Redskins trying end run around Baltimore, D.C.

January 16, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

ANNAPOLIS -- In all the commotion about Jack Kent Cooke wishing to move his football team from Washington to Laurel, nobody seems to have noticed two words uttered here last week by state Sen. Julian L. Lapides when he confronted several of Cooke's front men.

"Moral responsibility," said Lapides.

The words seemed to bounce off the foreheads of Cooke's minions, who'd arrived here to talk about their boss's great love for the state of Maryland, the selfless good he wished to do for the city of Laurel, the money he would be spreading all around.

"Responsibility," Lapides said now, looking across a Senate hearing room, "to the urban center."

Jack Kent Cooke's men didn't seem to understand, or didn't want to, and so Lapides kept going. He talked about the people who live in the District of Columbia, who will be losing a football team, and the people in the city of Baltimore, who lost one, and then he said it was unconscionable how football organizations take flight from the great American cities that have fallen on such hard times in recent years.

"Deserting the urban centers of America," Lapides said, and still nothing registered on the faces of the front men of Jack Kent Cooke, these lawyers and traffic planners and counters of money.

"And you," Lapides said, addressing them directly, "you five white males represent the Redskins. Your panel represents what's wrong with this move. There's an obligation Cooke has to Washington. What about the commitment to urban centers? Does the National Football League follow the suburban white flight?"

He never got any answers. The people who run professional football -- who move the Dallas Cowboys to a place called Irving, Texas; who move the New York Giants to a ballpark by the side of the New Jersey Turnpike; who move the Detroit Lions to Pontiac; who moved the Raiders out of Oakland despite constant sellouts -- do not wish to discuss the business of deserting struggling urban centers.

"Let me point out," Montgomery County Sen. Howard A. Denis declared, "that the Redskins were the first team with a black quarterback to win a Super Bowl."

Denis carefully avoided a more salient piece of history: The Redskins were the last team to hire a black to play for them. They did it in the mid-1960s, only a quarter-century or so after the rest of the league.

Ancient history? Sure. But history has a way of returning to the scene in a series of disguises. Jack Kent Cooke's men attempted to paint such a rosy patina about their intentions that, if you've paid any attention at all to this plot, you could only feel embarrassed for men who make their living this way.

"Good for the fans," they kept saying.

Good for the fans? Which fans? Certainly not Baltimore's, though Cooke's men studiously dodged acknowledging the death blow their move would deliver to Baltimore's final reach for an NFL team.

Good for which fans? Certainly not the 36 percent of Redskins' ticket holders who live in Virginia and would now have to trek to Maryland and back just to see a ballgame.

Good for which fans? Certainly not those who live in Washington -- though, in truth, only 13 percent of the Redskins' ticket-holders actually live in the District of Columbia. They can't get tickets -- if, in fact, they could afford them, which is one more reason for Cooke to blow town and hustle those expensive sky boxes.

Good for which fans? Certainly not those vocal residents of Laurel who have said they don't want a 78,600-seat stadium, and all its game-day traffic, cluttering up a city of 19,000 people. Of course, the Redskins attempted last week to minimize this. After all, they said, they're only talking about maybe 10 dates a year.

This is known as deception. Standing right behind Cooke is Abe Pollin, owner of the basketball Bullets and the ice hockey Capitals, pondering his own move to Laurel. The Redskins know this, and they're praying nobody in Laurel will notice for the moment the impending addition of about 80 more basketball and hockey games, not to mention several months of already existing horse racing dates.

So the question remains: The move is good for which fans? Well, say the Redskins, Maryland fans, and they point out repeatedly that 52 percent of their ticket-holders live in Maryland (and hope we'll overlook the fact that 90 percent of them live in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.)

The Redskins think all of this is carping. They point out that Cooke's putting up his own money to build the park, maybe $160 million of it.

"How long," asked state Sen. John Pica Jr., of Baltimore, "will it take Mr. Cooke to recoup that $160 million?"

"Oh," declared Cooke's front men, "we never discuss private finances."

Are they beautiful? They want us to build them roads. They want our business people to purchase their expensive sky boxes. They want to monopolize a huge television market. And the moment the questioning gets sticky, everything becomes a very private business for them.

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