- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 29, 2009

If you’re looking for something to be glad about this morning, Redskins rooters - impossible as that might sound - just be glad Dan Snyder isn’t the director of homeland security. After hearing about what happened at FedEx Field on Monday night, about fans having their signs confiscated as they shuffled through the gates, I’d hate to see how Dan would enforce the Patriot Act.

It doesn’t matter what silly spin the organization wants to put on this. It still comes across as censorship, the stifling of dissent, when some of the signs taken away voice displeasure with the owner and the man who does his bidding, Vinny Cerrato. It’s one thing if the sign uses foul language or blocks the view of an entire section; it’s another when it merely exercises the fan’s First Amendment rights.

This is the price you pay, Dan, when you buy a franchise with a large and passionate following. Your customers are going to have a strong emotional attachment to the team - to the point of wearing pig snouts and painting their faces burgundy and gold. And when things go horribly wrong, as they have this season, these same customers will vent - on message boards, on radio call-in shows and, yes, even on signs they brandish at ballgames. As a businessman, would you want it any other way?

This is a spigot you never want to turn off. This is the key to the league’s - and the Redskins’ - phenomenal success, this bond that has been built up over the decades between clubs and their fans. Mess with that, suspend the fans’ Bill of Rights because they might say something mean about you on a sign and you risk losing them… forever.

But then, this isn’t the first time Snyder has displayed a curious interpretation of the First Amendment. In his early days as an owner, he cut back on the number of press box seats allotted to this newspaper because he felt it was being too critical of him. Back then, a lot of fans were excited by Dan because he was young and brash and threw money around like he was playing Monopoly. Over time, though, Redskins Nation came to see what we at The Washington Times saw right away - that youth, brashness and profligacy don’t get you to the Super Bowl.

Freedom of the press is such a frightening concept to Snyder that he felt the need to buy a string of radio stations. This, he figured, would enable him to get the club’s “message” out unfiltered. Then there’s RedskinsTV and Redskins.com - all part of his propaganda machine. The thing is, much of the streaming video on the Web site is just footage of the media - the dreaded media - interviewing players and staff. (Still, it gives me a warm feeling to know I help provide Dan with programming.)

More recently, Snyder has been warring with The Washington Post, perhaps his biggest booster in the beginning. He took hundreds of season tickets away from the paper a while back, claiming it wasn’t fair that a single entity hogged so many seats when so many fans were stuck on the waiting list. Later, in a lovely bit of irony, the Post broke a story about the team funneling tickets to ticket agencies - and it was discovered that one agency got more tickets than the Post ever did.

Snyder, of course, was said to be “livid” when he found out about it. What isn’t clear, because he almost never speaks publicly anymore, is whether he was “livid” that his ticket office would operate that way or “livid” that somebody found out about it.

With Snyder, there always has to be a Them, it seems - as in “Us vs.” It’s what drives him, keeps his juices percolating. When he was high school, Them might been the cool kids who cruised by him in the hallway without so much as a nod. After he dropped out of college, Them might have been the venture capitalists who didn’t share his vision, wouldn’t front him money for his business brainstorms. Once he got Snyder Communications going, Them was his competition in the kill-or-get-taken-over marketing field. And since he bought the Redskins, Them has been the Cowboys, the Giants, the Eagles and the media (the unofficial fifth member of his Personal NFC East).

But now Dan appears preoccupied with a different Them: the fans. He’s taken legal action against some who, in these tough financial times, couldn’t afford to pay for the premium seats they had contracted for. And this season he invented some ridiculous pretense (spectator safety?) for banning signs from FedEx Field, an all-too-transparent attempt to quash customer complaints.

And yet, Cerrato tells us his boss is taking the Redskins’ 2-5 start hard and is “disappointed for the fans.” Snyder can’t tell us this himself because he’s off to France this week, presumably searching for his next coaching consultant among the croupiers and roulette-wheel spinners. This is what’s known in the NFL as “getting out of Dodge.”

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