The Redskins Obsession: DC Fans Or DC Media; Who’s At Fault?

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Photo: John McDonell/The Washington Post

 

The frigid temperatures and sunless skies of February in DC are accompanied by a barren sports landscape; that is, if you ask a producer of any local sports show on radio or television. Their reasoning is simple; this point on the calendar is one of the furthest dates away from a Redskins game. What else could they possibly talk about?

Fortunately for them, the NFL has successfully rolled out a calendar that keeps the league in the sports news cycle year round, save for a few weeks in the summer when Roger Goddell is vacationing on the Isle of Capri with Peter King, Mike Florio and any other NFL shills with a press pass and a lap top.

Even with the NFL spoon feeding talk radio fodder to all the major markets, there are still journalists out there determined to create their own headlines by way of good old fashioned networking and hustle. 

And so, this past Wednesday, ESPN 980’s Kevin Sheehan heated up the DC airwaves on a dark, cold and to this point newsless day, as he had former Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan not only agree to appear on Sheehan’s mid day show, “The Sports Fix”, but spend a full hour speaking with him and co host Thom Loverro as they meticulously walked through every step of Shanahan’s tenure as the Redskins coach.

It is a must listen for any Redskins fan (it can be accessed through 980’s audio vault) and was an unprecedented move by a former coach. It’s all there: the McNabb trade, Haynesworth, the McNabb benching in Detroit, the salary cap violation, the Griffin trade, the Saints game, the Ravens game, the Seahawks game, plus lots of back story on the entire Griffin melodrama. 

The interview was a major coup for 980, as bitter rival 106.7 The Fan was forced to spend the majority of their drive time analyzing the Shanny interview; an interview they were scooped on by Sheehan, the former 106.7 reporter.

Long time 980 host Andy Pollin noted the following day that Sheehan had been working for a year to get Shanahan onto the show. Once Shanny was passed over for the open coaching jobs this offseason, he must have realized his days as an NFL head coach were over, so he may as well air all the dirty laundry from his Redskins days on local sports radio. No team in their right mind would hire him now, knowing that when he leaves he’s capable of running his mouth to this degree about his days with the team.

That 980 got the Shanahan interview was definitely news worthy, but the entire sports media presence in DC talking non stop Redskins in mid February was definitely not news worthy, unfortunately. 


 

As mentioned above, the NFL has provided the national sports media with an easy to follow, paint by numbers approach to covering the league. Once the season ends, Goddell has spaced out the combine, free agency, the draft, OTA’s, minicamps and the preseason so that media members can coast from the Super Bowl post game press conference to the opening kick off of the next years season without having to use much brain power. 

On a local level, radio and TV stations can easily fall back on this model, but often times branch out and…GASP…cover other teams in the city.

The territory I’m headed towards with this argument has been traversed so frequently here in DC that all the trails on it have been worn down to easily navigable stretches of bare earth:

Why doesn’t the sports media in DC cover any team with as much gusto and volume as they cover the Redskins? 

It’s been a common refrain from Wizards, Caps, Nats, Terps, Hoyas and DC United fans since I moved to the area (2009), and the voices have grown louder as all those other teams have shown varying signs of life while the Redskins continue to stagger through forgettable seasons. Well, they would be forgettable if the DC media didn’t feel the need to rehash every detail and roster move of this utterly inept franchise.

980’s drive time show and Sheehan’s show both have segments devoted to the Redskins every single day, no matter what the calendar says. That doesn’t include any impromptu riffing they feel necessary about the burgundy and gold. 106.7 follows a similar structure, particularly as the day reaches Chad Dukes show which strays from Redskins talk rarely.

Go to the Twitter feed of any DC area sport media member (especially the radio guys) when it’s not football season, and you are likely to find a disgruntled Nats or Caps fan taking them to task about why they don’t talk less about the Skins and more about their favorite DC sports flavor. Typically this is met with a response like “we just did a whole segment on the Nats!”, some expletives may be exchanged and then everyone moves on until the next time it happens, which is like 45 minutes later.

At this point, I want to be clear that I like a lot of what the local sports media talent does with their time on the air. Both 980 and The Fan have some extremely talented personalities who can carry a show on their own and the local TV sports stations continuously have to backfill on air positions because their talent gets pilfered by larger media organizations. Sage Steele, Lindsay Czarniak, Dan Hellie, Bram Weinstein, Amber Theoharris and Britt McHenry, among others, have made the leap from DC to national stages, including ESPN and The NFL Network.

Just like the current crop of DC talent, these reporters who moved on cut their teeth primarily talking about the Redskins.

The question I am seeking an answer for diverts from the paths this conversation as typically taken. Who’s most responsible for the current state of DC sports coverage? The media or the fans?

On the one hand you have the media, more than willing to discuss any piece of Redskins content, no matter how arbitrary or banal. Curious about the top 10 all time Redskins assistant coaches? 980 can fill two segments in June with the list. Looking for some hot takes on RGIII’s tweets during his vacation to St Lucia? 106.7 is more than happy to oblige. 

When asked the question, 980 station manager Chuck Sapienza (on a Facebook Q&A he took apart of a few years back) gave a straight forward answer that wasn’t groundbreaking news. When the station talks Redskins, they have more listeners and more callers. When they don’t? Those two numbers go down. Pretty simple business plan. When you have existing sponsors clamoring for more listeners and prospective sponsors asking you about your audience size, it’s silly not to give that audience exactly what it’s shown it wants. Redskins coverage, and lots of it.

Taking a longview, I don’t think the equation will stay that simple, which is why I think there should be a strategy where more of an effort to engage the rest of the DC sports fans is made by the media. The rest of the local teams continue to improve while the Redskins continue to their 20+ year journey through the NFL wilderness that has resulted in only four playoff appearances since 1992. The team hasn’t even made it to the NFC Championship Game since 1991. 

In my opinion, most of the local media outlets have made that effort to cover the other teams more so than they had in the past. The Fan and The Washington Post specifically have made big time strides over the past six years to move away from the comforting womb that is Redskins coverage.

That brings us to the DC fans, specifically the Redskins fans. Seriously guys, how do you keep coming back? How do you keep calling into radio stations and paying good money to sit in that giant, concrete FedEx box out in PG County? How do you support an owner who has shown time and again his only interest outside of profits is meddling with the team and creating a culture at Redskins Park that players and coaches have both panned?

The drastic 180 that the fan base pulled on RGIII was especially unimpressive. Griffin went from savior to goat in less time than it takes Steve Czaban and the gang to get through one of those Friday afternoon “You are looking live!” segments on “The Drive”. Once the biggest flash of hope the franchise had seen since the Super Bowl years, now the Skins faithful instigates fights with him on Twitter, criticizes his post game press conference wardrobe choices and clamors for Colt McCoy–COLT MCCOY–rather than their former glory boy. Griffin isn’t totally innocent (Shanahan’s gravely voiced claims in the Sheehan interview, if true, are very eye opening) but a guy two seasons removed from a Rookie of the Year award and a division title deserves a little more slack. This franchise is completely broken and no one person, outside of Snyder, deserves this much criticism.

While I believe the media has tried to make strides and cover the rest of the sports landscape in DC, they will still make a cottage industry out of selling Redskins fans on the past glory and present day failure until Redskins fans stop consuming it at the alarming rate that they currently do. 

 

 

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