Ask Boswell: NFL, MLB, NBA and Washington sports

Jul 20, 2020

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Washington Football Team, Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, the NFL and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Since our last chat on June 22nd, it seems like an almost unbelievable number of things have changed. 

The Washington Football Club has gotten so much heat –from disgusted corporate sponsors and owner Dan Snyder’s own partners (who reportedly want to sell their stake in the franchise), as well as the NFL itself—that the team has announced that it will change its name from “Redskins” –the last time I’ll probably type that—to the Washington Somethings. 

Note: For many years I’ve simply called them the Skins in this chat –my rationalization, it’s like pick-up games when I was a kid when you play “shirts vs skins.” 

I’ll be curious to see how many dozen times I still call them the “Skins.” It took me five years to get “Bullets” turned into “Wizards” in my head, and my typing. 

Footnote to note: A few years ago I once went 18 months without ever using the team nickname in a column. But I never mentioned that I was not using it. Not ONE PERSON mentioned it to me, including my editors. No e-mails. No “comments” under columns. 

But if I had SAID that I wasn’t using the name, the reaction would have been the predictable heated debate. I mention this because I couldn’t figure it out –to my satisfaction—then and still can’t. The closest I can come is to say that this is a country which has become full of fury –I can’t chart how much it has increased or when—and that this politicized anger is constantly looking for places to express its (usually) destructive energy. But it needs a Culture Wars flag to be waved to ignite the hurtful flames. 

As I mentioned about six weeks ago, I grew up in a family which always viewed the team name the way most people now view it –as something that needed to be changed. My shorthand for this was that my dad’s views –85 years ago—very much resembled those of Bernie Sanders in recent years. 

He was also a huge Skins fan. He thought the world, and America had 10,000 bigger problems of racial prejudice and class inequality that were REALLY important that needed to be addressed before you got around to “team nicknames.” 

But, of course, my parents ASSUMED that, in a reasonable amount of time, the name would be one of MANY small symbolic things which would naturally change as indications of greater equality and justice in our society. 

If you address and change the big things, the smaller things fall in line. Neither of them –my mom was a centrist Republican, like (long forgotten) Nelson Rockefeller)—could have imagined that it would take 58 years after Bobby Mitchell integrated the team for the club to can the nickname. But then they could never have imagined how much America has regressed from the ideals which they fought for. 

I remember asking my mother what my father gave her as a wedding present in ’41. She showed me a large book in the center of the living room library: “Jefferson on Democracy.” 

It’s a sad state (for me) when --79 years after that present was given— it is “progress” to get rid of Skins. But I guess, sometimes, you have to take what you get –and hope that it is symbolic of “a time of change.” 

Sorry to digress, but the Washington Football Club under Snyder, because it seems to represent so much that should change, but seldom does, makes me think of the lessons I was taught so long ago. Last week, I looked up a number in ’20 U.S. government stats that would have been my dad’s way of pointing to the Problem Under the Problem which drives the problem. You’d think that the AVERAGE Net Worth of a household of a country and the MEDIAN Net Worth –half with more wealth and half with less— of households would not be terribly far apart. But right now, that gap is almost incomprehensibly wide. The AVERAGE net worth is $692,000 per household –reflective of an enormously wealthy country. But the MEDIAN net worth per household is only $97,000. That’s only one SEVENTH as much. 

Why? 

Of course, it’s because the top 1 percent in the U.S. have moved above 20 percent of the wealth (net worth). That gap has been increasing steadily for 50 years –since 1970. When people long for the “good old days,” I guess I’ll have to put myself in the camp that longs for 1970 when the rich were rich, the poor were poor, capitalism was working perfectly well but the gap was “only” huge, but not insanely, destructively obscene. 

How does this pertain to a football team, one which many women employees (15 in a recent Post story) accuse of workplace sexual harassment? Because it’s part of the same patchwork quilt of systemic problems that this country –throughout my life—has failed to confront. Let the rich get richer. (As Warren Buffett, one of my heroes, says, “If there is class warfare in this country, my class is winning.”) But also fail to face inequality of opportunity and treatment in the workplace, whether it is by race, gender, sexual preference –whatever. 

