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The NFL’s Humpty Dumpty Moment

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Bruised but not bent, and nowhere near broken: That’s how I describe my relationship with the Browns these days. I’ve been a season ticket holder since the club’s return to Cleveland in 1999 –presently four on the 50, top row of First Energy, lake side, so you get the full wind and cold but covered from direct snow and rain– and the beneficiary of my dad’s season passes before that, from 1965 until the Orange and Brown blew town for Baltimore in 1996.

There may be the equals of Browns fans out there –many will claim as much– but in terms of loyalty in the face of futility, only Lions fans even come close.  The Browns have had one playoff game since 1999. And that was in Pittsburgh. Where they lost. They are 1-18 over the past two seasons. I renewed this season even before they called.  I called them. . Didn’t even blink. “There is no crying in baseball!” to quote Tom Hanks, and no quitting when it comes to the Browns.


So when the current generation of Browns players do this or that, I note it but also the fact that I was here long before they arrived –even the sainted left tackle Joe Thomas– and I’ll be here long after they are gone. This group of players on any particular Sunday isn’t going to decide how I live my life.


But I may be in a minority. Anecdotal evidence is evidence of anecdotes only, but the anecdotes I’ve heard from callers and in person over the past week is overwhelmingly and harshly negative towards the players, coaches, owners.  Manhattan-Beltway media elites seem to have largely missed this aspect of the controversy, not surprising given the overwhelming gravitational pull of the President Trump angle which the media elites love to cover. Many many fans, maybe millions, seem to be saying: “We don’t care that the president started it or that he used language we object to too. Stand up for the Anthem.”


Very few of see critics object to athletes having political opinions or expressing them. LeBron James used a press conference this week to compared my vote for the president (the votes of all Trump voters actually, but mine is included in that) to his decision to give too many Skittles to his little girl. I’d be happy to discuss the Supreme Court and its decisions in the Hobby Lobby and Trinity Lutheran decisions with LeBron, or the consequences of unilateral withdrawal from Iraq or sequestration on the Pentagon any time, but The King’s opinions on politics and policy have as much impact on me as mine on how to defend the Warriors would have on him.


I welcomed his remarks though because he spoke them. He explained himself. Hundreds of players making gestures are bound to be misunderstood by tens of millions of fans. Speak your piece or don’t speak, your choice, but don’t expect it to be understood as you would want it to be.


 If you use gestures.  Gestures lack nuance. They can be misunderstood.  That’s why God gave man speech.


The gulf between elites –and NFL players, coaches and owners are elites– and middle America is vast and growing. Dance on its edge at your peril when it comes to customers. The value of a New York City taxi medallion was over $1.3 million four years ago and is about $250K now. “Disintermediation” comes at you fast, and while the NFL “owned a day of the week” for a long, long time, the bobble-headed leadership at Shield HQ has lost its touch. Lost it long ago in fact.  As historian Victor Davis Hanson argued to me eloquently Friday, President Trump has an “uncanny ability” to sense the collected grievances of fly-over America. (Read or listen to the entire interview for a unique take on what is happening across many issues regarding the president:[])

Like the Chick-fil-A controversy of five years ago, the yawning gulf between coastal media elites and middle America blinded those Manhattan-Beltway based media elites to the reactions of a large portion of the NFL’s fan base specifically, as it had to the approach of President Trump and Trumpism generally. That blindness shows little signs of abating, and thus of even more stress ahead. If nobody hears you, you tend to yell louder or to stop trying completely and check out.


But that gulf is not enough to make me yearn less for an Indians-Cubs rematch with a different outcome, a successful rebuild of the Browns (yes, it really, really, really is happening) or for the Cavs to win a “best of five” NBA Finals extended series with the Warriors.


It may not be possible to break my love of Cleveland sports, no matter how smugly how many of the athletes dismiss my views, and it won’t get stringer if lots of the athletes announce they listen to my show. That part of my life is outside of politics. I hope it stays that way. Fandom has long held off the armies of left and right.  This invasion needs to be turned back as well. Don’t open the gates.


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