Friday, April 1, 2022

Are the toxic Browns loyal to their fans?

No. Fun. League. 

Yep, that's how I see the NFL nowadays. It's just no fun. It's putting me, and us Cleveland Browns fans, in a predicament that we don't want.

Many of us are diehard, lifelong Browns fans, and we devote 17 weeks of our lives and a lot of the offseason to following our beloved Brownies. Of course, we want a Super Bowl, but we know that the Browns bring us fans together in the name of community and entertainment and connecting our generations. That's the deal. Right?

But now, what are we supposed to do? We are not fans of Deshaun Watson. He has 22 civil cases connected to sexual assault pending, and we take this seriously. Plus, he never has played for the Browns. Regardless, they signed him to the highest guaranteed contract in NFL history for five years, $230 million. They even gave up three first-round picks to do this.

In case you don't follow it, please understand that a day before agreeing to come to Cleveland, Watson told the Browns he wasn't interested. Please understand that 24 women have accused him of sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Just on March 11, a grand jury declined pursuing criminal charges against him.

In essence, the Browns announced, well, if there aren't criminal charges, then we're OK signing him to the biggest guaranteed contract in NFL history. How exactly do the Browns expect their fans to react?

We're obviously not excited because of the baggage Watson brings, the manner in which he already treated the Browns and the fact that the team has given up three first-round picks. What about the victims? What? All 24 were lying?

On the other hand, it may be unrealistic for us diehard fans to swear off the Browns, considering how loyal we are. However, the one thing I've learned about loyalty is that it's a two-way street. How exactly are the Browns being loyal to their fans with this move?

In the news conference to introduce Watson, the Browns brass did not say "yes" when asked if they thought he was innocent. And Watson said his record contract had nothing to do with him coming to Cleveland. Say what? Huh? Oh my God, what an airhead!

Not so long ago, I kept hearing from the Browns how Baker Mayfield embodied Cleveland. He had a chip on his shoulder and was the working man's quarterback. He was perfect for Cleveland, the Browns told us.
Now, all of a sudden, the Browns are asking fans to forget that narrative and go with "winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." All of a sudden, we no longer are a city that needs a QB to match our sensibility. What exactly is your story, Browns?

Story, feel and connection matter to us fans. Maybe that's why the owners, the country bumpkin Haslems, have never been a fit. They're from Tennessee and had a stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers before amassing the Browns. What do they really care — or even know — about our city? 

The Haslems are so culturally disconnected to Cleveland that they went all-in on an accused sexual assaulter that we don't want and my family refers to as "Cosby." Beware: Watson, AKA "Cosby," could end up as the biggest free-agent bust in NFL history. 

This is a public-relations disaster, and kudos for Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto for expressing his feelings, which match a lot of the fan base: "I can't recall the last time I was so angered and disappointed by a decision by a local franchise. My anger is aimed at the Browns, not Watson when it comes to this deal."

I have lived away from Cleveland my entire adult life, but I still identify with it as home and, of course, am a huge fan of its sports teams. After this lame signing of Watson, I can see no best-case scenario. Chances are, the Browns will be mediocre or fall flat on their faces. I mean if the unaligned, awkward and maudlin news conference is indicative of how it's going to be on the field, it's going to be pathetic.

On the flip side, even if the Browns miraculously win the Super Bowl with Watson, so what? Success isn't only about the outcome. It's about the process, too, and this already has been an unsuccessful process. "Unsuccessful" may be kind. Actually, it's pretty toxic.

One simple answer is this: Just don't watch it.

Maybe that's the simple progression for someone like me. The last time I saw the Browns in person was in 2015, when they played in San Diego at outdated Qualcomm Stadium. There was a lot of over-the-top rowdiness in the stands, and it took us over an hour to maneuver out of an undirected parking lot. No need to go in person any more.

Maybe there's no need to watch this junk any more. I will not get the NFL Sunday Ticket this year, and that's a step in the right direction. I hope to have my Sundays free again and live my actual life instead of watching players who don't even want to be in Cleveland. I don't cheer for villains or their enablers.