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Federal Government Threatens To Hold Up New Redskins Stadium Unless Team Changes Name

Washington Redskins Helmet

In the latest round in the ongoing saga involving the name of the Washington Redskins, the Obama Administration is apparently threatening to block efforts by the team to build a new stadium in Washington, D.C. unless the team name is changed:

Efforts to lure the Washington Redskins back to the District have come up against a potentially insurmountable challenge: the Obama administration’s objections to the team’s name.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser this spring that the National Park Service, which owns the land beneath Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, was unlikely to accommodate construction of a new stadium for the Redskins unless the team changes its name.

Jewell oversees both national park land and America’s trust and treaty relationships with Native American tribes.

Her decision not to extend the District’s lease of the RFK land badly hinders Bowser’s bid to return the Redskins to D.C. — and boosts efforts to lure the team across the Potomac to Northern Virginia.

Since joining the Obama administration two years ago, Jewell has repeatedly echoed the president’s concern that the name is offensive to Native Americans. Last fall she called the name a “relic of the past” that should be changed.

“Personally, I think we would never consider naming a team the ‘Blackskins’ or the ‘Brownskins’ or the ‘Whiteskins.’ So, personally, I find it surprising that in this day and age, the name is not different,” Jewell told ABC News.

Jewell reiterated that position with Bowser (D) at an April 27 meeting, telling the mayor that she was unlikely to rework the lease terms for a stadium in part because of the team’s name, according to a Department of the Interior spokeswoman, Jessica Kershaw.

Team owner Daniel Snyder, who insists that the moniker honors Native Americans, has vowed never to change it.

Bowser, jockeying with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to land the team’s new stadium, had inquired with Park Service officials about extending the District’s lease for the RFK property to allow for a new stadium. Extending the lease would also require congressional action.

Jewell  “did mention in that meeting that she was uncomfortable with the name,” Kershaw said. “The president has said something similar, that he is uncomfortable with the name, and she clearly clarified that position.”

A second factor the secretary raised, Kershaw said, was that with just 18 months remaining in the Obama administration, re-working the lease was not likely to be a top concern before the president leaves office. D.C. owns RFK stadium but leases the 190 acres beneath the stadium as well as surrounding parking lots and land from the park service. The lease expires in 22 years.

“Given the timing, this is not likely to be a priority for this administration,” Kershaw said.

Robert A. Vogel, regional director of the Park Service, responded formally to the mayor’s request for a lease extension in a May 19 letter.

“As I believe the Secretary made clear in our discussion, the NPS will not take a position in support of such an extension at this time,” he wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “You are, of course, free to seek such legislation without NPS support.”

The Park Service’s position hampers Bowser’s bid to return the team to the city from FedEx Field, in Prince George’s County, a stadium that is only 18 years old but that the team is trying to vacate before its lease there expires in 2026. Team officials, citing fan complaints about the stadium’s configuration, have removed seats from FedEx three times in five years.

Bowser spokesman Michael Czin declined to comment. Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie also declined to comment.

The Redskins current stadium, FedEx Field, is less than twenty years old and many people have expressed skepticism about the idea of opening a new stadium even while the useful life of the current facility is certainly nowhere near its end. At the same time, though, the moves to put the Washington Nationals in a stadium in the city and move the city’s soccer team, D.C. United, to a new facility in town rather than the Virginia suburbs as had been threatened has led many city leaders to call on the team to move back into the city. Additionally, the location of FedEx Field has long been a sore point with fans due to its inconvenient lack of access to mass transit and the fact that traffic on game days on the Washington Beltway in the area by the stadium generally grinds to a halt , As a result, it’s been an open secret for the past several years that the Redskins are looking for a new stadium and that they’d prefer to move back into the District proper if possible.

