After a tumultuous week of speculation regarding the future of the Washington Redskins, a week that saw the departures of several key players on both sides of the ball, the potential disenfranchisement of their would-be franchise quarterback, and the ongoing spate of covert Bigfoot-style photographs of a team apparel-clad general manager whom many held responsible for righting the ship, some supporters are saying enough is enough. Spurred on by momentum generated from blockbuster local news reporting and social media, fans have announced their intention to publicly demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the Redskins’ front office with a “March on Ashburn” planned for 8:00 AM on both Friday and Saturday at the team’s headquarters in Virginia.
Chad Rich, a retired US Army veteran and current government contractor, is responsible for organizing the effort. He created a Facebook page "Protest at Redskins Park" with an event for the demonstration that in a few short days has already received nearly a thousand engaged participants. For Rich, the past several days have been deeply personal and emotional. “I’m obsessed with the Redskins, and have been my entire life. My grandfather was a ‘Skins fan and my dad was too. I grew up in the area and was a season ticket holder. I got those tickets while I was still serving in the Army in 2009, but I let my tickets lapse in 2014 at the last horrible deep valley that the team dragged us all through.”
The goal of the grassroots effort is in many ways varied: “What I’m trying to accomplish is to give all these people a forum. If anything, it’s an opportunity for some shared group therapy in the parking lot,” said Rich. “I’m not delusional enough to think that Dan Snyder is going to see how upset we are, change his ways, and all of a sudden become Bob Kraft. But it’s not like there's an election where we can vote these guys out: we’re stuck with them. At the very least this will give the fans an arena to voice their feelings and displeasure.”
“I’m hoping that if the team feels enough pressure, enough heat, from enough fans, then maybe they’ll be coerced into doing the right thing.”
Much of the buzz generated by the protest came out of the blue; a pleasant surprise for the 36-year-old who had never taken part in an effort of this nature before now. “I didn’t really know how much traction this would get. I hoped that I wouldn’t be standing out there by myself, but it’s gotten a lot bigger than I could have imagined. I’ve never protested anything before, I’ve never set up a protest before. The Redskins are what I’m most passionate about, this has motivated me to want to do this for the first time.”
Like so many other fans, following the Redskins has served as an important weekly ritual for years, which Rich carried over to his time spent abroad in the military. “When I was deployed to the Middle East, if I was somewhere there was a television, I would get up in the middle of the night and watch the games. I’ve always cared, I have two kids now, and I’ve always wanted to pass a love for the Redskins on to them, but now it just doesn’t feel like that matters anymore.”
At a time of year that has traditionally been marked by a level of excitement and optimism, this year has turned out very differently. Washington entered the offseason with an estimated $45 million in cap space to sign free agents to develop a team that finished with a winning record in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992. With six draft picks in the first five rounds, fans finally felt that the franchise would finally capitalize on sound asset management that has previously eluded it during the Snyder era. But that short stint of relative progress and stability came crashing down in recent days, which led to the desire to directly voice fan frustrations.
“For the first time, I feel like completely apathetic towards the team. Articles are coming about free agency and I just don’t care.”
The news that has come out in recent days ended up being the driving force behind the movement. “It’s happened so many times and this was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back. They’ve been selling false hope for too many years. This is the lowest it’s ever gotten, even when in the past, it’s felt like we couldn’t get any lower. It’s made worse by the fact that after all the ups and downs over the years, our last, best chance at stability was a lie, and Scot McCloughan was actually being undermined throughout his tenure he wasn’t ever given freedom to do his job.”
As for the timing, Rich felt it was important not to wait. “It’s not official yet, that the team has been run into the ground, we’re still waiting on the confirmation that there’s going to be a parting of the ways, but this is a final opportunity to hold onto some hope. That’s why I wanted to do it now instead of waiting for a press release, if they even send one, that says the team is letting go their only actual football mind. Even though it feels like a foregone conclusion I’m trying to put up one last gasp effort.” My phone conversation with Rich took place Thursday evening just hours before the team officially announced that McCloughan was fired after two years on the job.
For Rich, this has the feeling of being a seminal moment in the 85-year franchise, which is what serves as the underlying hope for what the event might accomplish. “I want to get as many people as we can involved in trying to get the attention of the team; whether if it’s to come out for this march on Ashburn, or if it’s to motivate people to write emails or letters, or to make phone calls, or post on social media, I think it’s important to channel the rage and the frustration has just built up for so long. We need to make as much noise as possible until things start to change.”