Are you having a bad day? For that matter, are you having a bad week, a bad month, a bad year, even a bad two years?
Here’s a thought that should make you feel much, much better — you could be Cleveland Browns’ head coach Hue Jackson.
Hue’s a guy who came to Cleveland with a pretty good reputation. Since he’s started coaching the Browns, however, the team has gone 1-32-1. That’s not a misprint. He’s won precisely one game, and lost dozens. And yet, he keeps coaching, and losing. And to make matters worse, every bad thing that could possibly happen has happened to the guy, and undoubtedly will happen again in the future. That’s just the way it is.
Today the Browns outplayed the New Orleans Saints on the road, but they lost because their kicker missed two field goals and two extra points. That’s right — he missed two extra points. Some NFL kickers go their entire careers without missing two extra points, but the Browns’ kicker somehow found a way to miss two in one game. It’s so absurd that even ardent Browns fans can only shake their heads in wonderment at the sheer folly and futility of it, and wonder what happened that caused the football gods to cruelly torment the Browns and their fans week after week.
But poor Hue Jackson can’t laugh it off. He’s got to stand on the sidelines every week as his team finds new ways to lose winnable games, looking resolute in his headset, all the while knowing that when crunch time comes he’s going to get punched in the gut and kneed in the groin by the fates. Deep down, is Hue Jackson hoping he’s get fired, just to end the onslaught and let him escape the nightmarish horror?
So if you’re feeling down because things are tough, cheer up! You could be Hue Jackson, the most cursed coach of the NFL.
Yesterday, the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers played to a 21-21 tie. It’s noteworthy, not because ties in the NFL are as rare as hen’s teeth, but because the Browns somehow didn’t find a way to lose.
That means that, for the first time in 17 games stretching back to the 2016 season, the Browns didn’t end the game by chalking another one up in the loss column. It also means that, for the first time in the collective memories of every member of Browns fandom, the Browns won’t be starting the season 0-1. (For the record, the Browns had lost 13 straight season openers before yesterday.) And, as anyone who watched the game yesterday saw, the TV commentators repeatedly listed, with an air of wondrous amazement, other ongoing records for futility that the Browns have been setting — like the fact that it has been more than 600 days since the Browns won on a Sunday. Because we’re talking about a tie game, the non-winning streaks continue, but at least the losing streaks have been snapped.
It was a sloppy, poorly played game that occurred in a rainstorm. The Browns had a game-winning field goal blocked, were repeatedly penalized at key moments, at times looked like they couldn’t block the Little Sisters of the Poor, and failed to take full advantage of six turnovers by the Steelers — and yet, still, they didn’t lose. It’s not exactly progress, but at least it’s not more of the same steady diet of outright failure.
They say that a tie is like kissing your sister. For Browns fans, a kiss — any kiss — is preferable to the normal punch to the face when autumn Sundays roll around.
Here’s a pretty good rule of thumb: if you feel you need to have a parrot announce something to make it more interesting, the announcement is necessarily so intrinsically boring that even a squawking parrot won’t help.
It’s just the latest effort to try to jazz up the draft, which is the single most boring televised event in the history of organized sports. For most of the history of the NFL, the draft wasn’t televised, because the NFL Commissioner and team owners correctly concluded that there was nothing remotely telegenic about it. They wisely recognized that watching men think about which college player they should select, and watching players fidget while they wonder when they’re going to be picked, falls distinctly into watching-paint-dry territory, and seeing the selections appear on stage to don ball caps, give a grip-and-grin with the Commissioner, and display fake jerseys isn’t really any better. It’s hopelessly dull stuff.
But when the endless quest for more televised sports activities caused someone to decide that the NFL draft should be on TV, too, the seemingly endless quest for ways to make it more interesting to watch began. After all, even the most diehard NFL fan, whose entire life revolves around his team, can’t bear to watch uninterrupted hours of a yammering Mel Kiper, Jr. and his curious coiffure. So gimmicks were developed, like having picks announced by former players or fans, or remote cut-ins of player families reacting to the news that their family member was drafted. The parrot is only the latest, and most pathetically desperate, cry for attention. Next thing we know, the Browns’ selections will be announced by a guy dressed up like the Grim Reaper or read by the team’s garbage hauler. One the Parrot Line is crossed, anything is possible
If somebody asks me on Monday whether I watched this weekend’s NFL draft, I’ll think of the parrot and say: “No, because I have an actual life.”
The Browns’ players and, no doubt, the team’s inept management were embarrassed by the parade. One player, Emmanuel Ogbah, tweeted: “That parade is a joke don’t call yourself a true browns fan if you go to that thing! Going 0-16 was embarrassing enough as a player. That is like adding fuel to the fire and it is completely wrong!” Other players argued that the parade might discourage NFL free agents, or draftees, from wanting to play for the Browns, and that the team shouldn’t want to be known for going 1-31 over the past two seasons.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to play for a team that loses every game, and often found inventive and absurd ways to do so, so I’m sympathetic to the players. But does having a tongue-in-cheek parade really send a bad message, and does it really discourage players who might be considering the Browns more than, say, the 0-16 season itself, and the obvious disarray in the front office and on the field, and the fact that the head coach for next year has to win 31 consecutive games to even reach a .500 record with the team? Or does the parade, instead, send the message that notwithstanding years of futility and a horrible product on the field, there is still a solid core of Cleveland Browns backers who will freeze their butts off to try to send a demonstrable message that they still support the team and hope that this awful season marks a turning point?