So, moving along, I’m told that the MLB season starts on Thursday with the Nats (Scherzer) vs Yanks (Cole). I’d love to talk about THAT! BTW, I haven’t chatted since June 22nd because I had (scheduled) surgery on my left eye on the 24th and emergency surgery on my right eye (detached retina) on the 30th. Scary week. But both surgeries went very well. I have my next eye checkup tomorrow. I can see fine out of my left eye –and it should keep getting better for the next couple of months. My right eye has a “bubble” in it to keep the retina in place while it heals. So, I can see light, colors and shapes out of it but I can’t “read” with it –well, I can see that the big word at the top of the Sports page is “Sports.” 

That will gradually improve over the next month and I should have as good or better vision by Labor Day as I had on Easter. IOW, really good news. 

One nice result: the left eye gets tired after a while, so this may be a fairly short chat. 

To a degree, I apologize for the sociology, but the Washington Football Club, when it finally changes its nickname, plus the harassment changes and all the other Snyder-era problems, kind of force anybody with half a brain (or one eye) in that direction. 

(Besides, every time a pandemic coincides with two eye surgeries in a week, I tend to get grouchy.) 

So, let's go. And all optimistic or cheerful thoughts encouraged!

What is your impression of the new extra-inning rule - with a runner starting each extra inning on second base? Why didn’t the players union resist such an awful rule change?

It's a horrible gimmick. And I hope it dies a horrible death.

I hope, on the last day of the regular season, if MLB gets that far in the face of the pandemic, that the most important game of the mini-yer is decided by some such preposterous extra-inning fluke.

MLB is using its 60-game season --which should have been 80+-- to try every "Watch Us!" ploy to prove that they are up with the times, hip, open to change. That's good --when its moving toward electronic umps calling balls and strikes. It's ridiculous when you introduce a rule which says: Our game is so boring, and our fans have such a short attention span, that we have to change the game so that there will NEVER be another 12-inning game. 

You know, like the 12-inning Game Seven of the '24 World Series --won by the Washington Senators and Walter Johnson (in relief)-- which is sometimes selected as The Best Game Evrr Played. 

Hey Tom- So the NBA, NHL, and MLB are all scheduled to restart (or just start, in MLB's case) in the next 10 days, and the NFL has training camps theoretically opening up. Do you think any of them manage to pull this off? My personal bet: the NHL makes it through the post-season because they're bubbling in Canada, the NBA *maybe* does, but loses a few players to injured-reserve COVID because they're in Florida, MLB starts getting positive tests after a few weeks of travelling from city to city and has to cancel at least a couple games, but tries to lumber along to some sort of bubbled-off post-season, and the NFL has a couple outbreaks in training camps and never gets its season off the ground. I miss having the day to day joy of a baseball season and sports in general, but man, most of these restarts sure seem like a bad idea.

When I saw your question, I said, "Great. That's one I'd loved to answer." Then you went and said almost EXACTLY what I think about every one of those leagues. I don't think I've ever agreed with everything in a "question" which had this many points to make. It actually feels weird.

Playing in Canada is a big advantage because they have had a normal competent response to the pandemic --typical of the average industrialized-world country. 

Back in April, Canada had plenty of Covid problems, just like the U.S., averaging about 1800 new cases and 175 deaths a day. But they flattened the curve and turned it down LONG ago. On Sunday, Canada had 339 new cases --versus more than 65,000 in the U.S.-- and FOUR deaths, while the U.S. has been averaging more than 900 deaths a day for the last 10 days.

The reason the federal government in Canada won't let the Blue Jays play home games in Toronto is because the visiting teams would be coming from America, one of the more backward and dangerous places on earth in coping with Covid.

With all the contact, hockey SHOULD be a very difficult sport to play without having virus outbreaks. If the NHL can pull it off, a main reason will be Canada's ability to do sufficient testing, tracing, etc.

I doubt the NFL will ever get started. The traditional "flu season" --December through February-- is, more generally, "happy time for viruses of all kinds." Even if the NFL gets going, it's going to hit the Second Wave by November. BTW, a "second wave" with viruses is the rule, not the exception. It was the second wave in late 1918 that turned that pandemic from bad to insanely awful. Back then, Americans "thought it was over" or that the worst was over, and celebrated --with a huge parade in Philadelphia as a prime example. Then the Influenza went crazy. In the end, 675,000 Americans died (estimate) in that pandemic --more than died in combat in WWI (116,516) and WWII (407,000) combined.

