Out of the West: Washington on the warpath over Redskins

WASHINGTON - Like Presidents they are courted. Mayors of great cities and governors of states dance like puppets to their every whim. They are offered kings' ransoms for their favours. They are exempt from their country's ferocious anti- trust legislation. Not for them the rules of competition.

Who are these fortunate individuals? They are, as Washington is discovering to its horror, the owners of America's major league sports franchises.

With the election barely three months off this may be the high season of politics. But if one thing exercises Washington's collective mind more than politics, it is the fate of the city's one indigenous, non-political jewel, the Washington Redskins football team.

Eight months ago, on their way to their umpteenth Superbowl, the Redskins ran into a little bother over their name, held to be an insult to American Indians. But now true disaster looms. If present plans hold, Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins' Canadian-born owner, may simply take the team out of the District of Columbia lock, stock and barrel.

At first you wonder why all the fuss. Geographically the proposed move is a tiny one - just five miles into northern Virginia and Potomac Yard, a decaying railway freight depot.

For years the 54,000-seat RFK Stadium, the Redskins' current home just beyond Capitol Hill, has been far too small. So what more obvious solution than for Mr Cooke to build a new 78,600-capacity stadium which, had it been settled sooner, could well have been the venue of the final of the soccer World Cup, to be hosted by the US in 1994?

Matters, alas, are not so simple. In some respects the US may be a uniquely homogenous country. But when it comes to sports teams and their stadiums, America's modern metropolises are rivals as fierce as medieval Italian city states.

New Yorkers of a certain age can still be heard to lament that their city's true decline began when the Dodgers and Giants baseball teams left for the West Coast in that baleful year of 1958. Washington's present agony is no less acute. It lost its baseball team in 1971, and its basketball and ice-hockey teams play in Maryland. Were the capital to lose the Redskins, it would be without a major sports franchise for the first time this century.

Here the owners of the country's 26 major league baseball teams and 28 football teams call every shot. They operate veritable cartels, with no promotion, no relegation and no newcomers. They can sell franchises where and to whom they please.

Last year, true, two baseball expansion franchises were created and auctioned off at dollars 95m ( pounds 50m) apiece, but that was the exception. You may start a a company or even a new political party from scratch - but not a major league sports team. No wonder cities are desperate to cling to the ones they have.

Baltimore, having just splashed out dollars 100m on a new baseball stadium to keep the Orioles in town, is now ready to spend as much on another one, to attract a football team.

And so to the great melodrama of the Redskins, DC, and the state of Virginia. Imagine the owners of Liverpool FC negotiating in vain with the city fathers for a subsidised, brand new Anfield. They cannot get the terms they want, so secretly they hold talks with Warrington New Town. One morning, to Merseyside's horror, the announcement comes: Warrington will pay for a custom designed stadium: the Reds are going and Anfield can rot.

That in a nutshell is what has happened here. Mr Cooke has been talking to DC authorities about a new Redskins stadium but to no avail. 'You know, my dear lady, you're just like my wife,' he is said to have remarked to Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.

A fortnight ago the bombshell duly arrived. Mr Cooke had agreed with the Virginia Governor, Douglas Wilder, on Potomac Yard. The project will cost Mr Cooke dollars 160m, but sweetened with revenue rights that will permit him to cover the outlay in six or seven years. Mr Wilder is throwing in dollars 130m of Virginia taxpayers' money, which is unlikely to be recouped quite so fast.

Environmentalists, local protest groups and of course Mayor Kelly are up in arms: if she loses the Redskins, she is most likely to lose her job as well. Mr Wilder, however, sees the capture of the team as the perfect springboard for his expected bid for a US Senate seat in 1994. The outcome is uncertain. Maybe it will be farewell to the Washington Redskins, and a politically correct welcome to the Potomac Yard Native Americans. Maybe a city's pride will yet be saved. One way or another, though, Mr Cooke will have his way.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little