The Losers’ Parade

Yesterday about three thousand people attended a parade in Cleveland on one of the coldest days of the year.  The parade was to commemorate the Cleveland Browns’ 0-16 season — only the second time in NFL history that a team has accomplished that dubious record.

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 Family Curse

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.

sadbrownsfansBut 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!

Order Of Importance

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.

jerry-jones-nfl-protestThe 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.

Pro Sports In Vegas

The NFL has approved the request of the Oakland Raiders franchise to move to Las Vegas.  It’s not clear when the Raiders will actually start playing in Vegas, and the team will likely play another season or two in Oakland, but a new stadium is expected to be built for them in their new home in southern Nevada in time for the 2020 season.

ows_149067187344496The story here isn’t another move of a pro sports franchise; teams packing up and hauling their operations to a new town is old news these days.  The Raiders, who have shuttled back and forth between Oakland and Los Angeles and always seem to be either moving or on the verge of moving, are one of the hand-wringing teams that are forever working their local government for a more lucrative deal.  If Las Vegas wants to foot the bill for a lavish new domed stadium — which is expected to cost at least $1.9 billion, with the costs being split between revenues generated by an increased hotel room tax, the Raiders organization, and a Las Vegas gazillionaire — to get the NFL brand associated with Sin City, that’s its decision to make.

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.

Patriots And Parity

We’re only a few days away from the Super Bowl, and I haven’t heard anyone talking about the game.  I had lunch a few days ago with four male friends, and literally not one word was spoken about Super Bowl LI.  Donald Trump and his antics were discussed ad nauseum, but football didn’t come up once.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England PatriotsIt’s not just because of Trump, of course.  It’s also because nobody is particularly excited about this Super Bowl match-up.  This has to be the least buzzworthy Super Bowl since — well, maybe ever.  Who cares about the Atlanta Falcons, and how many times can a person watch the New England Patriots, anyway?

But let’s pause for a moment to at least give a nod to the Patriots, their grumpy and rumpled head coach Bill Belichick, and their quarterback, Tom Brady.  Since Belichick has become the Patriots’ top dog in 2000, they’ve made the NFL playoffs in all but three years.  They haven’t missed the playoffs since the 2008 season.  And, even more impressive, the Patriots, Belichick, and Brady have made it to six Super Bowls during that run, winning four of them.  That’s why it seems like the Patriots are in every Super Bowl as a matter of federal law.

What’s remarkable about all of this is that the NFL is specifically designed to crush any possibility of the kind of dynasty the Patriots have become.  The NFL seeks parity above all else.  Regular-season schedules are set up so the strong play the strong and the weak play the weak, with the league hoping that everybody ends up with an 8-8 record and fans who are hoping for a playoff spot up until the very last game of the season.  And, of course, after every year players who have done well who have become free agents can go to other teams, and assistant coaches can be hired to be head coaches elsewhere, and the playing and coaching talent gets redistributed.

The Patriots, however, refuse to participate in the NFL’s regime of enforced mediocrity.  They lose players and coaches, but under Belichick and Brady they always fill the holes and just keep rolling along.  In a world where everything conspires against them — thereby feeding Belichick’s innate sense of paranoia — the Patriots somehow rise above and just keep winning.  Their run is as remarkable, in a positive way, as the Browns’ record of consistent and crushing futility is on the negative side.

So we’ve got to tip our cap to the New Englanders.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to actually watch them, again, in this Super Bowl.

Glutton For Punishment

This afternoon I’m going to watch the Cleveland Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals.

That’s right.  I’m going to voluntarily subject myself to more than three hours of bad football, bad karma, and general haplessness.  I’m going to watch a truly wretched 0-12 team play a horribly underperforming 4-7-1 team in a game that is utterly meaningless, even to their own beleaguered fans.

brownsWhy am I doing this?  Well, for one thing I’m a Cleveland Browns fan.  It’s tough duty generally, and an especially awful burden this year — but I’ve consciously avoided watching most of the games until now.  At this point, it’s so obvious that the Browns suck that I have no expectations whatsoever of success.  The Browns are likely to lose every game this year; the only question is whether they will find new ways to suffer a self-inflicted disaster.

So why watch this game, when I’ve avoided the others?  Because the Bengals have had, if anything, an even worse season than the Browns.  Sure, they’ve won games, but everyone expected them to be a Super Bowl contender, and instead they’ve laid a colossal egg.  If the Browns have any hope of winning a game this season, it’s going to be a game like this, where their opponent also reeks and a few lucky breaks might actually produce a W.  And if that were to happen — something I’m not counting on, mind you — it would be sweet that it would be the Bengals who bore the shame of being the only team to lose to the Browns this year.

I’m a glutton for punishment.

Provocative Junk Mail “Re” Lines

We have a “junk mail” filter at work.  Most of the time, the filter just moves what is obvious spam into a “junk mail” folder without me looking at the email or doing anything to it.

donald-trump-money-worth_2015-11-16_19-44-39Sometimes, though — for reasons not known to me — particular junk mail will make it through the filter and be brought to my attention under the heading “Incoming Message Quarantined by Web Reputation Monitor.”  I’m not sure whether the filter concludes that such emails are more likely to be legitimate, or because they come from more plausible email addresses, or some other reason.  In any case, I recently got one of those messages, checked to make sure that the email wasn’t sent by somebody I know, and then stopped dead when I saw the “re” line:  “Trump reveals groundbreaking secrets to triple your income.”

Of course, I didn’t try to open that spammy email . . . but I have to admit I was sorely tempted.  Aren’t you curious about what income-tripling tips “Trump” might offer?  Tips like:  Be sure to inherit millions from your parents?  Become a reality TV show star?  Contribute to the political campaigns of every candidate for every office, regardless of their party affiliation, so you have ready access to the levers of power?  Make liberal use of the American bankruptcy laws?  Invest in “Man Tan” franchises?

Having seen the Trump income-tripling “re” line, I found myself thinking of other spam email “re” lines that would just be too tantalizing to pass up.  Here are a few that I came up with:

“Hillary Clinton’s Guide to Data Security and Personal Ethics”

“Rappers and Buddhism:  A Perfect Combination”

“Choosing A Soul Mate The Anthony Weiner Way”

“Personal Humility in the NFL”

I’m sure there are others.