The lights shined a little bit brighter at yesterday’s Redskins training camp practice, as one of the DMV’s finest: rapper, Olubowale Victor Akintimehin–or simply Wale–came out to see his favorite football team in action.
Wale grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with his parents in northwest Washington, D.C. One of his earliest childhood memories was watching Doug Williams and the Redskins thrash the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. He was barely old enough to remember it, but football was one of the few special occasions when his whole family could come together.
“My parents were always at work, and I never got to spend much time with them,” he remembered. “My dad was a taxi driver and my mom was a nurse, so when the Redskins were winning, the fact that they were even home together and we were all sitting as a family watching something was a joy to me. To see the excitement on their faces–I’d never seen that in the early stage of my life.
“So from that point on I was like, I know this is my team.”
Wale has consistently been one of the team’s biggest celebrity fanatics, publicly representing his team and city even when it hasn’t been easy or popular to do so. As he told me yesterday, he’s been through the “long-face Mondays after a Redskins three-point loss,” but predicts a golden era for Washington football is right around the corner.
“I think our glory years is coming, I can feel it. I think RG3 is gonna bring some swag to the team,” he told me on the 50-yard line of the indoor practice facility. “I mean, I’m gonna do my part. I just don’t like people abandoning my team.”
Since the days of rap group N.W.A. wearing L.A./Oakland Raiders gear, the rap industry and NFL have been closely intertwined, with some artists adopting the colors of whatever team is hottest right now.
As a quasi-official ambassador of Redskins football in the music industry, Wale has had to answer for the tribulations of the team in recent seasons.
“It’s a direct association, man,” he said, shaking his head. “Like in rap, every rapper that watches sports is like, ‘Yo! What’s up with your ‘Skins?!’ It’s like a synonymous thing right now–you are who you watch.”
Despite enduring three-consecutive losing seasons, Wale was ecstatic when news broke of the trade with the Rams for the No. 2 overall pick.
“I had the same feeling as when the Wizards won the NBA lottery to get No. 1 for John Wall–that was the same feeling,” Wale remembered. “I think it was Twitter that I found out, and it was just such an intense emotion.”
Wale’s next move was to book tickets to the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Even as a life-long NFL fan, Wale had never been to the draft, and was part of an overwhelming Redskins contingent on the first night.
“I couldn’t even really think about anything else, but our future with RG3,” he said. “I’m such a football dude that like, I know 40 percent of the players drafted in all seven rounds, but I couldn’t think about anything but my team.”
“We never really drafted a quarterback that high since Heath Shuler–but let’s not being his name up. We should never bring that name up here on these grounds again.”
I think everyone in Redskins Nation can agree to that.
The only drawback to being at the draft was the nervous anticipation Wale had while the Indianapolis Colts were on the clock. As the seconds ticked away, Wale said he let himself briefly imagine a future without Robert Griffin III.
“You know how sometimes you kinda make yourself crazy on purpose?” he asked me, rhetorically. “You Google like ‘other options for the Redskins.’ And it tell you the rumor is that the Redskins are going to trade down and get Ryan Tannehill? I actually started thinking like, maybe the Colts might get Griffin for a second.”
Now that Griffin III is safely secured in the Burgundy and Gold, Wale couldn’t be happier with the direction of the Redskins, and is planning his wardrobe accessories accordingly.
“You’ll love this, I’m getting this Redskins chain made,” he said. “It’s the emblem and it’s iced out. It’s costing a lot of money, but I’ma rep my team wherever I go, and they gonna know.”
Wale also suggested that the Redskins try an alternate-color away jersey in the near future, just to get the fan base something to get fired up about. “There’s a lot of Cowboys fans in this area, so I think a new jersey color might help out a little bit with the younger crowd.”
Whatever it takes, Wale wants to replicate the old RFK Stadium experience at FedExField, and get the Redskins fans to pack the house.
“I just want the stadium to be jumping, man,” he said. “I’ll even take the fair weather fans and Cowboy converts. We don’t really need ’em, but I like strength in numbers.”
If you’re one of the Redskins originals, fair weather fans or Cowboys converts at FedExField this season, you’re likely going to see Wale, who said he would try to work any tour scheduling around the Redskins home games. Every season, Wale circles the Cowboys game on his schedule, but is looking forward to a couple other games this year as well.
“First of all, that preseason game against the Colts, the RG3-Luck showdown when Garcon gets to play against his old team,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “Then you got the whole NFC East. I think there’s a rivalry building with us and New York too–we knocked ’em off twice last year.
“I’m just excited, man. It’s gonna be a good season, Redskins fans.”
Check out Wale’s music at WaleMusic.com, and be sure to interact with him at Redskins home games in 2012 and beyond.