I watched Doug Dieken receive a lifetime achievement award at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards a couple weeks ago. Dieken is a guy who figured it out. He played hard his whole career in Cleveland, then stuck around and built a very nice life for himself and his family, starting a couple of businesses and becoming a commentator for the Browns.
He isn’t the greatest color commentator. He wasn’t the greatest offensive tackle. He was good, and he had a long career for the Browns. Like several other Cleveland athletes, Dieken is beloved in town long after his playing days are over. To be honest, it really shouldn’t be that hard to do.
With a new crop of athletes coming to Cleveland every year, I feel like there should be some kind of primer- a tip sheet if you will. Truthfully, most of the things on the list seem like common sense, but as we all know sense just isn’t very common these days.
So these are my tips for the new athlete in Cleveland. If you want the fans to like you, and be set for life in town after your career is over, try following these suggestions.
The most important rule- be a decent human being.
Seriously. That trumps most everything else.
What do we mean by “being a decent human being”? It really is simple- treat other people like they matter. Smile at people when they smile at you. Acknowledge the kid waiving at you from across the street. The waiter or waitress at the restaurant? Chances are they told you their name when he or she first came to the table. Why not call him or her by name?
Oh, and tipping? You don’t have to be over the top. But I promise you that athletes who are bad tippers are well known around town.
I’ve never been a celebrity, so I won’t pretend to know what it is like to be asked to sign something or take a picture with someone everytime you go out. But in the grand scheme of things, a couple minutes here or there seems like a small price to pay for adulation.
Don’t waste your opportunity.
Look, you work hard- but you also have been given an amazing gift. It’s one that thousands of kids dream of having. Yes, it is your life to live. But for the relatively short time you get to spend in the highlight reels, just stay out of trouble. No matter what Charles Barkley says, he and you are role models. You can either be a good one, or a bad one.
Don’t be the athlete that dads have to have a talk with their sons about. Don’t be the guy that mistreats women. And don’t be the guy that makes a dad have to explain the phrase “banned substance”.
Understand the passion of Cleveland fans.
Up until now, these tips could apply to any athlete anywhere. Now we get a little specific to Cleveland. Facts are facts. The psyche of the average Cleveland fan is pretty fragile these days. I apologize for that. No, this is not your fault. You are coming from Texas or California or Florida and have no clue what it’s like here. Cleveland fans can be desperate and a bit paranoid. Losing games and losing star players will do that to you.
Be sensitive to the idea that we’ve had to say goodbye to so many stars. Don’t joke about leaving. It really won’t go over well. Don’t tell us you plan to stay forever either. We’ve been told that before. More than likely you won’t come off as sincere, even if you are.
Support the other teams in town. You don’t have to go to every Cavaliers game for example, but be seen there sometime. Wish the other teams well when in the media scrum. Go to a high school football game around town. Go see the Lake Erie Monsters or the Crushers.
I’m not even insisting that they become your favorite teams. Look, if you grew up in Chicago and are a big Cubs fan, nobody is going to begrudge you that. It is how you come across that is more important. Downplay your allegiance in public. Enjoy your favorite team in private.
For the love of all that is good in this world, don’t wear a Miami Heat or New York Yankee hat. Period.
This town is so hungry for a winner. The team that ends that championship drought will have statues in their likeness and streets named after them. You will not pay for meals. Kids will be named after you. Around town you will be forever remembered and loved. Not a bad trade off when you think about it.
Be cautious about social media.
Believe me, I appreciate athletes on Twittter as someone that sometimes needs to find something to write about. I will say that the fastest place where an athlete can get tripped up is on twitter. No question it can be a great place to make a fan’s day. If you had a goal to make a splash quickly in town, that would be the place to start. But the trade off can be ugly. You won’t want to read what some fanatics will say after a loss or tough performance.
Winning isn’t everything.
Chances are good you will play your career and never win a championship. If you play your career in Cleveland, there is unfortunately a decent chance you won’t even get to see the post-season very often. When you hang ‘em up, if you were never fortunate to be on a winning team, you can still be known as a winner in this community. Refer to rule number 1. It’s why fans around here love guys like Phil Dawson. It’s why Doug Dieken got a lifetime achievement award. It’s why Austin Carr is loved in town, even though most people didn’t even see him play.