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The Steele Drum


September 4, 2009 4:21 PM

A Collect Call from 'Skins Fans to Roger Goodell

We’ll be hearing from Roger Goodell again very soon, I’m sure.

If he’s serious about the league’s public image being at stake, if the concept of a code of conduct he has enforced the last few years has any meaning, if “protecting the shield’’ is more than the cliché it has become lately, then the commissioner of the NFL will be calling Redskins owner Dan Snyder into his office and demanding that he explain himself – and then slapping him with a fine, or suspension, or both, that will be heard and felt from his FedEx Field luxury box to wherever in the world any casual fan has tugged on a cap with an NFL team logo.

Because if Goodell thinks his sheriffing job stops at the wallets and livelihoods of the players, he’d better think again. For every way in which the actions of the Michael Vicks, Plaxico Burresses and Pacman Joneses reflect poorly on the NFL, multiply it by a thousand – and that’s what Snyder and his partners in crime in the Redskins’ front office are doing to their own fans, right down to their own decades-long season-ticket holders.

The stories that ran over two days in the Washington Post this week, about the depths to which the Redskins will stoop to extract and extort money from anyone with pockets, had better be flat-out wrong. Better yet, Snyder’s group of gangsters had better step up soon and respond, some way, any way. If neither happens, then the Redskins stand accused, and pretty much convicted, of being the biggest bunch of lowlifes ever to disgrace professional sports, and would be marching steadily into territory now occupied by the subprime mortgage lenders, health-care looters and Ponzi-scheme perpetrators. All eager to use anybody and everybody as their personal ATM, beholden only to themselves and accountable to nobody.

Seriously, Vick has to grovel and beg for his career in front of Goodell, but Snyder gets another slap on the back at the next owners’ meeting?

Go ahead, say it. Killing dogs is worse than scamming your own customers, even worse than suing them for pleading for relief from your obscenely-exorbitant ticket packages when the worldwide economy hits home for them. It’s a strong argument, and you don’t have to belong to PETA to buy it.

You can make that case – as long as you’re not one of the Redskins ticket-holders driven into bankruptcy and near destitution by one of the team’s breach-of-contract suits, while the team repossessed their tickets and re-sells them, often with the same brokers used by the team to re-sell other tickets at scalpers’ prices to opposing team’s fans while their own fans wonder why they can never get their hands on the seats they want.

If you were the fan (there was more than one) in the Post story who the team counsel called a liar … or the fan who was ridiculed because he was a mortgage broker who dared ask for a break on his tickets … or the fan who holds evidence that the team altered his ticket application to tie him into a long-term deal … or any of the fans who sat home on the Monday before Election Day last year and watched Steelers fans take over FedEx Field … even if all you did was read that the team’s various spokesmen (because Snyder couldn’t be bothered to comment on any of it) shrugged off all the accusations and complaints and sorrowful tales because they represented such a small fraction of the ticket-buying public … are you really more angry at Plaxico Burress?

Do Chris Henry’s bouts with the law enrage you more than the debt collectors who ring your phone off the hook because you lost a $66,000 judgment over tickets for the team you rooted for since before the previous stadium was named after RFK?

There’s criminal conduct, and Vick and Co. are surely guilty and are certainly serving their punishment, whether they’ve actually finished their jail terms or not. Then there are criminal-level breaches of trust against the people on whom your business relies, who literally make you rich and pay your bills and swallow your pitches about how they’re not just buying a superior product, but the integrity and credibility that hold it together.

Unless and until the Redskins offer proof to the contrary, they’re worse than the lenders who suckered eager homebuyers into houses they couldn’t afford. Even at their lowest, they never followed up on evicting the owners by suing them for their mortgage balances. When you fall behind payments for your car, or furniture, or wedding ring or plasma TV, do you get hauled into court after you get your stuff repossessed?

Hardly, if ever. Many teams the Post reached, in the NFL and other sports, claimed they don’t pull that on their struggling ticketholders, either. This is neither the NFL’s rule, nor policy, nor general practice. If you’re broke and can't pay any more, these team’s reasoning goes, it takes your tickets away. It doesn’t try to then drain you dry until you can’t buy so much as a movie ticket afterward.

The Redskins are different.

But even the Redskins wouldn’t try that if the commissioner of the sport truly was interested in safeguarding the good of the game for all the participants, not just the 32 billionaire entities who pay his salary.

So if Goodell doesn’t temporarily put aside his crusade against players who accidentally shoot themselves and step in on this, on behalf of Washington’s fans, and the fans of the entire NFL, then he isn’t worth the paper his contract is printed on.

He might as well join his partner atop the hierarchy of his league, the nouveau-riche owner of one of the most storied, legendary and profitable franchises in the sport’s history – and spit on the customers below.

(Photos: Goodell, Boston Herald; Snyder, slate.com)

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