The NBA picked just about the worst possible state to put its bubble --because they made the decision when it looked like a good place. Ironic that even New York City might look more sensible today!     . 

The Case of Freddie Freeman shows the larger problems of trying to play through this thing. He got Covid-19 --and it hit him hard and fast, in a 48-hour period-- around the 4th of July and, at one point, he had a fever of 104. 5, was afraid that if he went to sleep his fever might spike even higher and he didn't know what would happen. In the night, he says he played, "'Please don't take me,' because I'm not ready."

Statistically, and I've tried to make a sensible guesstimate, out of the 2,200-plus people who are involved in the restart of MLB, I'd guess that there would be one or two deaths --not saying players, just people in that group or their immediate relatives. IMO, MLB will be lucky if it is ZERO. 

The whole country is coping with various versions of this: What is the value of a life versus the economic damage done --and all the ramifications of that damage-- to absolutely minimize virus cases and deaths?

Of course, the proper answer was Do It Right The First Time, You Dopes, like countries all over the world. But now we may not have a "good answer" or good options, just choices among poor to bad options.

The difference when we talk about sports is that playing baseball, for example, will be a spirit-lifter to many (probably including me), and will make the players about $1.4B in salaries --a big deal to them. But nit is completely non-essential to a functioning society. It will use testing and PPE resources that are STILL in short supply. 

And if you favorite player, or someone in his family, has a bad outcome --and Covid can do plenty of lasting damage short of death-- how will you, and all fans feel?

For that matter, how will we feel if it is ANYBODY --someone we never heard of who never gets on the field-- who has a bad outcome?

Personally, I'm glad that MLB is coming back --no matter how goofy it looks. I will be VERY curious about how I feel --and how you chatters feel-- after we have seen a week or two of games. Will we be 90-percent engaged? Or will we be saying, "This is probably a mistake --driven by money." 

My view that I will enjoy the games, as a fan and writer, is ENTIRELY different than saying, "What would you do if you had the POWER --and the RESPONSIBILITY-- to determine what to do."

If I did, I would cancel the 2020 season.

I would NOT consider it an easy decision, as some do. But that would be my call. This is NOT "having it both ways." It's just reality. The most fun my wife and I have had since March 15th was driving to sit in the CVS Pharmacy drive-in line for 15 minutes on Saturday evening.. That has been our "summer v so far --so I'm NOT going to tell myself, "Don't you dare enjoy a Nats game." 

But if I had THE vote --like an ump-- on the 2020 season, I'd say, "Bang it!"

Not much happened while you were gone; don't imagine there will be very many questions. Maybe the latest golf tournament?

I considered making a list of everything "big" that has happened since my last column: "America Can't Act Like a Team." on June 24.

But the lust got too long.

One slightly interesting thing --to me-- is that I have been aware of the huge difference between lucky people like me who have been able to work from home (and still have a job) during the pandemic and the enormous number of people who have MUCH worse problems --health or finances-- than my mere boredom. Even my eye surgeries only moved me part of the way toward that might be called The Misery Median in this country. But it may be useful in cultivating a proper level of empathy on my part to remember that I am STILL way on the "lucky" side of the spectrum. Which focuses you on how really awful it must be for all those MILLIONS --with Covid, without jobs, losing a business or career they've worked years for-- who truly have it "bad."

This just reminds you that something as big and destructive as a pandemic is NEVER "about me."  .    

Always been a negative for the league. Why wouldn't they run him off now when the opportunity hasn't been better?

Precedent.

He's proven over more than 20 years that he is a lousy owner. But his team only has the sixth-worst NFL record --I think that's right, I always have to look it up-- during his time, not The Very Worst Record.

Other owner don't want to set a precedent of expelling merely-bad owners. Why, isn't it to their advantage to KEEP Snyder, and a few other like him, IN the league so they have easy games on their schedule?

Also, Snyder has a cheesy, sleazy product in a dump of a stadium. That's bad. But is it grounds for expulsion?

The Annals of Snyder's mistreatment, gouging and disregard for his fans has become legendary. But do other owners want to set a precedent of saying, "Treat your customers fairly OR ELSE." That could backfire on any of them.

