The Art Modell Hall of Fame story line played out when Modell passed away recently. Now, he’s been made a finalist on the ballot to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That necessitates that we talk this thing over (at least) one more time, but I figured rather than trying to make an obvious and easy plea to the emotional side of the story, it might be interesting to attack the issue a different way. It’s pretty easy to summarize Browns fans’ overwhelming opinions and more importantly their feelings that drive those opinions. It is clear and obvious. The Browns fans are the most obvious and explainable of the stakeholders in this storyline. Now it’s time to deconstruct the proponents, namely Baltimore Ravens fans. Mostly that requires a question that no Browns fans can answer. I want to know the answer, just the same. What motivation do Ravens fans have to induct Art Modell into the hall?
This weekend in the Baltimore Sun and the Plain Dealer, Bill Livingston wrote on behalf of Cleveland and Peter Schmuck1 wrote on behalf of Baltimore as the two publications pitted Cleveland against Baltimore. While I understand the desire to do that and set it up that way, I’m wondering why Baltimore even cares this much to make the argument.
Modell delivered the Browns to Baltimore and after all the legal wrangling the name of the team was changed and it had no history, which remained in Cleveland.2 So, I do understand why the fans might initially like the guy. He brought them a team after the Irsay family stole theirs away in the middle of the night in 1983. The Baltimore fans had to wait almost a decade and a half for the NFL to find its way back to their city. That’s undeniably brutal. Still, the fact is that Modell’s first season in Baltimore was 1996 and he was then directed by the NFL to sell his prized possession to Steve Bisciotti in 2003 due to more financial strain. Bisciotti, already a minority owner has owned the team since that time.
What’s my point? Art Modell delivered the team, but he only owned it there for nine years. The team won a Super Bowl, but three years later, the same guy who delivered the team and a Super Bowl was forced to sell it despite a no-cost stadium lease and all the revenues from parking and concessions. Those were roughly the same dire financial straits that caused Modell to move the team in the first place. Lucky for Baltimore this time that their adopted football father was directed to sell the team rather than go looking for another municipality with the financial ability to bail him out.
Imagine a world where Art had been “forced” to go look for another city because he “had no choice” given the economics of his situation in Baltimore? I know it’s unrealistic because the NFL intervened this time in 2003, but imagine just for a second if Modell was forced to go find some favorable tax advantages in a city like Oklahoma City or something? Would Ravens fans be promoting good old Art for the Hall of Fame because of all he ever did for the TV deal or would they bemoan the mere idea that a failure who ripped their team away yet again was even being considered for the game’s most prestigious designation?
It’s an important question. If you read most of Peter Schmuck’s article about Modell, most of it focuses on attacking Browns fans for being bitter, judgmental and never letting it go. I can’t help but wonder why they even care if Browns fans ever let it go. But who has standing in the argument?
A stakeholder analysis looks to map out the various people and parties related to an issue. In the case of Art Modell and his candidacy, the primary stakeholders are his surviving family. They are the ones ultimately affected first-hand by the result. The secondary stakeholders are NFL fans, media and employees. These are the people indirectly affected by the events. Finally there are key stakeholders. These stakeholders can belong to the first two groups, but have significant influence upon or importance within the issue.
So the question becomes of the “key” stakeholders, who should have standing? Baltimore fans had Art Modell bring football back to them and he owned the team from 1996 to 2004. Browns fans had their team taken away by Modell and had him as an owner from 1961 to 1995. Does that discrepancy in time periods give Browns fans more standing than Baltimore fans in the argument? Not by default, but it is probably a factor in the voters’ minds.
I just wish I could get to the heart of the matter with Ravens fans. With all the good things going on right now for them and since 1996, do they really love Art Modell or have they merely enjoyed the team? Are those two things inextricable for them?
Obviously they’ve enjoyed the team, but what responsibility for all their good fortune did the guy who was in financial trouble when he delivered the team and again when he sold the team to their current owner have in making them happy? Yes, he hired Ozzie Newsome and Brian Billick, but even in the face of Super Bowl victories and appearances, this same guy couldn’t keep his QuickBooks enough in line that he could keep the team in his family. And even if his fingerprints are all over the game’s current financial viability, what does it say about the guy who couldn’t seem to take advantage of it?
Even beyond that, all the good things that Modell might have done happened when the people of Baltimore were still Colts fans. The things that Art Modell did that would ever make him Hall of Fame worthy were as Cleveland Browns owner. He wasn’t an executive for the NFL based on employment with the NFL. He was serving for the NFL as a franchise owner of the Cleveland Browns. Ultimately as franchise owner of the Cleveland Browns he was forced to move, then lost the history and colors in the legal process. The Cleveland Browns never actually moved to Baltimore as a result. Maybe it’s a technicality, but “Art Modell, owner of the Baltimore Ravens” never would have been considered for the Hall of Fame based on his stint post-move that resulted in the sale to Steve Bisciotti. Any case that he might have made for being qualified for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton he made as an owner of the Browns, not as owner of the Ravens. Yes, he’s still the same guy, but it helps identify which stakeholders might have the most standing in the debate.
Shouldn’t Browns fans voices ring loudest when it comes to lobbying? Why should Ravens fans even care? Should a Baltimore columnist care so much as to write that article and also be given equal time on the topic? Do the NFL fans at-large around the country think so? I’m curious.
As for Ravens fans, shouldn’t they be enjoying Steve Bisciotti and their upcoming appearance in a second Super Bowl since getting a team back in 1996? Maybe they’re not mutually exclusive. They can enjoy their success and also lobby for Art Modell, I guess, if they really want to. I guess I just don’t understand why they really want to. If anyone can make me understand that, I’d be grateful more than anything else.
Hopefully Modell’s bid is turned away again this weekend and we won’t ever have to talk about it again. I prefer the Baltimore vs. Cleveland stuff to exist only on actual football fields going forward.
- Ha! His name is Schmuck! It’s not really funny, people. It’s his name. Don’t think you can make that joke in the comments and be funny. It’s so obvious that it voids any potential humor that might otherwise exist. Trust me. Google “Low-hanging fruit” [↩]
- It was not graciously left there by Modell by the way. I’m not sure why this fake fact continues to live on. It’s right up there with the Cavs being unwilling to trade J.J. Hickson for Amare Stoudemire in terms of legitimacy. [↩]