Browns fans need to stop holding on to “Old Cleveland” and embrace “New Cleveland”
Organized team activities (OTAs) have started in Berea. The Browns are allowed to start early because they have a new head coach. Normally, The Dawg Pound would be buzzing with questions like, “Will the defense hold up this year,” or “Is our new first round draft pick going to be a boom or a bust?”
This year, Browns fans’ questions look more like TMZ TV or a People magazine cover:
“Will he or won’t he?”
“What is he wearing?”
It seems Browns fans are more concerned with style than substance, anticipating everything that could go wrong with having egocentric, fame-seeking, All-Pro athletes on the team without considering what could go right with having egocentric, fame-seeking All-Pro athletes on the team.
I’ve been talking with my friends, die-hard Browns fans, I’ve been talking with all generations of The Dawg Pound, and I’ve been talking with recent fans who have seen the light and punched their tickets on the bandwagon. Every single one of them has only one thing on their minds: will Odell Beckham Jr. come to work when he really doesn’t have to come?
Browns fans who hit “Snooze” on their alarms six times before they get out of bed want their football players to “put in that work” at 4:30 in the morning the day before OTAs. They want their Brownies to put their tar-black work pants on one leg at a time, grab their black coffee, and bring a lunch pail to practice. They want their players to have the same hard-scrabble, 9-to-5 work ethic they do, because that what they do. Even the team buys into the mystique of Midwest milieu with its slogan “The Hardland of America”.
This is why some Browns fans are comically whinging at OBJ OBJ-ing his free time before the season. While Jarvis Landry and Baker Mayfield among others were settling in by transitioning back to work, OBJ was holding his own workouts in Los Angeles, something he has done for years. Of course, fans insist he be at 76 Lou Groza Boulevard promptly at 5 A.M. with doughnuts, bagels, and coffee for the entire wide receiver room.
That is “Old Cleveland” mentality. Please stop it.
The days of Joe Six-pack and Rosie the Riveter are long gone in Cleveland –unless, of course, that six-pack Joe drinks is Platform Speed Merchant IPA, or Rosie is re-purposing a retired Boeing 747 as a “mobile urban living space”. It took some time, creative incentivizing, a zeitgeist shift, and convincing of some avaricious downtown land developers, but Cleveland has re-emerged from the dismal depths of the death of The Rust Belt into a cool metropolitan city filled with white-collar hipsters and tech nerds. You are more likely to find a pediatrician with a handlebar mustache on his lunch break taking a selfie at the Cleveland Museum of Art while sipping in free-trade cold-roasted coffee than you are a slump-shouldered machinist whose face is scarred by chemical burns and flying sparks.
The sooner Browns fans let this “Old Cleveland” mentality go, the better.
When I heard some fans were already labeling OBJ as a “cancer”, and wanting him to be traded…TRADED…before he even set up his locker, it makes me think of a line from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. In it, the villain Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore, says to George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, “Dammit, man, are you afraid of success?” In context, Mr. Potter was trying to bribe George out of his family’s Savings and Loan business. However, that opposite can be applied here to those fans worried about when a high-level player doesn’t fit their worldview. Whenever I hear a Browns fan grouse about an All-Universe superstar wearing a kilt to a fashion show or not reporting to voluntary practice, I think some Browns fans might actually be afraid of success.
Browns fans are too worried about the players not living vicariously enough with the Midwest “work ethic”. Old Cleveland is full of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe who couldn’t speak a word of English breaking their backs to provide a better life for their families. They eschew flashiness for austerity. They are steak without the sizzle.
Times have changed. Individuals no longer need to rely on punching a time clock and pulling a lever eight hours a day to prove how hard they work. In this new global market, substance and style can co-exist. The same people who criticize OBJ for not being visible in the off-season are the same ones who forgot he is same player who has practiced one-handed artistic catches since high school.
Browns fans, embrace “New Cleveland”! Millennial players are going to work hard; they are going to post their hard work on Instagram from their Malibu location. Millennial players are going to read the playbook off of a tablet while flying to Paris with a model-influencer. They are going to show up at outlandish events like fashion shows and charity banquets wearing peacock feathers and schoolboy shorts, all the while telling reporters how excited they are to play in Cleveland…yes, Cleveland, Ohio.
“There’s no problem with Odell not being here,’’ Head Coach Freddie Kitchens told cleveland.com. “I’d rather him be here. He’s not here. It’s voluntary. That’s what the word voluntary means. He can decide to come or he can’t.
“But under no circumstance am I going to say that I’m pissed off at Odell for not being here. He’ll be ready to play and ultimately that’s the only thing I want, for him to be ready to play when we start kicking off in September and he will be — I promise you.”
Kitchens isn’t concerned, why should we Browns fans be?
Stop being married to archaic ideals. Stop arguing about whether or not a player has to move into Avon Lake to prove how dedicated to the team he is. Stop furrowing your brows over if a player who notoriously worked the Juggs machine with his best friend before and after practice in college will immediately abandon that same habit with that same friend to go clubbing in New York City on a Tuesday night.
Stop being a fan by being afraid.
I get it, we’ve been burned plenty of times, pun intended for the next sentence. We endured the love saga between Andre “Bad Moon” Rison and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez. We’ve seen All-Pro players like Willie McGuiness collect his retirement salary while his friend coached the team. Old Cleveland labors under the mentality that players don’t want to come here because, frankly, it’s Cleveland. That is a tired, fifty-year-old joke that hacky comedians and people who have never been here perpetuate.
Superstars can flourish here. Fans need to start projecting this. The internet and this new global economy proves you do not have to live in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles to be noticed or make money. You can be a global mogul in a nice city like Cleveland, and be a champion as well.
One of the best basketball players of all time came back to Northeast Ohio to play for the Cavaliers five years ago. That turned about pretty well…and he never once worried about his image or brand dying.
Don’t pine for a superstar to come to your team, then complain when they do superstar things. The Browns coaching and administrative staff are still preaching they haven’t done anything yet, and even the players are echoing this. The fact the our new bombastic wide receiver states, rather matter-of-factly, that he wants to help the Browns become the new New England Patriots. The mere fact OBJ stating he wanted to help this team become a championship team should be reason enough for fans to be wholeheartedly behind him. Instead, some of us fed into the trap the big media outlets set by twisting his words that, somehow, he compared this Browns team to the actual Patriots.
Just be happy we have a bombastic wide receiver who wants to play for us.
We have showy young men who want to lead the league in touchdowns and Instagram likes. We have fun personalities who can turn it on under the bright lights of prime-time NFL football games. We have hungry athletes who aren’t afraid to call out sport talk-show “experts” for the clowns they are. We will see very soon if they can put this all together to translate to wins, but let’s have fun doing it!
Fellow Dawg Pound denizens: grab a Pabst Blue Ribbon Tall Boy, straighten out your orange and brown bow tie, kick off your Chuka boots, and embrace New Cleveland!
The players on your favorite team are.