in to Sunday School groups, and all of a sudden my friend and I are in a group led by Darrell Green, Redskins Hall of Fame cornerback, and he’s patiently delivering stories of his faith to this group of assembled youngsters.

I don’t care much for church, in fact, the NFL has been a fine Sunday substitute for it for much of my life… but there we are, with number 28, and I have the feeling I’ve reached a new peak of social gratification in my young life.

Skins hat, in the mountains. 2001.

Skins hat, in the mountains. 2001.

Madden 2001, Stephen Davis

I’m in High School, and instead of studying, it’s much more interesting to play video games. The decision making required to navigate through any number of Playstation worlds is far more taxing than my homework, the telescoping logic trees of the games let my mind wander through states of complexity I can’t find in any classrooms.

So there was the game, a football simulation – Madden 2001 edition – and I had found the player – Stephen Davis, Redskins running back. A HB Toss left, cranking the D-pad as far as I could away from the defensive line, and then up the sideline, Davis was good for fifteen touchdowns a game. Was it a bug? A ghost in the machine? He wasn’t anywhere near as productive in real life. Such is the nature of games…. maybe that was the lesson.

I infuriated any opponent who dared wander into my room and throw down a challenge, until they found my defensive weaknesses, and tossed hail mary’s just in time to even out the score before overtime.

The Fake Punt

Two days before Christmas, 2001. My Dad and I take advantage of the winter break and make our way to FedEx Field, the Redskins’ new home. It’s bigger than RFK, everything new and shiny, but the team feels further away, like they’re in another room of a very large house. The team started 0-5 this year, then followed up going 5-0. The crowd is hopeful.

We’re up 13-10 with ten minutes left, and feeling pretty good as the Bears line up to punt. The snap goes back to Brad Maynard, the punter, and he pulls up, draws a line on Urlacher, tosses for 27 yards, touchdown. ‘Da Bears walk off with the win.

The long drive home, and then I’m back in the neighborhood. I see a few kids playing across the street and run out to throw a few balls. Looking around, the suburbs, the quiet streets, the kids playing football just because it’s fun. I struggle to connect it to the giant stadium I was in a few hours earlier. I tell someone I went to the game today, and a look of precaution takes him over, like I’m some visitor from another world.

Christmas, 2001. Grandma, the Redskins' Greatest Fan Ever

Christmas, 2001. Grandma, the Redskins’ Greatest Fan Ever

Tampa, Traveling

The next time my Dad and I decide to go to a game, it’s 2006 and we fly to Tampa. We have amazing seats, close enough to hear the players talking to each other. At one point, Clinton Portis, Redskins HB, walks down the stairs right next to our seats, failing to find the proper entryway to the field. Someone directs him appropriately.

In Florida even November games are warm. My Dad spent younger years in Tampa, before I was born, and this is the first time I’ve visited. It’s a dual purpose trip. I don’t remember much of the game, other than both of us drawing the conclusion that watching the players from this close makes evident how little emotional investment they put into their duties. Many of them looked very bored.

Skins vs Bucks, 11/06, Tampa

Skins vs Bucks, 11/06, Tampa

Cooley Wedding

When I was in kindergarten, I got married. She was a pretty blue eyed blonde girl, whom I had spoken to only to propose. Our arrangement was to sit at the same lunch table, and otherwise stay far away. Somehow… we drifted apart after a few days. It nearly broke me.  And when I was eighteen, her name blipped back up on my radar – she had gotten married again. But this time, she married a Redskin.

He was easily one of the most popular players on the team and remains a strong voice in the organization today, even after his playing days are over. I saw him once publicly, in 2011, he was making an appearance at a race I was running. I stopped by to say hello after finishing – “Hey, man, Hail to the Redskins! I used to know your wife, in Kindergarten!”

He paused for a beat – the usual meet & greet shimmer rippling for a split second, as he took in this strange, sweating person, offering him this vague connection – and he said, “Cool, man. Cool. Thanks.”

Snow game

It gets more and more difficult to stay positive, when the team has only been to the Super Bowl once in over twenty years. But I keep watching, reading, listening. Keep buying the damn hats.

It’s December 8, 2013, almost exactly 25 years after I was first instructed on how to conduct myself as a fan of the Redskins. The team is having an awful season, and the game last week was so terrible that a few friends and I decide to get ourselves to the stadium, to try and right the ship. They are practically giving tickets away.

It’s freezing, and snowing. The Visiting team has 38 points before halftime. We’re miserable, but unwavering in our support. By the fourth quarter, as only a few stragglers remain, it is evident that things aren’t going to be better any time soon. Chiefs 45, Redskins 10.

The record is set for lowest attendance in stadium history. I’m not sure if that makes me feel proud or ashamed, to be one of those resilient Burgundy & Gold souls.

