As my frustrations with the Cleveland Browns have waxed and waned over the years, I’ve threatened at different points just to bag my five-plus decades of support because it wasn’t worth the effort.
I always stuck with it, though, and I had always wondered what exactly would it take for me to actually follow up on that impulse.
That’s the basic question here: How bad would it have to be?
I got that answer last week, when it was announced that the team had reached an agreement to trade for a quarterback who hadn’t played for a year while police, prosecutors and a grand jury investigated multiple complaints that he had sexually abused women while getting massages. A quarterback who still has deal with nearly two dozen civil lawsuits from individual woman who detailed those assaults.
And there’s the answer to that question.
To briefly recap: Early last week, NFL media folks began reporting that the Browns were one of an handful of teams interested in this guy, and I tweeted at that point that I’d be done with the Browns if that were to ever happen. At that point, though, the tweet felt impulsive and I deleted it a short time later.
I was glad I did a day or two later, when the name national media folks reported that the Browns were out of the running. That still left the Browns in a terrible position with Baker Mayfield, the guy who was to have been the team’s savior — but at least it wasn’t going to be that guy.
So it’s fair to say I was stunned when multiple push alerts hit my phone Friday afternoon that the Browns were not only back in the running but had reached an agreement with the Texans to trade for the guy.
I was crushed. And I knew that impulsive tweet from earlier in the week wasn’t just an impulse — that’s what I had to do if I was ever going to enjoy watching NFL games ever again.
I went to Target after work and grabbed a big storage tub, brought it home and filled it with all of the Browns stuff I could find — books, hats, hoodies, t-shirts, jerseys, all of it — so I could take it up to the attic. I cut the team out of my social media. I left the local Browns Backers group on FB. I shut off mentions in my various sports apps and deleted the Browns app from my phone.
Maybe I had a sliver of hope that the deal could unravel before it was finalized, and that might have been the reason that I didn’t take the tub of Browns stuff upstairs right away. But that was dashed when I saw this tweet Sunday morning.
Yep. It was over.
There is one large question to address here, because it’s already become the basis for justifying his presence in Cleveland, just as it was the justification for celebrating the Stillers quarterback who just retired without any meaningful discussion of his own reputation for being a sexual predator: “But Uncle Crappy — what happened to the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty?’ “
Was he charged with any crimes? No, he was not.
So he’s innocent, right?
It’s not that simple. Police and prosecutors make hard decisions all the time about whether those suspected of crimes can be prosecuted successfully or not. In this case, prosecutors actually took evidence to a grand jury, which was empaneled not to decide innocence or guilt but to determine if there was enough evidence to proceed with charges and a trial.
That grand jury said there wasn’t.
But that ruling speaks only to those questions; it does nothing to address whether or not anything happened. And where there is smoke, boys and girls — in this instance the civil lawsuits that are still hanging out there — there is fire.
The number of allegations against him is important too. This wasn’t a one-time problem (which we refer to incorrectly as a “mistake,” as in, “Whoops, sorry, I don’t know how my penis got there.”) — it demonstrates a pattern. Something happened, over and over and over, which pretty clearly shows that this guy has no regard for women, that he’s a dangerous person in the community and that he shouldn’t be in the league — and I sure as hell don’t want him on my team.
After that tweeted announcement, there were subsequent posts from the owners, the GM and the head coach, all saying they were satisfied that the new face of the Cleveland Browns “understands and embraces the hard work to build his name both in the community and on the field” (quoted from the statement of Dee and Jimmy Haslam).
Is it possible that that’s actually true? Does he feel remorseful? Could he successfully rehabilitate himself? Sure. That’s possible. But I also think that we should believe people when they show us who they are — and he felt comfortable enough with some kind of troubling conduct that he did it not just once but again and again and again.
And that’s not a guy I can cheer for. Ever.
Fifty years. Plus a few more.
Because of TV, I was a Browns fan before I really knew what Ohio State football was. I had posters — the ones you used to be able to order from Sports Illustrated — of Leroy Kelly hanging in my bedroom. And while Buckeyes would be on TV once or twice a year back in those days, I couldn’t begin to count the hours I spent watching the Browns on TV on a black-and-white screen with a crescent-shaped chip out of one corner of the TV’s plastic frame.
There was also even more time when I was in junior high and high school, pretty much every Sunday. My dad and I even convinced my mom to let us keep a small radio plugged in behind the couch so we could listen to the radio broadcast as we watched the game TV. And if we weren’t parked on that couch for kickoff, it was probably because we went to the game, as we did once a year for a few years.
That wasn’t easy, either. Everyone knows the list of Patented Cleveland Sports Disasters that happened to the Browns, and trust me — I felt each of those, deeply and personally. The ultimate heartbreak happened in 1995, when the team was stolen from Cleveland and from me. Mrs. Crappy talked me out of bailing then, and I was newly committed to the team when it returned.
I stuck with them through everything, even the previously mentioned moments when I doubted whether I should. But that wavering was all based on football stuff — the team’s luck, its poor decisions by terrible coaches and personnel folks and, yes, its inability to beat the team that plays just down the road from my house. But that was my team. And I stayed.
The Browns would say that this also is a football decision; I think it’s more than that, though. Regardless of the tweeted platitudes, it shows a disregard for the women of the team’s fan base and a disregard for your community. It says that the front office folks think those things can be sacrificed in the name of playoff wins, all while keeping their fingers crossed that he doesn’t start doing the same things once he lands in Cleveland.
Look, I’m not being naive. I know that the NFL is about winning. Period. And I suspect this guy will help. But my own values are more important — and they say that I can neither support this guy nor the team that signed him
So what happens now? That’s hard to say. If I’m still going to watch the NFL, it would make sense to fall back on my previous free agency deal with the 49ers. It would be easy and pretty comfortable.
And I have to admit that at the moment, the idea of cheering for the other Ohio team — the one led by Joey Burrow — is interesting.
And it could also be that I simply choose to take some time off from pro football. After all, I discovered in the years that the Browns were gone that Sunday afternoons spent doing things other than football were kind of nice.
Maybe I’ll give that a try for a while.