The logistical arguments about a new stadium aside, this is obviously just another example of how the Federal Government has been trying to pressure the Redskins into changing their team name over the past several years as well as a broader social campaign about the issue that has led some sportscasters to even stop saying the name “Redskins.” As I noted when the Patent and Trademark Office issued its ruling revoking some of the team’s trademarks, a ruling that is currently under appeal, even conceding the point that some may find the name “Redskins” offensive, there’s something troubling about the government using  pressure and the law to force a private business to conform to its standards of propriety. There’s nothing illegal about the team name, nor should there be, and it really shouldn’t be the business of government officials to force Dan Snyder or anyone else to bend to their will like this. From what I’ve read today, many people who have been calling for the name of the team to change thing that the Federal Government has the team over a barrel here because the Department of Interior would need to approve and future use of the land where RFK Stadium is currently located. I tend to doubt it, though. There are several other parts of the city where a stadium could be built, including the areas near Nationals Park, or more likely the area known as Buzzard’s Point where the United are building their new stadium. If that doesn’t work, then the team is likely to either stay where they are for now, or look to Virginia for a location like they did two decades ago. In any case, as I’ve said before, the name of the Redskins will change when the owners of the team are ready to do it. That’s how it ought to be and the Federal Government really needs to stay out of this.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    Snyder is free to seek another location if he finds the governments position too restrictive for his needs.

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  2. Slugger says:

    Let me kidnap this thread a bit since this is one of those subjects on which no amount of well reasoned argument on either side will change anyone’s mind.
    I kind of like NFL football, but I deeply object to any expenditure of public funds which includes loan guarantees to build stadia. When the people of Seattle voted to give loan guarantees for the Seachicken stadium, I thought they were insane. Guaranteeing a loan for Paul Allen was crazy. Spending tax money for sports facilities is a money losing rip-off every time.

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  3. anjin-san says:

    @Slugger:

    Slugger – could not agree more. No public funds for billionaire toys. AT&T Park in SF was privately funded and it is the best baseball park in the world. Let’s use the money to fix roads and build hospitals.

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  4. Mu says:

    He should move and rename – Virginia Redskins

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  5. grumpy realist says:

    Well, it’s a trademark thing. I’m not certain why the government is making a fuss about this at present–I’m more along the lines of “call yourselves no matter what you want–if you piss off people with your name, nobody will come. Just don’t ask the government to provide you with tax breaks or extra $ for your stadium.”

    And totally OT, but it looks like the younger you are, the more likely you are to vote “NO” in the Greek referendum. The older you are, the more likely you are to vote “YES”.

    (There was a very good article in Bloomberg pointing out that Tsipras doesn’t really have a background except in student activism, so it’s no wonder he’s trying to run the government the same way. )

    Oh, and Varoufakis has been running around claiming that there’s an offer on the table from the rest of Europe and the rest of Europe has been saying “What have you been smoking?!”

    This is why this is all so silly. The “NO” vote is a vote for “freedom, anti-austerity, and no blackmail!” Yes, and why don’t you vote yourself a free pony while you’re at it? “Anti-austerity!” means exactly what? “We want to have all our expenses paid for the rest of the EU!” Yes, and what power do you have to implement this, hmmm? “We’ll call them blackmailers and evil people if they don’t do what we want!” Yes, and exactly how does that force the other side back to the table if they decide they don’t want to deal with a bunch of student activists, cut their losses and just walk away from everything? The only reason the rest of the EU has been hanging in on these negotiations is a) the hope that with more $$$ Greece could finally get its act together b) improve its economy, and c) start paying back on all their loans. If they finally give up, the only thing Greece has is nuisance value as a failed state, which can be dealt with in several ways. It does not automatically mean that the gravy train will be turned on again….

    God save me from student Marxists!

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  6. bill says:

    @Slugger: true, okc doesn’t need another pro team!

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  7. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: ” The only reason the rest of the EU has been hanging in on these negotiations is a) the hope that with more $$$ Greece could finally get its act together b) improve its economy, and c) start paying back on all their loans.”

    Absolutely. It’s all about Greece living up to the EU’s standards of moral purity. It’s got nothing at all to do with their terror at what message Greece’s leaving would send to Finland and Spain and other countries struggling under the Euro. There is no desperate desire to force austerity on all “inferior” peoples despite years in which it has failed its supposed goals.

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  8. Financialplannerdude says:

    been following this for a while and I think the most appropriate name would be the Washington Apaches in honour of the army:)

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  9. Jim Denney says:

    The Washington Corruptocrats has a nice ring to it.

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  10. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: I think it’s more a case of FINANCIAL purity, myself….

