July 26, 2014

A Cleveland Sports Fan’s Guide To Opposition

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)

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.weppelman Joe Weppelman

    I think I have a pretty healthy attitude. In general, I don’t find myself feeling that much rage and hatred. I question the existence of justice when I think that the Marlins have done twice since 1993 what the Tribe has not done once since 1948, but I don’t hate them. Blowing a 3-1 lead to the Red Sox was painful, but again, I can’t work up the energy to truly despise them. I will always see the Steelers as our main rivals because that’s what I was taught in my childhood. But the games haven’t meant anything for so long.

    There are only a few sports figures I can say I despise and who will never be redeemed in my eyes:
    The Traitors: Modell, Lebron,

    The Legends We Just Couldn’t Get Past: Jordan and Elway.

    The Liars and Cheaters: Carlos Boozer and Rashard Lewis (He hit big 3 after big 3 in that series and was probably on PED’s while he did it).
    And in a tiny little closet, in a dark irrational corner of my psyche, Jeremiah Castille. I don’t know anything about him other than Dick Enberg and Bob Trumpy bellowing his name as I watched, horrified. I can hear it like it was yesterday “Jeremiah Castille!”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HRYRWL73MA2P6BMVNHIKJTCKUQ George Hetzel

    Good list.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    >>>a learned behavior from something we don’t truly understand.>>>

    without launching in a broader ‘this is emblematic of the shortcomings of your generation’ and/or ‘these are unpleasant outcomes of a value-agnostic society’ discussion let me suggest you seek out the information so that you can understand.

    this is as good a place to start as any. but if that’s too much research for you, i’ll be succinct: he managed to purchase the most successful football team ever, with the most ingenious head coach ever, and the greatest running back ever, for $250,000 of his own money. he presided over its decline and then moved the team. we dont have to get into the sharecropper treatment of the indians (again with property that he didnt buy with his own money). the deceptions of his with respect to cleveland govt and NEO taxpayers is also available online.

    to your greater point, i dont get your greater point. is it that ‘the opposite of love is indifference, not hate?’ thus those that actively hate modell and lebron are deceiving themselves? ok, i agree.

    but a more interesting topic is an examination of the outfall that such abuse has had on cleveland fandom behavior. you write for a blog that sends love letters to chris perez and squashes stories/videos of him acting rude/boorish/unprofessional. there’s a desperate ‘please like me, i’ll be good now’ sociology among a large portion of our fanbase that somehow tracks back to the scars from modell and lebron.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    it appears my post was deleted?

  • Pete

    Does it ever bother anyone that we as Cleveland fans may–should some team of ours ever win the day in all its glory–lose our identity as a fan base? We go into every pro season with at least some flicker of hope in our hearts, knowing that anything is possible in sports, and we get trounced every time–either immediately or with mere outs remaining before the trophy ceremonies. And it totally defines us. “WFNY” knows it–the very title says it loudly. ESPN surely knows it. Every other fan base knows it: it’s CLEVELAND. They’re the loveable losers, the ones looking forward to those good draft picks.

    If we win, what will we become? I’ve been a Cleveland sports fan as far back as I can remember, from my youth up. And if we win something big, and I don’t die immediately afterwards, I won’t know what to think. I won’t know how to react as a fan of mediocrity. Sure, “dynasties” are possible, but even those eventually fade for us non-megaopoulos cities. To say to someone, yeah we won the _____ Championship six years ago, doesn’t have that nostalgic bite that makes me yearn for success. The hope will become stale. Victories will be diluted–not electric like they are now, especially due to our perennial underdog status. And losses–I’m not even sure how I would feel about those.

    Does anyone else ever think about this, or am I just a wanderer in a future that may never actually occur before this world is over?

  • Wai Sallas

    I’d like to contact you regarding an interview. Respond here and I’ll email you so we can get in touch. Thanks.