December 18, 2014

Pucks, sticks and Namaste; a new culture for the Caps

Previous to this season, I covered the Washington Capitals full-time for six seasons, but last Friday was the first time I visited the Caps locker room under new Head Coach Barry Trotz.  It was also the first time I’ve seen players getting quickly out of their pads for…yoga.

That’s right, yoga.

“We think it’s a necessary element in staying fit, staying flexible,” Trotz said. “I think yoga helps with the blood flow. It helps with relaxation, it helps for healing, all those things. That’s the reason that we do that.”

In a league where the games are decided by the thinnest of margins, every team is looking for an edge and Trotz has brought a brand new culture to DC.

“We try to do [team yoga sessions] a couple of times a month,” Trotz said. “If a player misses a game, that’s a lot of money to an organization. So we don’t want our players to miss any time. It’s just another way of [living a] healthy lifestyle, if you will.

Everything from what we eat, to how we train, to how we travel, sleep habits, all those things are considerations for us to have success…by facilitating things like that, you develop good professional habits. We ask our players to try to find that next level and become the best at what that do and give themselves the best chance to be successful. That’s modern sports.”

One man who has rarely been called “modern” is long-time Capitals color man and former NHL player Craig Laughlin.

“We were lucky if we stretched back in the day.”

Laughlin played in the 80’s when working out meant getting out of bed, but now he preaches yoga at the Network Hockey Development Program that he runs.  “We have yoga classes twice a week. I’m such a big believer that I’m going to give it a try this summer.”

It’s a trend that’s spreading throughout the NHL.

“I think probably half the teams, maybe three-quarters of the teams do [yoga]. I know a lot of players do it in the summer,” Trotz added

One player who has done it for years on his own is veteran Capitals forward Brooks Laich.

“Personally I’m a huge believer in yoga. I do yoga twice a week throughout the summer, have for the last five years and I have a [trainer] hired that I just do one-on-one personal yoga — I believe that much in it. I think it’s obviously great for your flexibility but it also allows you to strengthen some muscles that you normally wouldn’t pay any attention to.

We usually do it later on in the week where guys are a little bit more sore and we do a re-energizing and kind of lengthening session, that helps the body recover, rather than putting yourself through a hard workout where maybe you’re not going to get as much from it. I’m a tremendous believer in it and I’m really happy that we implemented it this season.”

Yoga has been stereotyped as more of a workout for women, but that stereotype is being broken.

“I’ve seen yoga grow and more men coming to classes,” says Karolynn Hilaski, who is a registered and trained yoga instructor at Core Power Yoga in DC.

“I believe that men are also seeing results in flexibility, range of motion, and their breathing, which all leads to better performance with physical activities such as personal fitness goals and sports.  Alongside, mental clarity is known to be a huge part of yoga. This also aids in better performance in many activities including work, everyday life, and sport related activities.”

An 82-game regular season can put a huge toll on your body — not only physically, but mentally as well — which is another big benefit of yoga.

“I think it’s just a little different break for the guys, schedules been pretty hectic as of late,” Capitals veteran forward Joel Ward said. “Try to mix in different activities, just try to keep things fresh and keep the mind going. It’s been helpful for sure.

The guys have been adapting really well and obviously you want to maintain that flexibility as much as you can and at the same time maintain and keeping that brain moving.”

Yoga is here to stay and will only rise in popularity as more and more sports teams implement it.  So next time you run into your favorite Caps player, make sure to say “Namaste”.

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Sky Kerstein is a Contributor to District Sports Page. Sky grew up in Chantilly, Virginia and is a 2001 graduate of Chantilly High School. Sky graduated in 2005 from Western Michigan University where he was a communications major. Sky got his start in radio interning for WTOP sports and then became the Caps reporter for the Capitals Radio Network. Sky also was a producer for two years for Major League Baseball Network Radio on SiriusXM Radio. Sky was the Capitals beat reporter at 106.7 The FAN for several seasons and has covered the Redskins, Nationals & Wizards for The FAN. Sky also calls high school play by play for the Gameday Broadcast Network and has covered every professional team in the DC and Baltimore regions. You can follow Sky on Twitter @SkyKerstein.

OPINION: For the Caps, it’s not the end of the world

“It’s not the end of the world,” Troy Brouwer, on Jason Chimera’s overtime penalty on Thursday.

For years, the Washington Capitals have been battling the perception that they aren’t intense enough, that they collectively lack an ethic tough enough to compete as a team at the highest levels in the NHL.

