'Shock' On Video Won't Stop Cooke

COMMENT

January 30, 1994|By ELISE ARMACOST

Now showing at your local Laurel area community association meeting room: "Stadium Sights and Sounds," a celluloid plea to let Laurel remain famous only as the place where George Wallace was shot.

On Dec. 31, the Citizens Against Jack Kent Cooke's Stadium ventured into Washington for the Redskins' last home game, armed with a camcorder to capture the seamy netherworld of stadium life.

"What we saw shocked us," a voice intones as the film begins.

Then the camera reveals a panoply of horrors:

Tailgate parties. A man drinking a beer. People having fun.

The strains of "Hail to the Redskins." A street band. Traffic backed up after the game. Trash on the ground after the game.

Even -- brace yourselves here -- public micturition (it's a real word; look it up). Grown men, standing in the woods with their backs to the camera. Just a pigskin's throw from the pit beef and Miller Lite, no less.

At first the figures were so far away that I wasn't sure what they were doing. But the camera crew kept getting closer and closer until . . . Yuk. Disgusting. Gross.

"We do not want this in our neighborhood," the voice proclaims.

No kidding.

We live in an era where people get riled up over placement of a conference center. If Emperor Shah Jahan were alive today and planning to build a tomb for his wife in Laurel, Severna Park or some other suburban mecca, you can bet he would be running into "Citizens Against the Taj Mahal" right about now.

So is it any wonder people are rebelling against the prospect of living near a football stadium full of 78,600 loud, boozy, beery micturators?

I don't blame them, not one bit. If old Jack Kent had focused his beady, greedy little eyes on my neighborhood, I'd be protesting, too. The thought of hearing "Hail to the Redskins! Hail Vic-toe-ree!" for four hours running, 10 Sundays a year, will make fighters out of even the most docile creatures.

I say, "go for it," Citizens Against the Stadium. Football in Laurel might be great for the state economy, it might be great for the collective ego of all those who have felt less than whole since the Colts left, it might be great for county coffers.

It will not be great for you, no matter how much those Redskins smoothies gush about a "win-win situation."

But here's a little tip. You're gonna need a lot more than that tape to put this stadium on the skids.

Even with the guys in the woods, it's just not that shocking. You watch it and think: one more neighborhood fighting one more project it doesn't want in its backyard. Yawn.

The mass media -- which can actually prove useful to citizens' groups that capture its interest -- will not be sufficiently intrigued.

To politicians who see a stadium as a huge, juicy, prestigious perk, to zoning officials faced with the power and resources of the Cooke machine, the problems of one little group of citizens worried about noise and trash aren't likely to amount to a hill of beans. And never mind that Alexandria, Va., citizens managed to kick Mr. Cooke across the state line. He has learned a lot since then.

Virginia citizens were empowered by the Redskins' blatant lack of consideration for them. This time, the team is covering all the public relations bases. Even those who don't particularly want the Redskins out here can't help but be impressed with their attempts to play fair and make nice with the locals.

It's hard to say anything bad when they take the chief Citizen Against the Stadium and put him on a task force to determine how to make the project more acceptable. Or when they offer to pay for a traffic study -- by a consultant hired by the opponents. Or when they shift the stadium location to suit a nearby townhouse community.

Yes, the Redskins are making a decent name for themselves. So when they promise, as they are already doing, to correct all the problems you see in that little film -- to manage behavior at the new stadium better than D.C. manages RFK, to build restroom facilities throughout the grounds so tailgaters won't have to head for the woods, to use a state-of-the-art sound system that doesn't blast that obnoxious song for 150 miles -- chances are the powers that be are going to believe them.

The Redskins are winning points by being shrewd, prepared and apparently willing to reason. If the citizens are going to beat them, they're going to have to play the same game, but better.

Railing that they don't want 80,000 "screaming maniacs," as one citizen put it, in their neighborhood on autumn Sundays isn't going to do it. For all they know, the zoning hearing officer might be a season ticket-holder.

Even the argument that stadiums belong in urban settings -- which has real merit -- is likely to be seen as veiled NIMBYism.

"They can't just project themselves as no-growth," said Michael Brown, head of the Alexandria CATS. "They can't just rely on Not-In-My-Back-Yard."

They need facts. Expert outside opinions showing that the roads and other utilities are incapable of handling the load are the kinds of information to which the people who decide these things pay attention.

Tapes of semi-rowdy tailgate parties and citizens protesting, "We don't want that in our neighborhood" -- they've seen and heard all that many, many times before.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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