District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry holds a one-of-a-kind Wheaties box that was presented to him in Washington on January 27, 1988 in honor of the NFC champions Washington Redskins. The box has a picture of Barry in a Redskins’ jersey on the cover. (UPI Photo/Files)
KevinE: I appreciate the time...first, how is your health? Everything OK after the kidney transplant?
Marion Barry: Fantastic. Oh man, this kidney is working very well. It's put on about 8-10 years. It was great.
KevinE: It was almost a decade that went by where Jack Kent Cooke was trying to find a new home for the Redskins. He desperately wanted to keep the team in the city, even after deals fell through in Virginia and Laurel, what happened where you and Jack Kent Cooke couldn't reach an agreement?
Marion Barry: When I left office in 1990, Jack Kent Cooke and I negotiated for 2 or 3 years back and forth and we came to a decision that .... well, he first wanted the city to pay for it. New stadium, pay for everything. And I said, 'No, we can't justify that.' But then he said, 'I'll build the stadium if you take care of the infrastructure.' And we were about two or three weeks away from signing the deal when Sharon Pratt Kelly came into office, and she blew it. She blew it. Then they decided to go to Maryland, and that's a tragic situation.
KevinE: So what went wrong?
Marion Barry: Well, I advised her. I said, "Sharon, Jack Kent Cooke does not want second and thirds [parties], he wants only principals to be involved." He would never negotiate with anybody but me, Sue Long, and the Army Board. I said 'Don't you not do that.' First thing she did was appoint an examiner who was a great lawyer, great person to be her representative and Jack Kent Cooke was in it then...they did the patting on the behind kind of thing, but Sharon didn't have the enthusiasm that I had for the project. So she didn't, and he said, 'I'm not negotiating anymore.'
KevinE: Dan Snyder recently won a lawsuit regarding the use of the name "Redskins," from your youth and growing up, you played a part in the Civil Rights Movement and have had to deal with many race issues, what is your take on the "Redskins" mascot name and do you think it is offensive to Native Americans?
Marion Barry: I agree with the Native Americans. I think it's degrading and disrespectful. This happened in a time when you didn't have that kind of attitude going on...you know, an era that went on that should have been changed to another name. You know, it's true, and there's others, the [Cleveland] Indians and other places. That's that. Now we have to figure out how we can get the Redskins back in the District of Columbia. I think it's going to be very, very difficult. For one, Snyder has a long term lease, he's invested millions of dollars in his enterprise. He's making money, and to come back to the district is my view wishful thinking, even though I'd like it to happen. It's wishful thinking.
KevinE: So even when RFK is demolished and the site is clear?
Marion Barry: You got a long term lease at Fedex Field. I think he has 8-12 years left in PG County. Bonds to repay back. Loans to repay back. State has consumed a lot of money with the access roads. It's logistically in Snyder's heart to come back....financially it's not a good deal.
(Quick Note: Lease for Fedex Field actually has 18 years left on it - through 2027)
KevinE: I remember as a kid how significant it was Doug Williams being the first African-American QB to start a Super Bowl. Did you ever get to speak with Doug Williams?
Marion Barry: Doug and I were very, very close. He was an outstanding QB. He went around to the schools in the city and advocated being the best you can be. He was a great athlete, a good sportsman, and a good person off the field. I remember going to San Diego when the Redskins played, and I had a chance to talk. And I remember he threw 5 successive touchdowns against Denver. That was hysterics. The tragedy is that the Redskins let him go.
KevinE: You were Mayor for multiple Super Bowls. Do have any good stories from those times?
Marion Barry: Well, probably the most exciting one was when we played in Tampa Bay...when we played Oakland. Lots of activities outside of the game. Friday and Saturday. A lot of friends about. It was just a great time. That's when Jack Kent Cooke was really riding high [laughing].
KevinE: I know back then it was very social where politicians mingled with players often. Was that the case?
Marion Barry: Oh yea. Very much. In fact I stayed at the hotel with the Redskins players. That gave me a chance. Oh yea, I knew a lot of them personally.
KevinE: The Fun Bunch?
Marion Barry: [laughing] Yea! hehe. I remember the John Riggins years too!! [laughing] He was on board at Tampa Bay. In fact, a friend of mine and I were sitting at this bar/nightclub celebrating Friday night and he kept saying "Riggins who?! Riggins who?! I said, "Man, stop all that noise, you know? Put your money where your mouth is. So I put down a $100." ... "Riggy who! Riggy who! Riggy who! Riggy who!" And I said, "Let's go one more!" and he said "No, I'm not going...I'm already dead because I lost my money" because Oakland beat us. But the whole atmosphere was different then then it is now. Not just because of the situation. NFL is more business now than the will to play and the passion. With these millions of dollars out there. There's still some good players in DC. Incidentally, I talked to Ricky Harris last week and he's putting together a reunion with former Redskin players and fans sometime this summer or fall. And that's it.
KevinE: How is the stadium deal coming along for the DC United?
Marion Barry: Awful. Mayor Fenty's blown it. We can't recover from it. Times moved on. This administration does not support the United at all. They do not support the United. He says he does but he doesn't. [I can picture his staff assistants giving the cut throat gesture]. OK, I gotta make another call. Thank you.
Ok. So now I'm antsy to talk with Riggins and get his stories from partying with Marion Barry. If you haven't heard already, HBO has a documentary coming out on Barry.