George McPhee thought so, or he wouldn’t have fired the most successful head coach in the franchise’s history to hire a coach out of the Juniors with no NHL coaching experience at all whose reputation was nothing but hard work, diligence, and yes, toughness.

Brian MacLellan must think so too, as he was part of the braintrust to bring in Barry Trotz — a coach whose reputation for discipline and hard work goes without question — to replace another offensive-minded, but failed, head coach.

Certainly it’s been part of the Canadian media’s mantra about “what’s wrong with the Capitals” the entirety of Alex Ovechkin’s tenure rockin’ the red.

Taken with that background, then, Troy Brouwer’s comments on Friday about Jason Chimera’s boneheaded penalty in overtime Thursday night can be read several ways, depending on your impression of the team and your feelings about the players themselves.

First, Brouwer’s actual comments, unfiltered:

“We’ve all been in that situation where you’re helpless. You’re in the box after you do something unintentional that might cost your team a couple points.

“[Chimera] felt bad about it and he apologized after the game. It could happen to anybody and it does happen to a lot of guys.

“I’m sure he felt isolated, but that’s when we as teammates have to pick him up and let him know that it’s not the end of the world, we’re still here for him, he’s a big part of our team, and we’re going to need him to rebound.” [emphasis added]

On Friday, Trotz indicated he had not spoken with Chimera directly about the incident, and Chimera — surprisingly — did not speak with media after practice, something he rarely avoids, at least in my experience covering the team. So that left Brouwer to speak for him.

First of all, Brouwer’s opinion that Chimera did “something unintentional” is not supported by the facts. Chimera’s interference penalty — knocking down defenseman Jack Johnson far away from the puck — was certainly intentional. Poor judgment? Yes. Unintentional? Absolutely not. So that part of Brouwer’s comments seem excuse-making.

Anyway…

If you want, you can interpret Brouwer’s comments as “standing up” for his teammate. He specifically says that as teammates they “have to pick him up.” All that said, if he had stopped there, it would have been easy to take Brouwer’s comments at face value.

But he goes on to say that “it’s not the end of the world.” Maybe not. But with the Caps still mired in the middle-to-low side of the pack in the Eastern Conference, every point is going to matter at the end of the season. Every single point.

If you want to read into Brouwer’s comments and believe that they perpetuate the narrative that the Caps are too complacent — that they lack the urgency, intenseness or toughness requisite to be one of the top teams in the league and truly compete for a championship in a sport that’s as much about desire as skill — it’s right there for you.

If you see this team underperform again and again (winning three straight on the road only to lose to an inferior team at home) and want to look for reasons deeper than possession metrics, Brouwer’s comments certainly opens those doors for you.

If you buy into the perception of a lax atmosphere that surrounds and permeates the Caps — the team, organization, media, and yes, fans — then it probably doesn’t surprise you that Brouwer thinks “it’s not the end of the world.”

If you want to look at the Washington Capitals and wonder why they never seem to play up to their collection of talent, you’re within your right to read Brouwer’s comments and interpret them outside of face value.

I guess if the Caps miss out on the playoffs by one point in April, it won’t be the end of the world.

OPINION: Complacency, not talent, the root of Washington Capitals malaise

Effort. Intensity. Perseverance. All brought on a nightly basis. These are the hallmarks of Barry Trotz-coached hockey teams. In Nashville, Trotz had his hands tied a bit as the organization rarely gave him the type of elite talent where he could preach anything other than hard work. Through one-quarter of a season with the Washington Capitals, that message has yet to really sink in, if it can at all.

What’s the saying about a tiger changing its stripes?

Trotz was brought in to DC to instill those same ethics to the Capitals, a work definitely still in progress. One need to look no further than Saturday’s night’s debacle against the Leafs, as the Caps allowed long-range goal after long-range goal, goals in rapid succession, and little-to-no reaction from the guys in the road sweaters.

This team has enough talent — at least at the top levels — to compete for a playoff spot in the wide-open Eastern Conference. Probably not enough to contend for a title, but at least be invited to the dance.

Trotz has them playing a much stronger possession game, but lack of scoring cohesion and depth down the middle, defensive boners and the much-too-often goaltending gaffe are sabotaging any real progress.

One look at the standings is enough to know.

We’ve already seen this season that on any given night, the Caps can (and will) play like a team that is interested in being anywhere other than the ice.

