The horrors of 9/11 had already been used by power brokers around these parts to sell wars and incursions on basic liberties.
So why not some hats?
On the day’s fifth anniversary, a few hours before the Redskins’ season opener, ads appeared on Dan Snyder’s new media plaything, the Triple X ESPN Radio network, imploring fans to get their special baseball caps for Monday night’s game with Minnesota. These hats would “commemorate Sept. 11,” said the spots, and they could only be ordered via the Redskins’ official Web site.
On the front page of the team’s site was a picture of the sacred cap, called a Pentagon Flag Hat, a black hat with the team’s trademark curly “R” in gold with a patch in the shape of the Pentagon and the colors of the American flag sewn on the side.
If the pull of a 9/11 tribute wasn’t enough, fans were told in the Web-site copy that the caps are “expected to be worn by the Redskins coaches” during the Vikings contest. Anybody who wanted to commemorate the deaths of 3,000 or so with a Skins hat would only have to pay $23.99.
That means the commemorative cap was a tad pricier than the You Can’t Handle the Skins Tee or the We Love Our Coach Tee, products featured alongside the 9/11 garment in the online catalog, which both go for $19.99.
There’s no mention anywhere on the site that even a single penny of the Flag Hat’s $23.99 would go anywhere but into Snyder’s pocket.
“Pre-order now!” the copy implored.
Snyder’s waved the flag before. Flyovers of bombers and jet fighters are common at FedExField. America Supports You, a Pentagon public-relations campaign to build affection for the war machine, is a big advertiser on Snyder’s radio network. And Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took time out from overseeing this country’s war successes to be in the owner’s box for the Vikings game.
But the hawking of the Pentagon Flag Hat puts those efforts to shame.
Coming from anywhere but Redskins Park, this sort of financial exploitation of the biggest tragedy in American history—“Pre-order now!”—would cause jaws to drop. Around here, it’s just business as usual. The team dropped the “commemorate Sept. 11” verbiage from its Web site after two days, but the hats were still for sale.
Welcome to another year of the Dan Snyder Marketing Plan. The caps are evidence of the tenacious scheme responsible for putting the Redskins, with a value of more than $1.4 billion, atop Forbes’ recent list of the most profitable franchises in sports. None of the other NFL teams from other 9/11 death sites—Giants, Jets, and Steelers—put commemorative products for sale during the opening week of the 2006 season.
Redskins spokesperson Karl Swanson says the commemorative cap was put up for sale because the team sold a similar hat shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The sales five years ago, Swanson says, were used to “raise money for the survivors fund.”
If, as the adage says, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, maybe the unveiling of the diabolical commemorative Pentagon Flag Hat shows that Snyder is running out of ways to gouge the populace.
Then again, maybe not. Jim O’Brien, a 30-year Skins season-ticket holder, says he didn’t think he could despise the current ownership more—not after watching his end-zone row get more cramped during Snyder’s incessant expansions of the stadium, or finding it harder and harder to get in and out of the stadium with all the corporate tents blocking more of the Everyman entrances and exits with each season.
But at the Vikings game, his awe and loathing of Skins management were renewed during a trip to the stadium’s concession stand. It all started when he ordered a bag of peanuts. The 5-ounce bag wasn’t in burgundy and gold but royal blue and white.
“I see this big logo on the bag for Independence Air,” says O’Brien. “And I’m thinking, Aren’t they out of business?”
He went home and did some Googling and discovered that, yes, indeed, the airline is out of business: Independence Air began hinting at bankruptcy in 2005 and flew its last flight on Jan. 5, 2006. According to the bags for sale at FedExField, the peanuts were packaged for the Redskins by a Charlotte, N.C., company called Strategic Presence.
Ed McLamb, who heads the firm, says that his company used to provide peanuts for Independence Air and for the Redskins, in Independence Air bags.
“We haven’t done that since a little before Independence Air went out of business, though,” he says.
The Redskins have had peanut problems before. Three seasons ago, the team deviated from a tradition as old as sports when it stopped selling peanuts in shells. At the time, Redskins officials tried to calm angry fans by saying the move wasn’t made to reduce the cleanup budget but was meant to prevent fans with peanut allergies from being affected by stray peanut pieces.
O’Brien was among those angered when the shells disappeared, but the ’Net searching really left him peeved.
“You gotta figure they didn’t place a peanut order for a couple weeks before the company went out of business,” he says. “So the Redskins are selling nuts that weren’t even made this year. Unbelievable.”
Nut experts say that’s a little long in the tooth for salted, roasted legumes. Patrick Archer of the Peanut Council, an advocacy group for the American peanut industry, says that the recommended shelf life of a foil bag of peanuts is “about three months.”
“Beyond three months, they gradually start losing their flavor,” Archer says, “and eventually start turning rancid.”
Swanson says the team’s food-service business is outsourced to a company called Centerplate Inc. In a prepared statement issued through the Redskins, Centerplate spokesperson Gael Doar writes that the Independence Air peanut inventory was purchased in November 2005. Doar adds that the suggested shelf life for the products was one year and that the company nevertheless “believed that we had disposed of all of the cases of peanuts with this Independence Air logo.”
“We regret that this occurred,” Doar wrote about the sale of the long-dead airline’s nuts, “we are currently investigating the situation and we are confident that it won’t happen again.”—Dave McKenna