The World According to Cooke

January 08, 1994

Redskins football owner Jack Kent Cooke has a novel view of the world, one that often differs sharply from reality. This was clearly on display in an interview Mr. Cooke gave to Sun reporters this week at his team's Virginia practice headquarters.

He gave a glowing account of his plans to build a football stadium in Laurel. Yet a number of Mr. Cooke's statements don't ring true. It's time to set the record straight:

* He said he had the authority under National Football League rules to block a team from relocating to Baltimore.

Court rulings, especially the recent Sullivan case in New England, refute that assertion. It is doubtful such power can be legally enforced -- and leaves the league open to lawsuits. So far, the NFL has had to pay $156 million in damages for imposing such restraints on two team owners.

* He said he won't consider building his stadium at Camden Yards because of parking problems that would curtail fans' tailgate parties.

That's the first time we've heard Mr. Cooke say he was building his $160 million Laurel stadium with boozy tailgate parties in mind. It is a preposterous assertion. In downtown Baltimore, with tens of thousands of empty garages on a Sunday, parking never has been seen as a problem. And we haven't noticed much partying in the parking lots at RFK Stadium before Redskins games.

* He admitted he was the one who initiated discussion with USAir Arena owner Abe Pollin about building a new arena next to the proposed Redskins' stadium in Laurel. Previously, he had denied any involvement in these discussions.

* He claimed no other "megalopolis" outside New York could support two NFL teams.

Yet Baltimore and Washington sold out their games for decades -- until Robert Irsay poisoned the well in Baltimore. There's more than enough fan support for two clubs.

* He said his Redskins will bring Baltimore and Washington together. "We are an indivisible group of people," he said.

Differences remain between these regions, and waving a wand over the Redskins won't make them disappear. Giving the Redskins a Baltimore-Washington monopoly, though, could enrich Mr. Cooke if the NFL opts for pay-per-view cable-TV games and he winds up with both TV markets.

* "There's not going to be any congestion" in the Laurel area, according to his own traffic studies.

What else would you expect from a Cooke-produced study? More dispassionate transportation experts are likely to come to different conclusions about the impact of 80,000 football fans descending on Laurel -- and the price to state taxpayers to build the roads to lessen this congestion.

Mr. Cooke has a well-deserved reputation as a suave and sophisticated salesman. He's peddling his latest stadium vision for all he's worth. But good salesmen tend to exaggerate and, in this case, the exaggerations have been considerable.

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