This can’t be laid at Trotz’ feet… yet. It’s going to take some time, maybe quite a bit of time, and maybe even a handful of personnel decisions before his tenets will finally sink in within the organization.

Trotz himself said it a couple of weeks ago:

“You guys have lived it more than I have,” Trotz said. “But I will say this: That behavior has to change or we have to change people. Plain and simple. To me it’s absolutely unacceptable. They have to fix it. It’s my job to fix the behavior. If they’re not going to fix it internally, then I’ll make sure I fix it.”

“Sometimes I get the feeling we play just as hard as we need to,” he said. “That’s not how I operate. That’s not how you win in this league.”

That was a month ago. Someone want to explain to me the changes that have been made since? I’ll wait.

I think there’s a culture of complacency among the core group of players at Kettler. Despite the coaching carousel of the past three years, past the changing of the GM, beyond the shuffle of marginal support players, the same problems continue to surface every single season. And still, no real repercussions have come by way of serious benchings or trades.

Sure, the practices are a little tougher under Trotz. That much is available to witness at Kettler regardless of what side of the glass one sits. But the disappearing act during games continues, regardless who is coaching. So it has to come from somewhere else.

There are precious few repercussions to the players off-the-ice. Sure, Eric Fehr gets demoted to the fourth line or the press box once in a while. But other than that, there’s just not that much accountability. After these dud games, we hear the same platitudes from Brooks Laich (when he’s in the lineup), Troy Brouwer, Karl Alzner… it’s the same guys over and over. Play hard. Play the “right way.” Don’t take shifts off.

I’m sure those guys believe in what they’re saying. But it takes more than talk. And it just doesn’t transfer. Or, at least, doesn’t stick. And those that talk make the same mistakes as everyone else.

After Saturday’s debacle, Brouwer told the media, “…getting scored on after goals has been going on for quite a few years, not just this season. The thing that scares me is they’re repetitive mistakes, ones we consistently do over and over and we’ve got to start learning from.”

 “…a lot of guys are taking a couple steps forward and then a little bit of regress, reverting back to old habits, old ways. We’re trying to break old thought patterns, but when we’re on the ice and we’re consistently making those mindless turnovers there’s nothing you can do as a coach.”

But still, the same mistakes are made. They aren’t learning from anything, despite who’s preaching it. The individual players don’t make the necessary adjustments and the problems start all over again. They all fall back into their comfortable habits because there’s no real repercussion not to.

Complacency.

Bruce Boudreau is a good hockey coach, but he got canned because he let the Canadian media dictate how to coach his players. Dale Hunter dumbed things down to the point of playing coin-flip hockey and got out as quickly as he came in. Adam Oates tried to prove he was the smartest guy in the room instead of tailoring his style to the players he had. Now Trotz, who is getting much better possession from essentially the same players, but still facing the same malaise that’s plagued this team for years.

George McPhee, as competent an NHL exec as there is, was let go in order to go in a “new direction,” only to have his life-long chum and assistant take over.

Seems like the only repercussions come off-the-ice.

They can talk all they want about how the Stanley Cup is the their goal, yet the organization continues to slump along in mediocrity and complacency while employing largely the same strategies.

The Washington Capitals are in the process of wasting the peak years from two of the best players in the game while continually reliving the same problems they’ve had for the past half-dozen seasons. Maybe it’s time to give them a chance to succeed and send them somewhere else.

OPINION: Washington Redskins and Jay Gruden drop the ball on Robert Griffin III

“I think as a man and as a competitor, I think Robert does have a future in the NFL, but I’m not going to predict it.” –Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden.

Five games. Five partial games. Five partial, increasingly worsening games. That’s all it took for Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden to decide that Robert Griffin III is incapable of running his offense. It’s hard to debate, as Griffin has looked more and more lost on the field in recent weeks. Presumably healthy, he has stopped running completely, seems oblivious to open receivers, and has alienated teammates with his play on the field and soap opera drama off.

There’s plenty of damning evidence to say Griffin just isn’t getting it and he needs to be replaced. That’s all well and good — if the team was playing for anything other than pride the rest of the way. Funny word, pride. It’s a buzzword around this organization, but very little of it seems to rub off on the actual players.

Gruden isn’t as invested in rehabilitating Griffin as maybe the organization as a whole, and he indicated as much in his press conference on Wednesday.