    The EU is not going to sit down and say: “ok, we’re going to continue bailing you out, Greece. We don’t expect any of it back and we’re going to continue pouring money into what is more or less a black hole.” There isn’t enough commonality in the Eurozone.

    Don’t expect to get money from X unless they have a hand in telling you what to do with it, is the moral of the story…..

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  11. JWH says:

    @Jim Denney: I would go with the Washington Generals.

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  12. Ron Beasley says:

    The Portland area does not have an MLB or NFL team because the voters have flat out refused to use taxpayer money to build a venue. When billionaire Paul Allen went to the city and told them he needed a new venue they told him to go build it. He did and the Trailblazers sell out ever game and with the concert business it is a real cash cow for him.

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  13. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: I know. The banks are always both right and blameless, and must be made whole in any circumstances, no matter what harm comes to anyone else.

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  14. Pinky says:

    Are we allowed to call this one silly too? Or are we supposed to take it seriously?

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  15. Davebo says:

    there’s something troubling about the government using pressure and the law to force a private business to conform to its standards of propriety.

    Hold on Doug. The NFL isn’t your ordinary “private business”.

    1. Most private business don’t build their headquarters on land owned by the federal government.

    2. Most private business don’t have an anti-trust exemption from the Federal Government nor do they get to label their “umbrella organization” as a non profit.

    3. Most private business don’t get bailed out by congress when they lose a court case (Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961)

    Dan Snyder can bow up all he wants but I’m all but certain there are 31 other billionaires out there that will happily convince him to shut up and come up with a new name if his pride starts to affect their profits and the incredible sweetheart deal they enjoy with the federal government.

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  16. Lynn Eggers says:

    @Slugger: “When the people of Seattle voted to give loan guarantees for the Seachicken stadium, I thought they were insane. ”

    They didn’t let Minneapolis vote, but just rammed it down our throats. It’s largely of glass, and placed right in a bird flyway. Plus, it’s ugly (imo). I pass it daily and my blood pressure goes up every time.

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  17. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: Considering that no, the banks don’t create money out of thin air and what they’re handing over to Greece arises from deposits that ordinary humans have put in, then yes, I do think the banks should be made whole. Greece isn’t screwing up some faceless organization when it doesn’t pay money back; it’s money from pensioners and hard-working laborers in other countries that has vanished.

    And even if all the debt WERE written off, that’s not going to fix matters. Greece runs on a deficit. It especially runs on a deficit right now because the EU screwed up and insisted on more austerity than the system could support and killed the Greek economy. Fine–ok, let’s send some more money to Greece to get the economy going again, investments flowing, etc. Now, the one thing that whoever sends the money is saying: we don’t want this to be frittered away in corruption. We want it to be used wisely, and oh by the way could you please do something about the incredible level of tax evasion you have and the fact that 30% of your economy is off the books?

    And Greece is saying: Geez just hand over the money and stop making speeches. Democracy means we can do whatever we like with the loot.

    Can you understand why lenders aren’t lining up at Greece’s door to participate?

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  18. An Interested Party says:

    Speaking of Greece, this is a rather interesting article about a book that talks about what’s going on there…the gist is that Greece’s unique history as part of the Ottoman Empire as well as Nazi-occupation during WW II have shaped the attitudes that many Greeks have…also of note is how Greece’s fat cats have managed to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, thus making the problems of the country worse…that doesn’t sound too different from what used to happen in California and what still happens in our country as a whole…

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  19. Tyrell says:

    This Interior Secretary Ms. Jewel should not be allowed to base her decisions on her personal opinions.
    The big priority here is for Mr. Snyder to get the Super Bowl back to Washington. I don’t know what has been going on for the last several years, but it has been a disaster. He needs to get things turned around, fast.
    I agree with Slugger and Anjin San : no taxpayer money for professional, major league sports. Let their owners pay for the stadium and their over paid “athletes”. I went to a pro game a few years ago. I had a free ticket from a friend, but $6 for a hot dog ?
    I went to a recent small college football game last fall . A few dollars to get in, took my own food and drinks in, sat on the grass. That’s the way to go.
    Everything is so pc these days: stupid.

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  20. anjin-san says:

    It’s worth noting that GW Bush’s only real success in business, his stake int he Texas Rangers, came courtesy of the taxpayers who helped pay for the Ballpark at Arlington. When Bush sold his interest in the club, he came out very well indeed.