I’ll be honest — I’ve been a Browns fan for as long as I can remember, but the years of failure and egregious ineptitude have caused me first to lose passion, and then to lose interest. I tip my cap to those rugged and dedicated fans who still care enough to make a public demonstration of their commitment to the team on a frigid day. If NFL players won’t come to Cleveland because of a parade, I think that says something about the character of the players, not the quality of the dedicated fans.
The Cleveland Browns lost today . . . again. The team is now 0-14. Last year, the Browns were 1-15. Can it get any worse? I guess an 0-16 season is worse, so that’s what I’m expecting.
But that’s not what really bothers me. Frankly, the Browns have been so putrid for so long that it’s impossible for me to get emotionally invested in the efforts of this horribly mismanaged, poorly coached band of losers. In fact, I don’t even watch the games any more. When Sundays roll around, I just check my ESPN app to see whether the Browns have lost, and when I confirm that they have turned in another dismal performance, as they did today, I move on.
No, what really bothers me is that I have infected Russell with the scourge of Browns fandom. Before today’s game, he texted me, with the eternal optimism of youth, that he “had a feeling” about the Browns’ chances against the Ravens.
Of course, he should have recognized the feeling as one of impending doom.
Russell, I am sorry that I infected you with the family curse!
To look at the news coverage, you’d think that the decisions of NFL players to take a knee, or sit, or stand at attention, during the playing of the National Anthem is the biggest news story in the world right now. President Trump had to weigh in on it — of course! — and Facebook and other forms of social media are on fire with discussion of various perspectives on the protests.
The reaction to the NFL protests shows the uniquely powerful role of symbols like flags and the National Anthem — which is why they provide a very effective platform for the exercise of First Amendment rights, and have served in that capacity at least since the ’60s, when students protesting the Vietnam War burned the flag and American sprinters raised their fists while the National Anthem played during a medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics. If you want to provoke strong reactions and draw attention to your cause, you can hardly do better than taking action that can be interpreted as showing some form of disrespect when the American flag is being displayed or the National Anthem is played.
And yet, I can’t help but think that the coverage of the NFL protests is ridiculously disproportionate. Whether athletes who are being paid millions of dollars to play sports are standing, sitting, or kneeling during the National Anthem doesn’t really measure up on the importance scale with, say, the increasingly aggressive tone of communications about North Korea and the possibility of some kind of confrontation about it. Nor does it compare to the utter misery and loss that thousands of people are suffering in hurricane-ravaged areas, or for that matter whether the United States is ever going to actually tackle critical big-picture issues, like the ever-present deficit spending that threatens to cast us over the fiscal cliff.
I think the real reason people are paying so much attention to the NFL protests is precisely that it’s small stuff, relatively speaking. It’s easy to stake out a position on the protests, pro or con, on the social media engine of your choice, and there are lots of juicy side issues to explore — like whether the protests will hurt already declining NFL TV ratings, whether sports in America has become overly politicized, whether athletes will lose lucrative endorsement deals, and whether the focus of the protests has become hopelessly blurred when billionaire owners like Jerry Jones are joining in and taking a knee. It’s easy to discuss all of those topics — a lot easier than making sense out of the North Korean situation or discussing how America should respond to it.
No, the real story here is that the Raiders’ approved move to Las Vegas is just the latest evidence of the increasingly accepted association of gambling and sports. Gambling used to be one of the chief concerns of professional and college sports teams. From the Chicago Black Sox throwing the 1919 World Series, to the college basketball point-shaving scandals of the ’40s and ’50s, to the suspension of Pete Rose from major league baseball for betting on baseball games, sports leagues traditionally reacted viscerally to any association with gambling.
But a lot has changed in America, and gambling has become much more commonplace and accepted. When I was in Philadelphia recently the landscape was dotted with signs for casino gambling; the slot machines and table games that used to be reserved for Las Vegas can now be found in more than half the states in America. Betting on sports events has become so routine that the lines and odds on games and matches are available to anyone with a few strokes of a keyboard, and one of America’s great annual pastimes is participating in the NCAA March Madness pool at the office. There’s not as much of a taint to gambling as used to be the case.
But, is it good to have an NFL team in Las Vegas, where sports gambling is legal and people can make, or lose, huge sums of money if the point spread gets covered because of a flukey last-minute play? Is it wise to have professional athletes living in a community where, at a party or charity event, they may hobnob with some well-heeled but shady characters who might drop a hint or two about how the athletes and their teammates could make some easy money without costing their team a game? Could you envision a scenario where an NFL star has a bad run of luck at the gaming tables and is encouraged to even the score by missing a block or dropping a sure touchdown catch? I suppose you can argue that pro athletes could be exposed to such characters, and temptations, anywhere in America, but gambling is so deeply engrained and accepted in the Las Vegas culture that I’m not sure other situations are really comparable to pro athletes being based in a place that is often called a “gambling mecca.”
We’ve come a long way since the days when pro sports teams did whatever they could to project a squeaky clean image. Now we’ll have an NFL team located squarely in the most gambling-oriented town in America.