Redskins, NFL belong in Hall of Shame

June 04, 2000|By JOHN STEADMAN

What transpired in friendly, but now disconsolate Frostburg, which had opened its heart and soul to being host to a pro football team for a month each summer, has ended in deep regret and understandable bitterness.

It plays out to be a poor reflection on (1) the Washington Redskins and (2) the NFL. Unfortunately, what happened is becoming representative of the selfishness displayed by a now-smug sport that has been spoiled by too much success.

It's a sad commentary on the NFL. Frostburg was feeling good about itself, being host to the Redskins' training camp. No more. The personal shame goes to the owner of the team, one Dan Snyder, a flyweight expanding into a heavyweight egotist.

Background: Maryland tax-payers contributed $70 million to help build a new stadium for the Redskins, but Snyder, in effect, gets out of the deal for $1 million. And Maryland taxpayers - that's you, you and you - are left with a charge of $69 million for the earlier stadium work.

The Redskins, under boy wonder Snyder, collectively betrayed the city of Frostburg, the State of Maryland and its residents in a crass, cowardly, cut-and-run-deal. Now Snyder intends to charge fans $10, plus parking, to go watch the Redskins practice in Virginia.

It's a below-the-belt insult to a respected man, Casper Taylor, speaker of the state House of Delegates, who played the most essential role in establishing the training camp in Frostburg. His objective was to bring favorable attention to his home area and make it a plus for the economy.

Taylor, in a football way, ran with the ball and also delivered the blocking to get legislation approved for infrastructure costs, around $70 million, for the stadium that the late Jack Kent Cooke built with his own money- not that of the taxpayers, let's be clear about that - in Landover. In turn, he made the arrangement with Cooke, then the Redskins' owner, to bring the club's training camp to Frostburg.

Cooke died while the Frostburg arrangement was ongoing, but five years are left on the training contract between the Redskins and Frostburg. Snyder acquired the Redskins from the Cooke estate and decided he wouldn't honor the camp agreement.

He pulled the Redskins out of Frostburg and will pay about $1 million to walk away from the obligation. "It was bush league," said Taylor, when asked to describe the maneuver. "A slap in the face. An indignity," and Taylor doesn't usually talk in such terms.

Even though Taylor has been through the mill in the tough game of Maryland politics, he has learned another lesson: The NFL has stopped treating others with kindness or honesty. To allow Snyder to walk out on Frostburg is contemptible.

It's good Taylor knows firsthand how Snyder and the Redskins do business. The NFL was once the essence of character. Maybe the Frostburg case is a comparatively minor illustration in the overall picture, but it tells volumes. It's all too obvious to Taylor, associates in the General Assembly and officials in Allegany County how things have changed.

Where is there an honorable commitment among NFL extortionists posing as franchise owners? When will the naive public and some of the fawning sportswriters and broadcasters in Washington, Baltimore and other places, seeking favor with management, take a stand against the con merchants?

The owners continue to delight in hammering the public over the head with exorbitant ticket prices, personal seat licenses and any other financial trickery they can turn into a scheme.

Friends of the NFL, specifically the fans, need protection from commissioner Paul Tagliabue. It should be his responsibility. If not Tagliabue, then the attorneys general of the various jurisdictions. Tagliabue should be telling the clubs you can't do such things at the expense of humiliating the league.

But he won't assert himself.

More had been expected, if he has the integrity he claimed. Tagliabue needs to stand tall and not stoop to the level of some owners in how the NFL treats the public. Snyder should have been told that what he was doing to Frostburg was out of line, that it was simply not acceptable to the NFL.

Furthermore, some political leaders, seeking to ingratiate themselves with the owners, keep bowing to the demands of the NFL, not daring to fight for the rights of their own constituents. By being silent, they buy into the plan of helping rob the voters who put them into office. They render tacit approval by telling some of the no-accounts who own NFL teams that, yes, we enjoy being plundered and come do it again any time you want.

Snyder, by his Frostburg action, has damaged a once-trusting community that had given the team affection and attention while providing a practice site in the pleasing surroundings of the Western Maryland countryside.

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