Joe Gibbs oversees workouts during the Washington Redskins' August 2005 training camp.Photo by flickr user dbking [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A letter to Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington NFL Franchise:
Dear Mr. Snyder,
The year I was born, my father paid two 16 year-olds to camp out overnight to buy two season tickets to the team you and I both love. Those tickets have been in my family ever since. I am writing to you now to let you know why I feel compelled to give them up. But first, some history.
My first game was a pre-season game against the Chicago Bears when I was five. I have loved the team ever since. I attended nearly every game in my early childhood because the ticket takers allowed me to duck under the turnstile and the ushers let me sit the small gap between my father’s two seats in Section 320 without having a ticket. I rooted for Sonny Jurgensen, Charlie Taylor, Bobby Mitchell, Jerry Smith and the like with everything I had, even though we lost more than we won.
I was hopeful when Vince Lombardi came to coach and was saddened when he died on the verge of what seemed like inevitable success. When George Allen came and revived the franchise, I was able to attend my first playoff game, a 16-3 victory over Green Bay in 1971. Even though we lost Super Bowl VII that season, I knew that this would be my team forever.
I am 7-0, all-time, attending home playoff games. I went to our playoff games in the 1971, 1981, 1987 and 1991 seasons. Three of my children were born in the latter three seasons, in which we won the Super Bowl. If I could have had more children, just to win more Super Bowls, I might have done so. My brother attended Super Bowl XVIII against the Raiders and my sister attended the 2013 playoff game against the Seahawks and we both know how they ended. So, you see, this franchise and I have history.
When I was young I told my parents that there were only two things I wanted when they died. One was the franchise season tickets and the other was a 1493 Samurai sword that my father was given as a U.S. GI of Japanese heritage while serving in Japan after World War II. Before my father died, our family agreed to transfer the season ticket rights to me.
But, I feel like this franchise has been dysfunctional since the day Jack Kent Cooke died and didn’t leave the team to his son. Looking back, that was the beginning of the end. You have the right to run this team as you see fit. It’s your team. But it’s been my team, too. And the only right I have is to vote with my wallet. That is what I’m doing now.
I hailed (yes that’s the term) the arrival of Bruce Allen in December 2009. He had football credentials and was the son of a franchise icon to boot. I even dismissed the criticisms that he was in charge of publicity events and uniforms. I was even happier when Scot McCloughan was hired because I knew that he knew how to build a winning franchise. I could only hope that you would let him do that. Now, Mr. McCloughan is gone and it’s pushed me over the edge.
You see, I’ve known since my time in seminary in the early 90’s that our team’s name needed to change. As the son of a man who was interned during WWII and who was called “Jap” for much of his life, the name didn’t feel right to me. Yet, life is filled with ambiguity and I let my love of the franchise and its winning tradition outweigh what I knew in my heart was the right thing to do. A friend from seminary used to call me a fence-sitter. He would say, “One day, Shitama, you’re going to have to take a stand.” In my own small way, that’s what I’m doing now. I publicly apologize to my Native American friends for not doing the right thing sooner. Maybe if you had changed the name, I wouldn’t be taking this action now.
My biggest regret is that I waited this long. I thought Norv Turner was on the right track and he was fired. Same for Marty Schottenheimer. I believed Joe Gibbs II would turn things around, but I realize now that he tired of fighting the dysfunction. I can’t even count the number of stars who came here and failed and the number of players that left and became stars. My hope was revived when the Shanahans came and when RGIII was drafted. The 2012 season made me a believer. But that vanished into thin air as we screwed it up in more ways than I can count.
The combination of Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and Kirk Cousins finally felt like the ticket. The real deal. Maybe the reports of Mr. McCloughan’s alcohol problems are true. If so, I could only hope that you would have found a different way to handle this. You hired him, knowing his background, yet didn’t give him the tools or the power to succeed, let alone the support that someone like him would need. I’m not excusing him, but the buck stops with you and the results speak for themselves. Let’s face it, since you took over, this franchise has ruined more careers than it has made. More than anything, this feels like a power struggle between Mr. Allen and Mr. McCloughan and now we know who won. I may be wrong, but my sense of foreboding is now so overwhelming that I am cancelling the season tickets that have been in my family since 1961.
The sword that I mentioned was given to my father when the order was given to destroy all weapons in post WWII Japan. The mayor of the town in which my dad was serving asked him to take it because it was too much of a treasure to be destroyed. Two decades ago, my father and mother travelled to Japan to return the sword to its original family. My dad knew he could never possess something that never really belonged to him. His action epitomized the word “Honor.”
You own this team, Mr. Snyder. You can refuse to change the name. You can choose Bruce Allen over Scot McCloughan, rather than finding a way to help a talented professional do his best work for you. You can, once again, turn your back on building a winning franchise. If you change the name AND build a winner in the way that the Patriots, Steeler and Packers have proven, then I will definitely be back. I might even come back if you did just the former. I am not holding my breath. You can run your team, our team, the way you want. My right is to refuse to support it financially in any way. So that is what I will do. The irony is that I will have neither the Samurai sword nor the season tickets. But I will have my honor. Better late than never.
The Rev. Jack Shitama serves as executive director of Pecometh Camp & Retreat Ministries in the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference. He blogs at Christian Leaders, from which this post is republished with the author's permission.