“No, not really,” Gruden offered. “I came here with a clean slate and I want to play the best players, period, whoever they are. First-round picks, sixth-round picks, free agents, I don’t really care who they are, where they came from. Obviously the history of Robert and the talent that he has at quarterback, very excited to coach him when I first got the job and I still am. I’m not giving up on Robert. It’s just we haven’t been successful. But the past is the past. We’re moving forward and we’re trying to do what’s best for the Redskins this year and for years to come. Right now, today as I stand up here, I feel like this is the best move for us moving forward to Indianapolis.”

Moving forward to Indianapolis. Not 2015. Not “the future.” The next game.

I suppose Gruden can be excused for being focused on wins and losses this season. Anyone that follows this team knows the owner’s box could grow tired or fickle after one season and give the head coach the boot. The idea that Gruden has to make the switch in order to keep the locker room is further damning the infrastructure this organization has implemented over the past 15 years.

But Colt McCoy is no one’s idea of a long-term solution at the position.

Starting McCoy, the 28-year-old journeyman, over RGIII at this point is applying a band-aid to hemorrhage — lipstick on a pig. With everything invested in Griffin, the organization owes it to itself to fix him, not hide him on the bench in the hopes of winning a game or two down the stretch in another lost season.

It’s hard to believe — nee, unbelievable — that Griffin’s talent has completely sapped. Sure, the injuries have taken their toll on his running game. He’ll never be the same in that regard. But this is the same player that has completed 63.5 percent of his passes in his career and threw for 20 touchdowns and just five picks his rookie season, just two years ago.

Has that player just simply disappeared?

The most alarming aspect of Griffin’s deteriorating confidence is the sheer number of sacks he’s taking. That’s not just on the offensive line, though without Trent Williams it’s about as good as an Arena League squad. But Griffin is holding the ball, stepping into sacks, failing to identify open receivers, almost completely unable to run the offense in any manner whatsoever. Last week, he looked utterly and completely lost.

It’s a crisis of confidence. An dramatic and unfortunate collapse of what seemed like such a promising career not that long ago.

The biggest takeaway from the entire episode is the way that ONCE AGAIN the national media had the news BEFORE the players were informed. This organization does everything backwards and wonders why (recent) former players disassociate from the franchise quickly as possible?

They’ll probably trade up to draft another quarterback instead of investing in the lines first, wasting even more time and resources drafting a talent position without the necessary infrastructure.

It’s how this franchise has been run for the last 15 years; the only thing that’s been consistent is the man that signs the checks.

But just as it’s been in those 15 years, it’s time for the Washington Redskins to completely start over again. And a young man’s future hangs in the balance. It’s a shame that the combination of physical injury, poor management and lack of awareness has derailed such a promising career for what was such a charismatic player.

And on this Thanksgiving, Redskins fans have very little to give thanks about with regard to the franchise that continues to be mired in drama and controversy, ripping their hearts out with every news leak.

OPINION: Washington Nationals might have blown best chance for this group to win championship

It’s never easy, the end of the baseball season. And make no mistake, it’s over. Sure, you can follow the rest of the playoffs until its conclusion, but for fans of the Washington Nationals, the end of the baseball season came late Tuesday night in San Francisco.

It came in a bitter, frustrating, disappointing manner — they weren’t so much defeated, but done in by their own mistakes and mismanagement.

It’s an unimaginable conclusion, after winning their way to the best record in the National League to be dumped in the division series, unceremoniously, on the road, practically in the middle of the night.

Most fans would like nothing better than to praise the winners for a job well done, victors in a meritorious fashion. But the bottom line of this NLDS is that the Giants, while victors, were no better than the Nats. Neither team hit at all, rather the Nats continued to make errors and mistakes, and as one of the analysts on the terrible postgame shows said, “If you aren’t scoring runs, you can’t give away outs.”

The Giants didn’t, the Nats did.

Both teams scored nine runs in the series. Four of the nine runs came via solo home runs, three of which came from the youngest player on the team — who could be the youngest player on the majority of AA teams.

It just wasn’t enough.

Manager Matt Williams was criticized — rightly — in three of the four games for decisions he made with his pitching staff, most notably how he managed his bullpen. Veterans Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos were non-existent.

Werth and LaRoche, the three-four hitters combined for two base hits in 35 at bats in the four games. In the game Span reached twice, the Nats won. Other than that, he was transparent. Desmond and Ramos are still swinging at sliders away.

