In our house we have two huge sports fans: my son and myself, one casual sports fan, my daughter, and my musician husband who roots for the halftime show. Those of us who follow sports in this house pretty much live and die with the Indians and the Browns (though as fans of curses we have a warm place in our hearts for the Red Sox). Following the Indians (and to a lesser extent the Browns) through the 70's and 80's was a lesson in living with frustration. My son, on the hand, did not have his formative year blighted by baseball frustration as he arrived 2 months before the Indians made the first World Series in 41 years. (Yes there is a picture of him, in his little Indians uniform watching game 1 with his great grandma)
On the other hand, his football fandom has been tarnished by what happened a few days after that World Series ended, when Art Modell announced that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore.
Although football has always been secondary to baseball for me, I still was a Browns fan, partly due to many years spent watching the team's games with my father, who remembered the true glory days of the Browns in the 50'S and 60'S and would talk endlessly of Paul Brown, Otto Graham. Marion Motley, Lou Groza, and Jim Brown. I know that had he been alive still in 1995 he would have gloried in the Indians and been heartbroken over the betrayal of Browns fans by Art Modell.
This was a team that was loved and supported by its fans and it was financial mismanagement that got them into the hole they were in, not poor attendence. They left, not for the new stadium they could have in Cleveland eventually anyway, but for the huge cash payouts made directly to Modell for moving the team. The NFL went along, with only the owners of the Steelers and the Bengals opposing the move. Fans were left with a few crumbs of comfort: there would be a new stadium, and a new team, and that team would be called the Browns. Art could take the players, but they wouldnt be wearing orange and brown. But when the franchise became available it somehow wound up in the hands of the man who brokered the deal with Baltimore, and although the new stadium is beautiful most of the teams have been dreadful.
To a person who doesn't follow sports this may all seem unimportant. But sports teams do matter. To people in other parts of the country it is often the single most important instance of a city's visibility. If the sports team goes so does part of that community's identity. Just ask Brooklyn.
So all this ran through my head yesterday when I heard Art Modell had died.
The news media in Cleveland has tried to be fairly balanced, writing about what a great guy he was personally, how much he did to bring football into the television era, all the charity work he did and so forth. To me it just makes the whole thing worse. When someone who is supposedly so wonderful and involved in the community does something that so thoroughly betrays rhe interests and needs of that community, what is one to think? I think it is actually worse than when someone is a clear outsider to the community with no interest except the profit margin. When someone who has lived in a place and spent a lifetime with a corporation moves it out of town, or shuts it down completely doesn't that sting more than when Bain Capital types do the same thing?
Sadly, at least in this part of the country, that will be the mixed legacy of Art Modell.
On the other hand, Lebron James will never have to worry about being Clevelands most hated sports figure.