Art Modell is dead. LeBron James has been in South Florida for over two years now. I begin with these two because when some throw around the term “hatred”, these will forever be at the forefront of the minds of Cleveland sports’ fans. They’re not the first, and they certainly won’t be the last to take something incredibly close to the hearts of Ohioans. But, why do so many of us expend so much energy to hate those that have wronged us? Having these same feelings myself far too often, I decided to dig a little deeper into our collective sports state of mind.
Certainly, there’s more names than these two. Just in my 24 years, I can make quite a laundry list. When you think of teams, the Braves, Marlins, Red Sox, Celtics, Heat, and Magic come to mind, primarily as the road block to a title that would’ve ended our championship drought. When we talk about players from those teams, there’s Tom Glavine, Edgar Renteria, Josh Beckett, Boston’s Big Three, James, Dwight Howard, and Hedo Turkoglu. Then, there’s our own who have left for brighter lights and greener pastures. Just in my time, there’s Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, James, and the inevitability that was C.C. Sabathia had he not been traded. Then, there’s the owners. Of course, Modell, but there’s plenty who would add the Dolans to this list now given the past several seasons. Truly, the enornmity of the list I could generate just off the top of my head is baffling. Think of it this way. If you transplanted a foreign exchange student into Northeast Ohio and were assigned with teaching them Cleveland sports past and present. The number of explanations required for the “Why do we dislike this person/team/owner?” would be overwhelming. It’s as if most of us (myself included) carry around this little encyclopedia with all of the sports figures that have done the city of Cleveland wrong.
To those my age and younger, that’s how the Modell hatred feels, a learned behavior from something we don’t truly understand. I was too young at the time to truly understand what was going on. By the time I was sharpening my sports knowledge, the Browns were already known to be coming back, and everyone else’s despair was replaced in me by excitement at seeing the Browns actually play. Not living through and seeing those great teams of the late eighties leaves me at an emotional disadvantage. Without having truly lived through it, it takes a more concentrated effort to believe people when they don’t latch onto these Browns because they’re a dry husk of their former selves.
I’m not trying to say that all opposition or even dislike is bad. Of course, there’s healthy rivalries, which take an entirely different attitude. When it comes to the Steelers, Pistons, Bengals, Reds, Tigers, the Wizards back in the LeBron era, and so on, it gives us a barometer on which games are more important. Often geographically fueled, it gives us discussion points among coworkers, friends, and sometimes relatives. Working and going to school in Columbus, this has proven to be the case time and time again. Often, these are the teams we see more than the average team, year after year. To me, rivalries are healthy, hatred is not.
I began to think about how I feel regarding players, schools, coaches, etc. that oppose Ohio State, my alma mater. Is it just in the psyche of Cleveland fans? When I think of the SEC slaughters in recent years, the violations discovered inside the program, and so on, I don’t feel the same strong feelings that I do regarding corresponding elements in the Cleveland sports universe. Perhaps it’s because college sports is more permanent and less static all at the same time. Players get cycled out every four years (and often earlier than that). A player’s role changes every single year they are in a program. However, once those norms are accepted, you find other things that give it a longer lasting sense. Players do transfer, but the movement is nothing to be compared with free agency in the pros. Coaches generally have a longer tenure. There is no way that a large university is moving anywhere. In the end, I suppose these feelings could be dismissed because on the whole Ohio State is a “have” and the Cleveland sports teams are relatively “have nots” in their respective landscape. However, I think the attitude from the college landscape overall is one that can be applied to pro sports.
I look forward to the day where I can cast aside my encyclopedia of names on my Cleveland sports list. The one constant in professional sports is change. Jim Thome came back, the Browns came back, Urban Meyer came from the SEC powerhouse Florida back to Ohio State. What conceivably impossible realignment is on the horizon? Today’s beloved becomes tomorrow’s loathed, and sometimes vice versa.
Would Jimmy Haslam putting the right pieces in place with the Browns winning the Super Bowl erase what Modell did? No, absolutely not. Would Kyrie Irving and others capturing a NBA title clear our minds of the disrespectful circus that took place in July 2010? No to that one as well. But, what it may do is allow us to leave both of those dark days of Cleveland sports where they belong, in the past.
(Photo: David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)