It’s hard to fault the pitchers that didn’t come through, considering they gave up just nine runs in four games. Aaron Barrett and Tanner Roark looked in over their heads. Gio Gonzalez got rattled after a physical error. Drew Storen gave up base hits when he needed strikeouts. But it’s nit-picking.

They gave up NINE RUNS IN FOUR GAMES. They should have won all of them.

Yes, this one’s gonna hurt. They all do. But this will hurt differently than 2012 did. The Nats were one pitch away from advancing on several occasions in a ten minute period and it was ripped away from them. Most thought they weren’t ready.

This year, they were ready. Full of veterans. Playoff tested. Best record in the league. Young players coming into their own. The best starting staff and bullpen in the league. Yet, it all blew up. Rather, they just didn’t show up.

The window’s still open with this group of players, but it won’t be forever. Denard Span and Adam LaRoche both have team options for next year. We don’t know if either will be back. Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann are free agents after next season.

We have no idea where — or even if — Ryan Zimmerman will be able to contribute in a meaningful way the rest of his career.

For a team that’s as veteran as this is, there are a lot of questions. The sobering conclusion is that this very well might have been the Nats best chance to win a championship with this group of players.

And they blew it. It’s hard to type that. I’m sure it hard to read it. But it’s true.

OPINION: Harsh dose of reality for Washington Redskins after Giants beatdown

Washington Redskins fans cling to every last glimmer of hope with every fiber of their being. You can’t blame them. For 20 years, this team has been the Lucy to its fans’ Charlie Brown, holding that football out for them enticingly, only to pull it away at the last, sending poor Chuck to an embarrassing and painful fall.

The latest shimmer of hope, Kirk Cousins, went dark Thursday night, as the New York Football Giants picked him off four times and forced him to fumble yet again. Cousins has now turned the ball over an astonishing 18 times in 10 games, including 13 interceptions and five fumbles.

That’s absolutely no way to win in this league. [Read more…]

OPINION: Time For Roger Goodell to Send a Message Regarding Off-Field Player Violence

He gets booed consistently and is widely ridiculed, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is currently staring down a golden opportunity to improve his reputation and the league’s reputation with a strong and strict disciplinary ruling on Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy’s latest domestic violence charge.

If there’s one thing that has been a constant problem in recent years in the NFL, it’s player discipline. More and more each year, we hear about and see players getting in trouble for their actions off the field. Despite the real world rules and laws they’ve broken, they still manage to take the field on Sunday’s and make millions of dollars. [Read more…]

Capitals overpay to rebuild defensive corps in NHL free agent frenzy

When I first heard the deal the Washington Capitals handed 33-year-old (34 before opening night) defenseman Brooks Orpik, I was as apoplectic as anyone else. Well, almost anyone else.

My initial reaction: the Caps drastically overpaid — in dollars and years — for an aging, slowing, one-dimensional defenseman that doesn’t drive play. While I can appreciate the element Orpik will contribute to the team, what crusty old Canadians refer to as “snarl”, in no way is that worth $5.5 million over a five year term. Let alone, to a player that will be 39 at the end of the deal.

The analysis stands. My emotional response to the deal has mellowed a bit though.

Yes, the Caps drastically overpaid. There’s no possible way Orpik returns value on the length of the contract. With luck, the salary cap will continue to go up and he’ll be less of a burden in the later years.

He’ll add very little to the offensive side of the game. He makes a decent outlet pass, that’s about it. There’s lots of video of more talented skaters turning him inside out, and that’s going to continue.

As Caps GM Brian MacLellan pointed out, Orpik’s primary responsibility was starting in his own end and getting the puck out of it. Corsi’s not going to be kind to a player like that.

But the Caps have very precious little muscle on the back end. And that’s where Orpik can still contribute. Essentially, Orpik will be the player the Caps hoped John Erskine could continue to be. It’s debatable how long Orpik will be able to continue in that role, but we’ve got the next five years to watch it.

The next deal that the Caps made, bringing in fellow former Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, sort of helps put the Orpik deal in perspective.

Niskanen signed a market-value seven-year deal for $40.25 million — the largest contract doled out on frenzy day. Niskanen was probably the best defenseman available on the free agent market. He’s 27, coming off his best season, and in the prime of his career. He’ll “just” be 34 at the conclusion of his current contract.

Signing Niskanen gives the Caps not just another top-four defenseman, it gives them a top pair blue-liner. Whether Niskanen plays with Karl Alzner, Orpik, John Carlson, or even Mike Green or Dmitry Orlov, it slots every one down a spot. The Caps added not one, but two top four defensemen, something we advocated in this column before the conclusion of last season.

