From the steps of City Hall in October of 2017, to the “OMG we’re going to save the Crew” celebration at Endeavor Brewing a year later, to the stadium reveal at Land Grant, to the official announcement on January 9, 2019, that the Crew had officially been saved, Dante Washington has been a prominent face and voice in the #SaveTheCrew movement. The former Crew all-star gave the movement some clout and he represented both fans and alumni with distinction.
We talked on the phone one night after the official saving of the Crew was complete.
On the Crew being 100% officially saved:
It’s kind of funny. I was kind of hip to what was going on before anyone else knew. To think about where we were to where we are now as of yesterday, I was talking to a good friend of mine who is in Columbus and is from my hometown, and I said, “To this day, I cannot believe that this happened.” Both of us have been saying they’re gone. Nah, they might stay. No, they’re gone. Probably like a lot of other people, we flip-flopped on the possibility of the team staying. I think part of it was wishful thinking. The power of positive thinking. Like, “If I think they’re gonna stay they’re gonna stay, and if I don’t they’re gonna go!” That’s the irrational side of it. Then there’s the other side that’s like, “There’s NO way! The league is behind it! FIFA’s behind it! Everyone’s behind it! No one likes the Crew! They all hate us!” I just mean the exact opposite angle. I don’t literally mean FIFA was against the Crew staying. It was just doomsday. It was like, “Harbaugh’s behind it! He definitely hates the Crew!”
Now it’s just an unbelievable wave of relief, excitement, optimism, and for everyone who has been around for a long time, the things we have seen transpire over the years, to have the ownership group that we have in place, it can’t be icing on the cake because that’s not even close to saying what it could be because it’s a lot more than icing on the cake.
The only time I really felt like crying in all of this was the event at Endeavor (last October when the Haslam-Edwards partnership was revealed) and then calling Holly and the girls. I hadn’t been able to talk to Holly that day because I was at work and then I took a half day to run over to Endeavor, so then calling and telling them that the team is staying and then hearing the joy in their voices. The girls were like, “Yay! Yay! Yay!”
On the Haslam and Edwards families being the new ownership group:
Everyone that I heard, and it’s not a very long list, but people who know the situation with the Haslams really well, have all said that when they talk about being stewards of the team, and “we don’t own the team, we are just borrowing them and it belongs to the community,” that was one of the first things I heard. And then I heard it from a second person who wasn’t connected to the first person. It’s like, “Oh my gosh! You mean to tell me we scored the ultimate gem of majority ownership?”
And then obviously when you talk about Pete and his family, when we were at the stadium announcement at Land Grant, his parents walk in. I see them at the door and it’s like we went from the absolute opposite extreme where the owner was only at our games six times over the course of five years, to Pete and his family, who are from Columbus and his kids were born and raised here and he’s been here since the very beginning. For someone to have seen so much and has been so close to this over the years, quite honestly, he even says it, that’s probably why he decided to get involved, because he’s been so close and it means so much to him. I was talking to one of his daughters yesterday and she said, “This has been my life. I have grown up with this team.”
I’ve known Pete and his family since I first came here the first time in 1996. I know them very well and know what they are about. To have them part of the ownership group as locals…wait, I want to dispel one of the myths.
People say it’s nice to finally have local ownership. We’ve had local ownership in the past. It just wasn’t very well known that we had local ownership. I remember meeting an elderly woman who was part of the local ownership group, but the share was so, so small. So I don’t want to discredit the many people who helped get us here who were local, who I think a lot of people may not know. There are a lot of people who are newer who may not remember. The Haslams are the majority owners. The Edwards family is putting in a lot, but let’s not forget that there were other people who care about Columbus who were local and were there at the beginning. They cared about the Crew and put their money on the line as well.
[NOTE: Whether through cash-call attrition along the way or being bought out, all local owners were gone as part of Anthony Precourt’s purchase in 2013. But when the club launched in 1996, 35 local investors owned 39% of the Crew. Ron Pizzuti was the biggest local investor and had a bio in the media guide. Some other names you might recognize among the hometown 35…John H. McConnell, Les Wexner, John F. Wolfe, Jay Schottenstein, and… wait for it…the father-son duo of Pete Edwards Sr. and Pete Edwards Jr. Keep in mind that the original MLS teams cost $5 million, so at that valuation, all 35 local owners would have been in for a little less than $2 million combined, which would be an average of about $56k per individual if split evenly among all 35 of them, which it wasn’t. Oh how times have changed.]
