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Feb. 9, 2011

Vexed by the Capital Curse

by Gardi Royce, Page Editor
To truly understand and recognize the widespread significance of sports, you need only look at Cleveland, Ohio, deemed the “most miserable city” in America by a 2010 Reuters poll. What was once home to National Basketball Association (NBA) stardom and “King” LeBron James has now become a ghost town, a shadow of a time long ago. Yet while James left Cleveland for the beaches in Miami, along the way he had to pass through yet another sports purgatory: Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital boasts some of the worst sporting luck in recent times. From phenom pitchers to gun-slinging guards, D.C. has a way of turning even good opportunities into bad results. It is no longer a haven for champagne and victory cigars, rather, it is deeply mired in the Capital Curse.

Chicago, Boston, Buffalo and now D.C. All of these cities are haunted by an external force, a compass of misfortune that predicts playoff disappointments and early off seasons. While curses like “The Bambino” and “Sports Illustrated” have more widely regarded legitimacy, there is no denying a growing trend in D.C. sports.

This trend has been evident over the past 20 years—only five winning seasons for the Washington Wizards, with a post-season record of 6-23. D.C. should have been good, even great. We had Air Jordan, we battled King James year after year, and yet D.C. could never get over the hump. The last two decades in the capital have been anything but magical for the Wizards.

Culminating in 2001, the team had developed into a sanctuary for overpaid and underperforming athletes who played hard during free agency but spent the rest of their time smoking marijuana (Rasheed Wallace) and hiring prostitutes (Andre Blatche). With Michael Jordan coming out of retirement to bring basketball back to the nation’s capital, the new century was supposed to be one of championship banners and sold out crowds, not lottery ping pong balls.

Yet in 2001, with MJ engineering the decision, the Wizards selected Kwame Brown with the first pick in the draft. Now considered one of the worst picks in NBA history, Brown’s selection epitomized the bad luck that plagued the organization for years. Unfortunately, this bad luck seeped not only into the Wizards organization, but also poisoned the capital’s football team.

What used to be a football organization has now turned into a D.C. television drama, The Washington Redskins were a real football team twenty years ago, an organization founded on hard work and dedication. Yet the 2010-11 year was comparable to a new season of Jersey Shore, featuring just as much fighting, backstabbing and break-ups. You don’t have to be a sports nut to have heard of the new sports “soap opera” starring Donovan McNabb as the out-of-luck hero, Albert Haynesworth as the greedy villain and Michael Shanahan as the manipulating and strict older father. Unfortunately, D.C. fans don’t have the luxury of changing channels. The same show has been playing for the last 15 years with different actors. D.C. fans are used to this type of heartbreak.

In 2003, a slashing point guard was traded to the Wizards. Also known as Agent Zero and Hibbachi, Gilbert Arenas quickly became a fan favorite, dazzling and taunting Washington fans for four years — until suddenly his name stopped gracing Sports Center and started appearing on arrest warrants. The player who scored 60 points against Kobe Bryant, who drained game-winning baskets in his sleep, was sentenced to jail for threatening a teammate with a gold-plated gun he modeled after one in an Austin Powers movie. Armed with a playoff team of Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Arenas, the Wizards were supposed to compete for Eastern supremacy until their potential came crashing with their thoughtless leader. The moment Arenas entered the halfway house, any hope of turning the curse around was dashed, a feeling Washington fans are all too familiar with.

For the last 15 years, the Redskins have been offering job applications for washed-up, selfish has-beens that are looking to be grossly overpaid on a perpetually “re-building” team. Indeed, Deion Sanders, Adam Archuleta and Albert Haynesworth have to be incredibly content that they were all paid more money at their respective positions than any other player in the history of the NFL. Since 1995, the Redskins have had only five winning seasons, despite coaching by some historic NFL coaches like Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs, Norv Turner and, of course, Jim Zorn. Owner Daniel Snyder has been trying to emulate the New York Yankees for the last ten years, employing their pay-to-win strategy and failing. While New York gets criticized for buying championships, the Redskins spend just as much money and still lose. Despite having one of the highest payrolls in the NFL, they cannot put together a winning team.

In the most powerful city in the world, people are used to feeling good about their home. Yet for the past 20 years, something’s been missing — that spirit-lifting buzz of sports success. While not everyone is a sports fan, when the team is winning, everyone’s happy. And for the last two decades, the teams haven’t been winning. From Stephen Strasburg to Arenas, the Capital Curse has worked its devilish magic on our city’s sports. Sadly, there is no uplifting resolution to a city mired in sporting limbo, only the bittersweet feeling that at some point, without warning, success will return to our capital. And when it does, we will be ready.



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