Lowest Attended Game in History, 12/8/13

Lowest Attendance in Stadium History, 12/8/13

on National Geographic Live!

The National Geographic Society has launched a program called ‘NG Live!’ in which brilliant photographers from the magazine’s pages present their work at the Grosvenor Auditorium, in Washington D.C. to a curious and appreciative audience.

Gardens by Night

Diane Cook and Len Jenshel presented an alluring series of exposures from gardens around the world, captured during the darkest hours of night. The soft light from the moon casts a diaphanous glow on the beautiful landscapes in the images. Gardens, curated carefully to be visually pleasant, calming and intricate, show a hidden power at night.

Fuling and Changing China

I’m acquainted with the modernizing landscape along the Yangtze River from my own travels, but gained fresh perspective from the images captured by Anastasia Taylor-Lind. Her presentation ‘Fuling and Changing China’ uncovered an engaging and striking portrait of the people, structures, and natural beauty of the region.

Ms. Taylor-Lind journeyed along the river learning about the displacement of families during the Three Gorges Dam project, documenting their struggles and achievements.

In addition to her work in China, she showed photos of her experience documenting the search for supermodels in Siberia, and also portraits of the women participating in southern Russia’s ‘Cossack resurgence.’

Alison Wright and the Human Spirit

Alison Wright could be the most amazing storyteller, both through pictures and her personal narrative, that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. Her travels have taken her everywhere, and her fearlessness shines in all of her work. The dangers she encountered have strengthened her – she was told she would never walk again after suffering a terrible injury in a motor accident in Laos, but a few years later she was back behind the camera, working during the disasters in Haiti and New Orleans, and eventually returning to Asia to visit the doctor who saved her life.

If only all of us who love photography could be as blessed with unfailing curiosity and the will to exercise it as Ms. Wright is.

on Tysons, in Black and White

Much of the world’s Internet management and governance takes place in a corridor extending west from Washington, D.C., through northern Virginia toward Washington Dulles International Airport. Much of the United States’ military planning and analysis takes place there as well. At the center of that corridor is Tysons Corner – an unincorporated suburban crossroads once dominated by dairy farms and gravel pits.

Paul E. Ceruzzi, Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005

4 Years Later

I was an intern at the Washington Post’s multimedia desk during the last Presidential Inauguration. I went out to the National Mall at 4 a.m., hoping to capture some of the early scene before reporting for my desk shift later in the morning. I took photographs of the crowds beginning to arrive, and got a sense of how giant the event would be. I remember the bitter cold, more than anything else. Returning to the WP office in Arlington by 10, the crowd’s cheering was audible across the river as the President took his oath.

Since I’m no longer a ‘member of the press’ it would take an act of Congress to get me out of bed that early again. The crowd is expected to be smaller this year and the city is still buzzing, but I’m not as thrilled as I was four years ago to go out into the freezing morning just to say “I was there.”

I found a journal entry from 1/19/09 – it’s clear that I wasn’t planning on attending the Inauguration then, either, and went as a ‘hail mary’ to make myself feel better about what was turning into a repetitive and unrewarding internship:

“felt pessimistic today about work. I was doing – seemed like I was sitting there not doing anything productive. Very bad attitude at some points. The captions seem very.. something. Boring? I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m wasting time and could be doing more important work. Tomorrow I’m going to endure ridiculous crowds so I can sit there, and what? Re-size pictures? Maybe one an hour? It’s kind of irritating and I’m getting frustrated. Feel like I really missed the boat on the whole inauguration project. I need more to do, or a paycheck, or something, or I need to find somewhere else. Maybe still time to do something important – Push myself to the limit, wake up at 4, head to the mall, snap some photos, back to WP by 11, there til 7, home by 12, recover Weds. It’s possible.”

I ended up taking my own advice, ‘pushing myself to the limit’ (I apparently had a pretty fragile limit, 4 years ago). I wasn’t assigned the task of going out to shoot that morning, but I did anyway – and some of my photos are still, 4 years later, featured on the Washington Post website, which generated millions of views that day, and many since.

on the Marine Corps Marathon

I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, and despite not having trained for it, I finished with a time of about 5:46, a 13:13 mile pace. It was quite difficult at times but I persevered.

The mistake I made in training was attempting to run a normal short-distance pace for longer runs – I burned myself out by trying to do 8 minute miles when I should have been doing 10 or 11 minutes. If I put in a long run every weekend of 10-13 miles, at a 10-11 pace, I think I could bring down my finishing time significantly for next year’s race.

My original plan for the marathon (if you could even call it a plan – I kind of just rolled out of bed and stumbled to the starting line) was to only run 10-13 miles. The night before the race my family was asking me whether I expected to finish, and I assured them that no, there was no way I could – but I didn’t want my registration to go to waste, so I was going to run part of the course.

