We have been favored this week with no shortage of fond remembrances for RFK Stadium in Washington DC. We all want to speak well of the dead and the dying. Such a desire is so deeply engrained in our humanity that versions of it can be found as far back as in ancient Greek and Latin.
It is the purest example of the Golden Rule; we would all hope that at the last, in our darkest hour, that even our enemies would attempt to find a measure of peace and speak of us the way they would wish we would speak of them. If nothing else, it is what our parents likely taught us at a young age: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
Tim Hall’s View From 101
Major League Soccer wrapped up the regular season this weekend, and with RFK’s sole remaining tenant DC United so far out of the playoff picture they may as well have been behind the camera, it meant that Sunday’s match against long time rivals New York Red Bulls would be the last to be played at RFK. After many fits and starts and legal red tape befitting the nation’s capital, finally DCU will be moving into their own purpose-built stadium next season.
The wistful odes to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium took many forms, from recollections of memorable games gone by and championship seasons four presidencies ago to stories of the other sports and teams that had plied their trades there. People spoke of the friends they had made attending games at RFK, and spoke of the stadium itself as one of those friends.
Some called RFK not just a home for DC soccer, but indeed a home for American soccer, as close to a national stadium as the USA has ever had. And more than one story made reference to the stadium’s age and state of disrepair, but tended to do so in a way that bathed the relic in some charm and nostalgia, the way one might recall their first apartment that for the leaking ceiling and dripping faucet was, nevertheless, home.
The problem, inherently, with these eulogies of the dead and dying is that we tend to filter and sanitize them through love, never wanting to look back in anger, and never wanting to speak ill of the dead, lest our mothers box our ears, or – as no doubt the ancient Greeks believed – the souls of the departed would fail to lay at rest and instead haunt us daily.
So instead of loving something the way true love demands, to accept it warts and all and love it just the same, we choose rather to hold up some glorified ideal version to not only honor what we have lost but also to make us look better for loving something so retroactively perfect.
The truth, the reality, the unvarnished, unsanitized fact of the matter is that RFK Stadium was awful. Godawful. Abysmal. To call RFK a hole would be to besmirch all other holes that ever have been or ever will be, holes that never did anything bad to anyone and certainly don’t deserve to get sucked in to an unfair comparison. Some holes, like the Grand Canyon, are wondrous things, beautiful to look at.
Some holes, like graves, are useful. And some holes don’t do anything good or bad, haven’t helped or harmed a soul, just continue on their way. And each of those examples is in every way better than RFK Stadium was. We would like to issue a blanket apology to all holes around the world for the unfair treatment at being compared to RFK Stadium.
There is a moment in a Simpsons episode where Moe the bartender openly muses about fixing up his rundown poor excuse for a dive. To which perpetual barfly Carl incredulously says “You ain’t thinkin’ of getting rid of the dank, are you, Moe?!”
The joke, of course, is that we’re not supposed to love the dank in the first place. The dank is what you have to love when there’s nothing else to love. When that’s all that is left, you have to love just that, even if you have to do so ironically.
And so it was for all of the eulogies for dead old RFK Stadium recalled with a wistful sigh everything wrong and dirty and dank about the concrete hulk. No one could possibly try to tell the story of RFK without mentioning everything that was so very very wrong with it, but it seemed like every writer went into the exercise not wanting to besmirch the dead, so they all laid bare the facts with a but at the end.
OK, there was one, if not a family of, raccoons living there, but. Yes, the paint was chipped in most places, but. Yes, seats would break if you spoke to them harshly, but. OK, there were full-blown trees growing through cracks in the concrete on the upper levels, but.
There were holes on the bottom tiers so large people could fall through them, but. Granted, all levels would bounce and sway to the point where people had to act like this was a feature instead of a flaw just to keep their sanity as they came to the realization that the more jubilantly they supported their team, they inched closer and close to death, but.
But, there are no buts. No amount of “it was a deathtrap, but at least it was OUR deathtrap” nostalgia removes the fact that it was a deathtrap and everyone who went there, from paying customer to paid employee took their health and well-being and lives in their hands when they set foot in that rotting sewer (and, again, all apologies to actual sewers).
Now DC United will move their matches to Buzzard Point, a fitting name because even buzzards wouldn’t come around RFK any more. There is, as yet, no concrete plan with what to do with the cracked and crumbling concrete edifice. It will not be demolished just yet, on the off chance that someone should actually have a use for it in the near future.
Which only goes to show that maybe all those ancient cultures had it right. Maybe we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead just in case they do haunt us for the rest of time.
But truth be told no one should be sad to turn out the rest of the lights and lock the remaining doors of RFK Stadium and walk away. You’d be forgiven for burning that wretched hellhole to the ground for what pittance of insurance money you can get for it. Let it rot, and let us never speak of it again, ill or otherwise.