They are now deep, talented and tough on the back end, with impressive defense coaches to guide them.

Yes, the Caps spent a lot of money on two NHL caliber defensemen. But they needed to. After the parade of journeymen and teenagers last season, the Caps now boast a legitimate NHL defensive corps.

The team has been pretty good at drafting and developing puck moving defensemen, but you can’t teach size and toughness. As much as some of us (myself definitely included) like to point to possession and skill, this game still needs an element of toughness and defensive reliability on the backline.

The Caps have failed miserably to develop anyone to fill that role, so they had to pay for it.

The Caps are banking on the idea that while Alex Ovechkin is in his prime, they have to take every opportunity to “go for it.” Tuesday proved that this “refresh” is no rebuild. Damn the future, MacLellan’s directive is obvious: patch together a team that if it makes the playoffs, will at least have a puncher’s chance in the tournament.

The addition of Niskanen and Orpik, at an exorbitant cost, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the organization — and ownership — thinks it should be competitive.  Maybe they are deluding themselves. Maybe they know more than we think. Maybe they are chasing fool’s gold. Maybe they are just trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

Maybe in three year’s time they’ll be looking for another general manager.

But for know, the Caps were the most active team in the free agent market. That means that they have at least acknowledged that problems existed. There will still probably be dominoes to fall. When all is said and done, we can — and will — judge.

Orpik’s deal is bad. He’s aging quickly, his skating isn’t great, and he doesn’t drive play. The last couple of years of this contract are going to be painful to watch. But, at least, at the end of the day we could see a semblance of a plan, where taken at face value and on its own it looked like unmitigated and indefensible disaster.
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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics. Dave also works for Associated Press, covering Major League Soccer, college football and basketball out of its Spokane, WA college sports desk. Previously, he wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network and spent four years in commercial radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams.  Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence.  You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP.

OPINION: Time for Washington Redskins to change name

I have long resisted entering this debate, but the time has come that I commit my opinion publically, for whatever that is worth. Being one-eighth native American, I have long wrestled with whether my affinity for the NFL team that resides in Washington (technically, Virginia and Maryland, but I digress) should override the just plain wrongness of its nickname. It should not.

The Washington Redskins should change their name.

I have been a fan of the Washington Redskins since I was a child. One of my first real memories was Super Bowl VII, huddled around a small black and white television in our home in Fairfax with my mom. I remember the excitement when Mike Bass returned the blocked field goal for a touchdown, and the disappointment when the team lost to the “perfect” Miami Dolphins.

I was in high school and college during the championship years of Joe Gibbs and the Hogs and the Fun Bunch and Riggo and believed it was my birthright for my team to win the NFC East and have a chance to truly compete for the Super Bowl every year.

As an adult, I had season tickets to the games for a couple of years until the misery associated with 10-hour Sundays at FedEx Field got too much to bear.

I understand the feeling of camaraderie in being associated with a group of fans that take pride in their team. That’s what sports is all about. There’s nothing better than the euphoria when your team wins the big game. All those years going through the “bad times” are rationalized away when the team finally wins.

But that euphoria doesn’t justify institutional racism.

There are no winners in this game. The “defenders” are too busy crying “political correctness” to see the big picture, the team is too busy defending what they think are its rights, and those that are offended — truly offended — continue to suffer in silence as they have since colonial times.

There are three reasons it is beyond time for the team to change its name:

THE TERM “REDSKIN” IS DEMEANING AND PEJORATIVE

There are studies on both side of the origin of the word “redskin.” The origin of the term is immaterial. The term was widely and publically used as a pejorative for many decades and, according to the literal definition in the dictionary, still is.

It does not matter if you are not personally offended by the word, or if I am or not. it doesn’t matter if a large group — even a majority — of people are not offended. It does not matter if you use the term solely to describe the NFL team or not. It only matters that there is a segment of people — by the way, AMERICAN PEOPLE — that are offended and demeaned by the term’s use.

Like any other type of harassment, the intent of someone using the term is irrelevant to whether another finds it offensive.

That’s the very definition of institutional racism. Because so many (non-offended) people use a word that was once demeaning and pejorative in a manner that is not necessarily so, that term has now been, more or less, accepted as a society to have taken that second meaning. That, my friends, is a perfect example of institutional racism.