The harassment issue should be a huge deal to the NFL. Will it be? Where was Robert Kraft in the hours before the Super Bowl? This isn't a league with high regard --or in my experience ANY regard-- for women.

In '87, I wrote the "99 Reasons Why Baseball Is Better Than Football." Reason No. 3 was "Cheerleaders at halftime with bands." Objectification of women is core to the NFL culture. Burlesque at midfield isn't my taste --or one of my values. . And it wasn't 33 years ago, either.  

Final answer to your question: It doesn't look like there is he NF: to act on Snyder.

But that may still change. His partners want to get as far away from him as they can. Over the years, only two owners have driven their partners so crazy that one of them called me out of the blue just to cry-a-river about how bad a guy he was to be in business with: Angelos and Snyder..

There's probably only one way to drive Snyder out of his ownership role --have every local Washington jurisdiction refuse to ave anything to do with building him a new stadium.

The NFL loves owners who can get new money-minting stadiums. It hates owners who can't. It drives franchise values down. You'd think that NOBODY would voluntarily want to hook arms --and fates-- with Snyder on something which could go as wrong as a new stadium, with him getting the long end and the politicians who link up with him going down in infamy. But you never know. If you want bitter irony, here's an example: Dumping the team nickname may actually HELP Snyder get a stadium built, which will help him remain the owner FOREVER.

Yet another example of "be careful what you wish for."

Or just take a pass on 2020?

See how it goes.

I have a good friend who if you can believe it, is an even bigger sports fan --=more teams in more sports--than I am. Last week, he said, "I'm surprised at myself --I don't care if ANY of the sports come back this year. Just shut it all down, then come back in '21."

I'm not THERE. But I get it.

I teased him and said, "How many summer nights, watching a Nats game, rather than thinking about everything that's wrong in the world, will it take for you to be back 'into it.'"

"Probably about three games," he said, laughing. "Or maybe two."  

 

Keep the 'Skins part of it while dumping the racial slur -- sort of like the idea of renaming Woodrow Wilson High School for former DC Council Chairperson John Wilson. Plus, it ties in to the glorious history of the Hogs; they could use the pig snouts for the logo. And the song could easily be rewritten: Hogs on the Rampage, etc. What's not to like? Plus, it shows that the team owner has a bit of a sense of humor. (Well, maybe that's the problem.) HTTP

I've heard that one before --and always sort of like it. But in the context that I have NEVER heard a new nickname that I particularly liked.

No, "pig" isn't going to work with this owner.

But nice try.

Swampcritters --'Critters" for short?

No, probably not.

I am informed that my editors have me on a "tight pitch count" with my eye and am, pretty much, ordered to stop! 

Now those are the kinds of editors you want!

 

 

As a "Redskins" fan growing up in the 80s, I hid under my blanket for most of the seasons since the mid 90s. With every quick-fix promise served up by Snyder, I often turned to you and asked "is it safe" to be a fan again. Your answer was always "probably not." You were correct. Now that the "Redskins" no longer exist, it's finally safe. They will NEVER come back, not even in one of those nostalgic-throw-back-uniform marketing ploys. For alot of usm the Redskins died many years ago, murdered at the hands of Dan Snyder. It's just taken them this long to arrange the funeral. Thankfully and mercifully, it's finally official. This forces "Redskins" fans to put the team aside, AND best of all, it enables us to keep our happy memories forever; the legacy of our "Redskins" belongs to the ages, eternally protected from any further distortion at the hands of Mr. Snyder. What other fans on earth get to do this? What other kid gets to watch their favorite team dominate throughout their entire childhood, and then once it became clear that the team will never be the same, the team gets safely locked away? It's finally safe!

Now THAT is a unique perspective!

But I definitely get it as someone who has sung HTTR with my parents, with my son and with all of us.

After Riggins TD run in the SB I'll never forget my parents out on the front porch beating pots with a big spoon as other people came out of their row houses with their own noise makers. No matter how clear;y you understand that the name needed to change, that doesn't mean it isn't in your heart.

In an odd way, that's now safe. Sure woulda been better 20+ years ago. 

That's it for today. See you all next week. Stay safe and, with SOME games coming back, "cheers," too.

In This Chat
Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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