For a few hours each week in the fall and winter, the Redskins are on, and the Washington region takes a brief but blissful break from politics. That should be especially true when they're playing the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football, and local television ratings are through the roof.
But viewers throughout Virginia got a surprise taste of the state's U.S. Senate race Monday night, when Republican candidate Ed Gillespie popped up on their screens to decry a proposed bill that would take away the NFL's tax-exempt status if the league doesn't push the Washington team to drop its nickname, which some consider an offensive racial epithet.
While Sen. Mark Warner won't take a position on the bill, the ad says, Gillespie will. "I'll oppose the anti-Redskins bill "¦ and let the Redskins handle what to call their team," he says.
But wait: Gillespie may be a longtime Fairfax County, Va., resident, but he is originally from the New Jersey suburbs outside Philadelphia. He has admitted before to being "conflicted" about whether to back the Redskins or the Eagles. So does this ad mean Gillespie is wearing Washington's burgundy and gold rather than Philly's green and white?
"I was born and raised an Eagles fan, and I've always considered it sort of a character flaw to abandon your team," Gillespie explained in an interview on Tuesday. "So I root for the Redskins 14 weeks out of the season. I mean, I follow them and my son is a diehard fan, and I've lived in Virginia longer than I ever lived in South Jersey. But ... when you're born and raised with a team, I think you stay with the team."
So just to be clear, does he root for the Eagles when the two NFC East teams play each other? "Yes," Gillespie said. (Either way, he always roots against the Cowboys.)
And, he added, "Even an Eagles fan understands that this Harry Reid bill is an overreach."
Warner, meanwhile, has not pushed publicly for the NFL to pressure the Redskins, and he doesn't think much of the Republican's latest play call. "Down double digits, late in the fourth quarter, the Gillespie campaign threw an incomplete Hail Mary," Warner spokesman David Turner told the Associated Press.
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Ben Pershing is Washington editor of National Journal, overseeing White House and congressional coverage. Before joining National Journal in 2014, he was a reporter at the Washington Post for six years, covering Congress as well as campaigns in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Prior to that, Pershing was at Roll Call for 10 years as a reporter and editor. He is a Los Angeles native and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley.