The once happy marriage between the Washington Redskins and the Washington Post is on the rocks.
The split-up started with the Redskins putting out a pair of press releases to correct what it called the paper’s inaccurate reports. In one release, the Redskins accused the Post of “having secretly garnered” more than 200 prime season tickets.
The accusations set the stage for Wednesday’s ugly episodes:
Someone in the football organization leaked the name of the Post employee listed as the holder of the season tickets to a morning-radio talk-show host. When he broadcast the name, fans flooded the Post with calls, telling the paper to give up the seats.
The Redskins woke up this morning to a funny but mean Tony Kornheiser column that poked fun at Redskins owner Dan Snyder for putting 5,000 “partially obstructed-view” seats into FedEx Field.
“It’s like a nasty divorce,” says one local sports reporter. “After love, there’s hate.”
What happened to the longstanding symbiosis between the Redskins and the Post, the two institutions that bind the Washington region together?
Trouble began with an August 26 Post story quoting fans who complained the Redskins misled them about the lousy views from the new seats. Other fans told the Post’s Jason La Canfora and Thomas Heath that the Redskins “urged” them to buy the seats sight unseen.
The Redskins had added the partially obstructed seats as part of 5,000 new ones that make it the NFL’s biggest stadium, with 91,665 seats.
Responding to the seat story, the Redskins put out a press release criticizing the two Post reporters for failing to accurately portray the selling of the seats.
“Surprisingly,” the release said, “The Washington Post newspaper is in fact the single-largest general admission ticket holder at FedEx Field, with more than 200 prime lower bowl seats under one discreet account.”
The release said each account is limited to six seats, and more than 100,000 households are waiting to buy tickets.
“Since general admission is designed to benefit the individual fan, not major corporations,” Redskin official Mitch Gershman said in the release, “having secretly garnered more than 200 of the best lower bowl seats, isn’t it time for the Washington Post to recognize the needs of the individual fan?”
How the Post came by so many seats is in dispute.
“The simple fact is the Washington Post purchased those tickets a few decades ago,” says Post spokesman Eric Grant. “The team was struggling and went to the Washington business community and asked companies to buy tickets. The Post stepped up and bought 500. We have kept 200 as an employee benefit.
“They are used primarily by the circulation department to reward distributors,” he says.
Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson reacts in disbelief.
“We have been sold out since 1966,” he says. “What help did we need?”
Swanson says the team discovered the Post’s 279 tickets—and 40-plus parking spaces—in the names of two individuals when it computerized its tickets two years ago.
“Why isn’t there a corporate account?” he asks. “Maybe they want to turn in their tickets and sell them to people on the waiting list.”
Is the Post interested?
“No,” says Eric Grant.
The Redskins suggest that such large blocks of tickets often wind up in the hands of scalpers.
The fight over season tickets is part of a larger squabble between the paper and the team. Swanson says Post sports reporters often have written inaccurate stories and failed to correct them.
By way of example, Swanson says Post writer Nunyo Demasio mistakenly reported that a player had been cut.
“He showed up to turn in his playbook,” Swanson says. “You’re messing with people’s lives.”
The Redskins chose to attack the Post despite the fact that two other news organizations carried the same report; AP put the erroneous story on its national wire.
Swanson put out a press release to point out the Post’s mistake, which raises another question: Is that how NFL franchises now express their displeasure with reporting?
“The team will call,” says Glen Crevier, sports editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and an official of the Associated Press Sports Editors. “Sending out a press release? I’ve never seen that before.”
Swanson says he’s seen too much from the Post that—in his view—has been wrong.
“There comes a point when you have had repeated discussions and stories are still wrong,” he says. “At what point does a source’s word take precedence over the word of the organization?
“I don’t think it’s nasty” to put out a press release, he says. “What else can we do?”
The Post sports editor seems unfazed by it all.
“It’s not uncommon for a team to get angry with the sports section that covers it,” says Post sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz. “It’s not going to affect our coverage at all.
“There are more people complaining about seating at the stadium. That’s a story we will continue to cover in the future.”
Crevier of the APSE says the tension comes with the turf.
“The teams expect us to support rather than report what’s going on,” he says. “Our job is to report.”