But to have the Haslam family and the Edwards family together…they share so much in common. And to add to that, the Haslams are so invested in the community and giving back to Columbus. A great thing too is that I almost feel like we have a piece of Lamar coming back because he cared so much about Columbus. Even though he wasn’t from here, he cared so much about the game, the league, and he really cared about Columbus so much that he put his hard-earned money on the line (to build the stadium.) And now it’s like we have that feeling again where it’s someone who really and truly cares.
On what Crew fans need to know about Dr. Pete as he transitions from team doctor to team owner:
I think the one thing people need to know about Pete, and I think they see it, is that he absolutely, unequivocally, 100 percent deeply, deeply, deeply cares about Columbus and especially this team. He was crazy enough to say, “You know what? I’m no longer going to be the team doctor. I’m going to be part of the ownership group.” And then he made it happen.
He’s genuinely good people and he’s probably the longest-tenured Crew employee, with Dwight (Burgess) being the next closest also in 1996. It’s kind of weird because to me, it’s like, “You’re Doc. You’re not an owner.” I should probably be giving him all this respect but he’s still just Doc to me.
And it’s just so weird to see him have a Twitter. It’s like, “This oddball has a Twitter account?”
On attending the event that officially announced the transfer of ownership to the Haslam-Edwards group:
One of the big highlights for me was seeing the alumni that were in attendance. Arica (Kress) emailed invitations to all the local alumni. That shows you how much it means to us—me, Gino, Presthus. Chad Barson, Frankie, David Winner, and there were others that were out of town and couldn’t be there—we were never invited to be together. So for me, that was like wow, “We’re all coming back.”
Like Gino said, and I almost went public but never did, but we have been shunned for the past five years, as you and I have talked about before. They couldn’t really have cared less. To now be embraced so much, the way we will be and already have been…wow.
And yesterday was the first time I have ever seen the Haslams in person. Compared to when the Hunts transferred ownership to Precourt in 2013, the feeling I had that day and the feeling I have after seeing and hearing about the Haslams, they are night and day. Just like everyone else, I had no idea who Anthony Precourt was, which makes it even better because everyone knows who the Haslams are. I think one of the great things that Dee Haslam did was that she acknowledged the staff that is still here and stuck through it all and then thanked them.
It’s almost like a rebirth of the club.
On what he’d say to the fans who fought in the #SaveTheCrew movement:
We did it. We ALL did it. Thank you. There’s no story that could have been written. This doesn’t happen. This wasn’t supposed to happen, but we made it happen.
I always say that fans are absolutely irrational at times. Maybe the irrationality of our fans was an absolute positive that helped keep the team here. They stuck their necks out. A bunch of crazy fans formed #SaveTheCrew. As I said to you before, you have all of these people who have day jobs and are good at their day jobs who all came together and said, “I’m going to lend my expertise to this organization and we’re going to talk loud and we’re to talk all the time and we’re going to do stuff in the community and we’re going to print stickers and we’re going have booths at Pelotonia and we’re going to let everybody know that we’re going to save the Crew. I ride in Pelotonia and I was at the booth they had there and someone came up and said, “Eh, they’re probably going to leave.” EVERYBODY thought they were going to leave, but we didn’t let it happen.
Obviously, I’m a fan now. I’m a former player, but I’m still a fan. We all played our part. All the folks at #SaveTheCrew, all the people who took the pledge that they would buy season tickets if we had new ownership, and judging by my twitter feed, they are doing it. I think there are going to be three different groups that will be driving season tickets. There’s going to be the disgruntled folks who they pissed off and alienated over the last five years, who are going to be like, “I have my team back, so I’m back.” Then you have the people who are ingrained already, who are re-upping. And then you have the people who were on the fringe who have been paying attention who are like, “You know what? This is my city and I am proud of it and I need to support this team because they need to stay here. I’m going to buy a season ticket.”
So what would I say to the fans? I don’t even know if there are words I can put it into. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We are a family and we all came together, from the people who cheered me when I played to the people who booed me. We’re still family. I love y’all because we all love this team.
A MASSIVE SEASON is now available as an ebook.