History shows how native American people have been systematically oppressed damn near to the point of extinction. No amount of public relations fluffery can make a dent in the damage that continues in the name of “team pride.”

Ironically, everyone that opposes the name change is a victim themselves of the institutional racism they oppose and they are completely unaware of it.

And that is very, very wrong.

THE TERM “WASHINGTON REDSKINS” NOW REPRESENTS EMBARRASSMENT

The very first thing that comes up when one identifies themselves as a fan of the team is the name debate. The second is the other person’s opinion of Daniel Snyder. Maybe the third thing is RGIII, and not how exciting a football player he is, but how the whole mess about how his injury was handled.

This is how the Washington Redskins are perceived from outside the beltway. As a joke, at best. A punchline. An embarrassment.

Not with words like “pride” or “history” or “legacy”, as the team’s promotion material so stridently tries to pull the wool over the eyes of the fervent, defending their trademarks and wordmarks until the very end.

In other words, most of the country doesn’t even think about football at all when the term Washington Redskins is brought up. Through the team and ownership’s own actions and words, the very ideals they claim that the name represents are rendered an afterthought.

There’s no talk nationally about how the team will fare on the field. It’s just the incessant talk about the name change and the dysfunction surrounding the team. Eventually, fans of the team will die off (figuratively and literally) and new ones won’t take their place because of the embarrassment associated with the team.

I think even the most fervent “defenders” would agree that the headache associated with being a fan of the Washington Redskins outweighs whatever benefit comes from the arrangement.

THE TEAM WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE MONEY REGARDESS THE OUTCOME

There have been lawsuits over the past 20 years, and so far the Washington Redskins have come out on top. Maybe that actually fuels the hubris by the organization with regards to the name change. But they face another challenge in the courts, as Wednesday’s ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registrations for the team’s name Wednesday, claiming it is “disparaging to Native Americans.” 

The case, brought to the PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board by five Native Americans in 2006, removed six federal trademarks that included the word “Redskin”…

“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans,” Jesse Witten, the plaintiff’s attorney told Politico. “The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place.”

The team issued a sternly-worded press release, vowing to continue its fight for its name and trademarks.

We’ve seen this story before.   And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo. [ed.–team’s bold face]

 -snip-

We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal.  This case is no different than an earlier case, where the Board cancelled the Redskins’ trademark registrations, and where a federal district court disagreed and reversed the Board.

As for public opinion, well, we’ve been down that road already. But the most recent and obvious example of public opinion swaying against the team was the two minute PSA that appeared during the NBA Finals on national television, sponsored by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of native Americans. It was moving and poignant, and of course was met with derision and contempt by “defenders”.

But eventually, public opinion will win. Scores of colleges and high schools have changed their names over the past several decades. More will follow. It’s not enough that the once socially acceptable nicknames are “history” and used with “pride” by those associated with those institutions. As we detailed above, it’s institutional racism.

The Washington Redskins, despite years of futility on the field, are still one of the most profitable franchises in the league. They will continue to do so even if forced to change the name and mascot. The NFL has a license to print money. Between the massive broadcast contracts, merchandise sales, stadium and parking concessions, and overwhelming dominance in the sporting landscape, the team will continue to thrive regardless of what it is called.

Despite their adamant defense of its trademarks and wordmarks, the team stands to heavily profit from a name change, when the eventuality finally presents itself. It is only due to the hubris of its ownership that the team still fights so fervently against public opinion and governmental interjection.

***

Going forward, as Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page I am instructing all of our writers to refer to the team as “Washington Redskins”, in full, in any mention of the team in any game story, article, analysis or opinion. We will no longer use the term “redskins” or “skins” as a stand-alone references to the team in any form.

I realize that our reach and scope is limited. I also realize that it’s a fine editorial line I’m making between the protected wordmark “Washington Redskins” and the pejorative “redskins” or “skins”. Until the team changes its name — or is forced to — we’re left with imperfect options.

OPINION: Capitals sack McPhee, Oates; Leonsis and Patrick now on the hook

When the head coach completely disregards the main trade deadline acquisition you’ve acquired — two years in a row — you know there’s a problem.

Saturday, the Washington Capitals announced they would not renew general manager George McPhee’s contract, thus terminating a 17-year partnership. In addition, the team relieved their two-year head coach Adam Oates of his duties.

Owner Ted Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick spoke with effusive praise for both men, reassuring all in attendance at the press conference and those watching on the internet that neither men would be unemployed for very long. In McPhee’s case, it wouldn’t be shocking if he was named GM of the Canucks or Flames before he meets with the media on Monday afternoon in D.C.