When I got to mile ten it seemed silly to quit – so many others around me were continuing. At mile 13, I wasn’t ready to stop either. My mom was in the crowd at mile 16, so I wanted to at least get that far. Once I got there, I just kept going. It was as if I was so far past any distance I had run recently, I figured that I could just keep going – if I had already gone 18, anything was possible.

I had not run more than six miles in the last 7 months – the last long run I had was a half marathon, 13.1 miles, on St. Patricks’ Day. I totaled maybe 16 miles of training in the last two months, but I’ve been keeping up with stretching, kettlebells, and biking, and I think that helped me pull through.

The adrenaline from the crowd, people cheering, and the determination of the runners, were all great motivators.

There was a Marine standing in uniform around mile 23 with a bullhorn, saying to the runners “I’m inspired by each one of you.” – I felt like if I could inspire a soldier by going on a peaceful run, the pain was probably worth it.

The Washington Warriors

Washington Warriors.Has a nice ring, don’t it? This isn’t a new baseball or hockey team. I’m talking about football.I’m talking about what we used to call the Washington Redskins. It’s the fourth quarter, and the time has come to punt the old name away. Just to clarify, before I’m charged with treason: I am a fan of the Washington Redskins football organization. I was draped in Redskins regalia before I was a year old.I was young enough to care about winning and losing in those monumental seasons of the late eighties and early nineties. I think the name is offensive, but that’s not really why I want it gone. I just want Dan Snyder to make more money.

Various ethical organizations around the country, including those of Native Americans, have called for the renaming of the team before without any success. I think they are taking the wrong approach, although it may be the most logical. Of course it is an issue of acceptance and diversity, but that’s not all, and that’s not how anyone is going to convince Dan Snyder. Why not call them the Warriors? Snyder filed for trademark protection for the name “Warriors” in 2000, and sat on it for so long that he lost it in 2006, according to a recent report in the Washington City Paper. Whether his intention was to start an arena-league team, or forever change the Redskins brand, we may never know.

I’m not scared by the financial risks in changing the name. Dan has plenty of money.And rebranding isn’t such an uncommon phenomenon. If Martha Stewart can keep her operation running from prison, the Redskins can handle a name change. If oil companies can convince the world they are “going green,” the Warriors can convince the NFL they are going to win. Why hasn’t it occurred to Snyder that the name of the Redskins is undercutting his potential market? Or has the thought appeared and been rapidly dismissed, strangled under the pressure of franchise tradition?

The new millennium is all about globalization. The world is flat again, and where you are doesn’t have anything to do with what you buy. We’re all connected by the internet, cell phones, and news networks; the distance between people within the global community gets smaller by the hour. The NBA knows this, and is making basketball a worldwide phenomenon rivaled only by soccer. Russians are selling Michael Jordan dolls outside the Kremlin.And surprise – there are no NBA teams called the “Rednecks,” “Spics,” or “Crackers.” Surely the minds of the NFL can surmise that giving teams energetic names without any derogatory ethnic connotation opens up the floodgates for international merchandise sales.

Dan Snyder knows that not everyone has red skin. He also knows that his goal is to make everyone buy his product. Make it more accessible. Make it appealing to every skin tone, race, gender, ethnicity, and cultural background. The percentage of Native American fans of the Redskins can only be marginal, if a sample is taken from the general population. Keep the logo. Keep the colors. Keep the song. Keep the corporate name of the stadium, if necessary. Just change the name to the Warriors and get those T-Shirts flying off the shelves again, which I can’t imagine they are after so many dismal seasons.

I don’t know why Snyder picked the name Warriors, but I know why I like it – nostalgia. My high school’s basketball team was the Warriors. Their colors were burgundy and gold, and their logo was an Indian. Sound familiar? But unlike the Redskins, my high school basketball team is indisputably the most successful team in their sport. The Oak Hill Academy Warriors have been USA Today’s top-ranked high school basketball program more times than they can write on the gym wall. The alumni roster reads like an NBA hall-of-fame ballot – Jerry Stackhouse, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant. If “Warriors” was good enough for them, surely whatever Heath Shuler wannabes that will pass through Washington in the coming years can put up with it.

I don’t think that a rename would upend the legacy of Redskin past. Changing the name might turn out to be a catalyst; bringing old players out into the spotlight once more to celebrate the newest evolution of the team they once played for. Fans young and old will surely tune in to watch the first Warriors game – to see how it plays out. “Warriors” even has the same number of letters as Redskins. If things keep going as they have been, the Redskins won’t be drawing nearly as much curiosity.

Go ahead, Dan Snyder, take the risk. Make the money. Get people to care about this organization again, after the mistakes of your tenure to this point. You’re going to need at least one big win on your resume before you leave this town – this could be it.