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  21. Davebo says:

    @anjin-san:

    A total of $600,000 invested yields a $200,000 a year job for doing nothing culminating in a 15 million dollar payout when Tom Hicks buys the team.

    Nice work if you can get it.

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  22. Matt says:

    @An Interested Party: Tax cheating is a national past time in Greece. Probably the biggest problem with the budget.

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  23. edmondo says:

    They should change their name to “The Washington Lobbyists” then they could just pay members of Congress to do whatever they want.

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  24. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: “Can you understand why lenders aren’t lining up at Greece’s door to participate?”

    Yes, I can. I’m pretty sure that you don’t… since you seem to take their press releases as God’s truth. But fortunately neither of us llives in Greece — and since it’s incredibly unlikely that we’ll have anothe Republican president in the next eight years, we won’t be in their situation.

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  25. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @grumpy realist: It´s not a matter of financial purity. US conservatives are obsessed with the Gold Standard precisely because it would FORCE austerity. For the Greeks the Euro is basically a variation of the Gold Standard, a currency that their government does not control.

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  26. ernieyeball says:

    The Washington Fugawis
    Well, just because.

    The Hekawi appear to be a very small tribe consisting of only one small village. They live an indeterminate distance from Fort Courage, though the directions to their camp are described as: “Make right turn at big rock that look like bear, then make left turn at big bear that look like rock”. In “Reunion for O’Rourke”, Chief Wild Eagle explains how the tribe got its name: “Many moons ago, tribe leave Massachusetts because Pilgrims ruin neighborhood! Tribe travel west, over stream, over river, over mountain, over mountain, over river, over stream! Then come big day… tribe fall over cliff. That when Hekawi get name. Medicine man say to my ancestor, “I think we lost. Where the heck are we?”. “Where the heck are we?” became “We’re the Hekawi” (the original name for the tribe in the series, ‘Fugawi’, was changed after the censors discovered the sentence “Where the Fugawi?”).

    F Troop

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  27. Turgid Jacobian says:

    @Mu: great! Move em to Richmond! Or va beach.

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  28. de stijl says:

    My proposal is thematic, and unfortunately only RPG nerds will vote for it.

    The Wizards could remain the Wizards, but it would be way dopier if they renamed themselves as the Washington Squishy Wizards. No need to file the paperwork; just have John Wall use a Grand (or Black) Soul Gem and cast Soul Trap on Self for 5 secs, Rename Self – permanent effect.

    The Capitols would rename themselves the Washington Rogues or the Washington Thieves.

    The Nationals would be renamed to the Rangers (dang, that one is taken) – how about the Washington Archers.

    Finally, the NFL team could be the Fighters, the Knights, the Paladins, the Barbarians, but I would go meta and call them the Washington Tanks.

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  29. de stijl says:

    Also, the Miami Dolphins should change their name to the Sharks so twice a season we’d have a Jets vs. Sharks throw-down. It would help pull in the in under-served musical theater aficionados.

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  30. HankP says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Banks are supposed to evaluate and price risk. They charge interest on loans specifically so that if loans go bad (and some always do) the bank will still be able to make a profit from the interest charged on the loans that do not go bad. If banks cannot properly evaluate and price risk, they serve no purpose.

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  31. bill says:

    @anjin-san: and obama’s greatest success in business was….oh wait, never mind!
    like it or not the rangers played in the worst stadium in the league back then, most major colleges had better fields and the rangers hadn’t won a playoff game ever. fast forward to now and they have a nice place (should have put a roof on it) and they’ve actually fielded some good teams. so yes, it was a good deal for the taxpayers, and they ponied up for the cowboys too.

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  32. ernieyeball says:

    Do the Right Thing…if you can.

    In 1995, (NBA Washington Bullets) owner Abe Pollin announced he was changing the team’s name because Bullets had acquired violent overtones that had made him increasingly uncomfortable over the years, particularly given the high homicide and crime rate in the early 1990s in Washington, D.C. It was widely believed to be related to the assassination of his longtime friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. A contest was held to choose a new name and the choices were narrowed to the Dragons, Express, Stallions, Sea Dogs, or Wizards. On May 15, 1997, the Bullets officially became the Wizards.
    The change generated some controversy because Wizard is a rank in the Ku Klux Klan.