Oates was a no-brainer. He misapplied assets, was inflexible and presided over a team that steadily got worse and worse possession-wise under his tutelage. Though the players — to a man — praised him on clearout day and decried that he was not the problem, in reality he was a significant portion of it this season.

As for McPhee, well…

I’ll go on record here. I think George McPhee is one of the smartest men in hockey. He keeps his business in-house, is professional under all circumstances (well, except for this), a fairly strong drafter and is a shrewd negotiator. He was responsible for the fire sale and rebuild, and has kept this team in the playoffs for the past seven years. Until this season.

McPhee has also completed some very head-scratching trades, had a couple of very notable busts in the first round of the draft, and built a team that was perennial successful but never able to get past the second round, winning just three playoff series in the Ovechkin era. He never acquired the defensive stalwart this team needed so badly.

The Caps were destined to fail this season, and it’s been coming for a while. Really, it’s been coming since they allowed their identity to be stolen following the 2010 flame-out against the Montreal Canadiens. They abandoned the high-powered, puck possession style that dominated the NHL and won a President’s Trophy and it’s been a steady decline ever since.

Bruce Boudreau was ousted, Dale Hunter fled, and now Oates is jettisoned after just two seasons.

There are a lot of executives employed across the NHL that don’t have half the acumen that McPhee has. Pray the Caps don’t end up with one of them. Change is exciting, and probably warranted in this case. But things could get worse before they get better. Will modern Caps fans — the ones that came on board as fans of the “Young Guns” — be willing to stay on through a rebuild, with a possible teardown of those players they fell in love with?

Veteran Caps fans will remember some very lean years. I’m not just talking the doldrums the team was in before they sold off Bondra, Jagr, Gonchar, Lang and Konowalchuk. I’m talking the days where there were more Red Wings fans in the arena than Caps fans in the Stanley Cup finals.   I’m talking the old days when Scott Stevens, Dino Ciccarelli and others were run out of town due to an inappropriate incident in a limousine.  I’m talking real old days, when the city almost lost the team due to complete ignorance of the District’s sporting fanbase.

You think it’s bad they missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years? You want dark days? Everything is relative, friends.

Now, let’s discuss the elephant in the room.

The Caps allowed McPhee to walk and fired Oates, under contract for another season (so they are eating that cash), yet they did not fire any of the assistant coaches. Leonsis allowed Patrick to give the news that the team does not expect to make any more changes to the staff and that they would prefer to have a manager in place before hiring a coach or conducting the NHL Draft, but don’t see that as a necessity.

Say what?

They dismissed the man that has been guiding this franchise for the past 17 seasons, yet don’t feel it’s necessary to have his replacement in place before either hiring a new coach or conducting this year’s draft? And they are retaining all the assistants, including Caps “Mt. Rushmore” members Calle Johansson and Olie Kolzig?

Really?

It’s hard not to look at this and think that Oates didn’t hire either assistant for their current position. It’s hard not to look at this — now — and think that Johansson and Kolzig were hired as public relation moves to act as a buffer to deflect criticism of the franchise out of respect for what they did as players. Neither had NHL credentials as coaches before they came here. The head coach they worked for was summarily dismissed. The GM was allowed to walk. But yet, the highly respected ex-players remain? Especially when the defense and goaltending were a source of criticism all season long, locally and nationally?

I loved Johansson and Kolzig as players as much as anyone. But their track record as coaches speaks for itself.

How can we separate Johansson and Kolzig from McPhee and Oates? How can they justify it?

The franchise is in turmoil. It’s at a crossroads. The decisions the organization — Leonsis and Patrick — make in the coming weeks and months will dictate the playing situation Alex Ovechkin will be in for the remainder of his time in D.C. Only they are responsible now. There’s no more scapegoat. There’s no more buffer or shield.

In the Ovechkin era, this organization has made promises and boasts and predictions of multiple Cups to a loyal and passionate fanbase. There’s no wonder there’s a sense of entitlement, both from the fans and the players themselves. They’ve bought in to it as much as anyone.

Make no mistake now though. Leonsis and Patrick are now directly responsible for whether or not Ovechkin takes this franchise to a Stanley Cup final that the fanbase, the team, the organization so richly think they deserve.

Here’s hoping they make the right decisions. I’m not as sure today as I was yesterday that will happen.

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