    But it’s all right now
    I learned my lesson well
    You see, ya can’t please everyone
    So ya got to please yourself

    Garden Party Ricky Nelson RIP

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  33. An Interested Party says:

    and obama’s greatest success in business was….oh wait, never mind!

    At least the president did more with writing his books than Bush ever did as owner of the Rangers…

    …they have a nice place (should have put a roof on it) and they’ve actually fielded some good teams. so yes, it was a good deal for the taxpayers, and they ponied up for the cowboys too.

    Make sure you never complain about taxes or welfare seeing as how you’re so agreeable with corporate welfare…

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  34. anjin-san says:

    @bill:

    and obama’s greatest success in business was….oh wait, never mind!

    Obama is a self-made multi millionaire. Can you say the same?

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  35. rodney dill says:

    @Jim Denney: I’m partial to the Washington Gridlock

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  36. ernieyeball says:

    Happy Fourth of July fellow Citizens!
    (Now that it’s almost over.)

    Here’s Lyndon Johnson and The Electric Flag
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq3NwCHm-4U

    The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation.
    LBJ March 15, 1965 Two weeks after Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama

    http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/speeches.hom/650315.asp

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  37. grumpy realist says:

    Well, it looks like Greece voted NO in its referendum. (Slight NO–46% vs. 43% or so.)

    Now back to squabbling over what it all means….

    (Yeah, we get it, you don’t like austerity. The vote still isn’t going to magically cough up sacks of gold and free ponies for everyone, however.)

    I think the rest of Europe is so sick and tired of all of this that we’re going to see the following:

    1) Debt relief of some form, just as the IMF suggested.
    2) slow trickle of euros into country to make sure banks don’t collapse
    3) Humanitarian supplies to Greece
    4) Total refusal of more loans until Greece cleans up its act.
    5) Total refusal to talk to anyone in Greece until the Tsip & Var comedy show has been retired. Let them play silly Marxists on their own dime.

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  38. bill says:

    @anjin-san: really, writing a book about yourself and reeling in money that should be better known as “bribes”? you have a much different definition of what a successful businessman is. but then again, you worship rich people as long as they pretend to care about your issues.

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  39. An Interested Party says:

    really, writing a book about yourself and reeling in money that should be better known as “bribes”?

    Oh really? And yet you are so impressed with how Bush made his money with the Texas Rangers, by sucking at the government teat to get a new stadium? Yeah, that’s a real “successful businessman”…obviously you worship rich people who make their money off of the taxpayer’s dime…

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  40. Barbara O'Donnell says:

    @anjin-san:
    Redskins have had the name Redskins since 1933 and in all these decades there has never been a controversy. Only lately with the politically correct progressives does the name matter. My suggestion to these idiots who complain about this crap, get a life. Maybe they should protest against RACISTS names like BET, UNCF, Black caucus, Miss Black America, NUL. After all if we had a United White College Fund, White Caucus, Miss White America, can we imagine the uproar?

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  41. gVOR08 says:

    @Slugger: Yeah. The horrible deal we in Cincinnati got for building a stadium for the Bengals in 2000 seemed to put an end to tax paid stadiums for awhile. But memory is short.

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  42. Keith says:

    The current RFK site is okay because there is land, but it isn’t a mixed use area in that there are not bars and eateries very close to the stadium. A full re-development to include mixed-use buildings would probably need to happen along with a new stadium. As someone who has looked at trying to buy a home near the stadium, I can only imagine it would be a nightmare on game day because you’ve got 50,000+ people (many really drunk) walking by your house from the metro. (At this point the neighborhood is almost completely residential.)

    I’m not sure if there are other DC land available. Buzzard Point might be a possibility and with the redevelopment (finally) of the Southwest water front, it could be a nice place to watch a game. I would suspect that anything in the Northwest quadrant would have space or NIMBY issues. I would support building it East of the Anacostia, if a proper site could be identified.

    All that said, the billionaire owner needs to build the stadium without help from the taxpayers. Let Virginia or Maryland taxpayers pay if they choose, but DC should resist all attempts to help finance any new stadium.

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  43. @Turgid Jacobian: Are you serious?

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