Cleveland: Ohio’s Detroit!

James Blankenship, Sports Editor

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I’m no Art Schlichter, but I’m willing to bet that some people will be pissed-off after reading this. I’m also willing to bet that those people will be, by and large, of the Oberlin resident, non-student variety. Most likely, they’ll assume that I’m some pretentious college student from Boston who wouldn’t know the first thing about core “Midwestern” values like hard work, modesty and Budweiser (which is actually based in Belgium). On the contrary, I’m a born and raised Ohioan who is more likely to defend this place than make a mockery of it.

That being said, there is one inescapable fact that everyone outside of Ohio began to accept years ago: Cleveland is the worst sports city in America.

It is undeniable that, in terms of the overall statistical performance of its teams in the last 25 years, Cleveland’s sports teams have underperformed all other cities in the country. The website www.cleveland.com recently published a cute article on the city’s best sports teams of the last 25 years. It opens by declaring, “We (the city of Cleveland) have turned the page on 2011 and seem to be stuck in neutral.” Perhaps he meant reverse. Or maybe he meant “stuck in a deep quicksand of disgust and horror that makes Detroit look less like a poor sports town and more like a paradise inhabited by bikini-clad Amazons.”

As the author points out, the Cavaliers just recently set the NBA record for consecutive losses in a season, the Browns just finished their second consecutive 5–11 season, and the Indians concluded their second consecutive campaign with at least 93 losses this past baseball season. Naturally, now is a great time to reminisce about the few great teams that the city has had, right?

Wrong.

When the city is burning, why would any of its occupants take time to reminisce about its past accomplishments amidst the fire? If your cat is stuck in a tree, do you recall the adorable time it crashed into the screen door while it meows in terror? The sentiments of the many Cleveland sports fans whom I’ve crossed paths with in recent years share one enduring theme: Cleveland teams have bad luck.

Poor Cleveland. Its teams lose more frequently than its businesses close.

But rather than throw a pity party for the Dawg Pound’s faithful, it should blame them. I think former Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson put it best when he said, “The fans are ruthless and don’t deserve a winner.” But is ruthlessness their main problem? Philadelphia (which won three major professional championships in the last 25 years), New York (nine), and Green Bay (two) are all cities with ruthless fans. Granted, those are larger markets (with the exception of Green Bay, a city that doesn’t rely on its “Midwestern” values to explain positive or negative seasons). There must be another problem. Are the fans smelly? Do they make inappropriate jokes at dinner parties? What exactly is it that makes them, and as a result Cleveland, so allergic to success?

I can give you the answer, but I’d rather invite you to a recent event posted on Facebook that accurately and clearly identifies the issue. Sunday, Feb. 6, marked the first annual “National Bitch Slap a Crybaby Cleveland Browns Fan Day.” The location, you ask? Well, that would be “Anywhere you see them crying or pissing and moaning.” Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, but I imagine that world records for individuals slapped in one day and most individuals arrested due to slapping in one day were easily set.

The Indians are not immune from the debilitating effects of its fan base. After a 30-year slump that saw the team finish with just one third-place finish, six fourth-place finishes, and numerous finishes near the bottom of the standings, the Indians finally returned to championship form in 1995 before losing in the World Series with an over-achieving squad. They remained steady until 2007, when they finally had a team with the talent capable of winning a world championship. For a small market team like Cleveland, these opportunities come very rarely, if ever. The Indians lost to Boston in seven games in the ALCS and would’ve dropped the series sooner had a swarm of bugs not helped them out in the second game. The team was disbanded after that season, with former pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee winning championships shortly after leaving Cleveland.

Cleveland sports fans have created an atmosphere that reverberates and suffocates their teams. The pathetic tone that lingers when they explain their terribleness has seeped into the team offices of the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers. The situation has particularly worsened in the last decade. Since 2001, at least six Browns players have contracted staph infections at the team’s facilities, with two players suing the team as a result. One of those players, former Browns center LeCharles Bentley, filed a civil suit in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, claiming that he “nearly lost his life.” Bentley grew up in Cleveland, playing football at a Cleveland-area high school and in college at Ohio State University.

Let’s recap: A highly talented football player grows up in Cleveland, plays all of his high school and collegiate football in his home state, then gets a rare opportunity to play professionally in the city he calls home. The result: Cleveland literally almost kills him.

Wait, was that the first time Cleveland pushed away a star athlete who basically called it his hometown? Coming out of high school, LeBron James had an opportunity unlike any other supremely talented before him: Become the greatest player of all time, and become the undisputed hero of your hometown in the process.

Seven years later, what do Cleveland fans have to show for the hometown Hercules that landed in their lap? A Nike ad in which James embarrasses them for their childish reaction to his departure, and one of the worst basketball teams in NBA history. For his years of work, which included two MVP awards and Cleveland’s only NBA Finals appearance, Cleveland fans acted in a way that typifies their city and its teams. They got drunk, burned his stuff and made a ceremony out of removing his image from downtown Cleveland. Wait, I guess those actions are more typical of a recently dumped teenager.

Detriot was long considered the nation’s worst sports city, but it has recently turned things around with the improvement of the Lions and the Tigers. Historically, Detroit has faced a harsher economic and social reality than Cleveland. The difference between the two, one that has earned Cleveland the top spot among the nation’s worst sports cities, has been an issue of credibility. When Detroit fans attribute losses and the lowly demeanor of their teams to bad luck, people generally believe them. When Cleveland fans use the same excuse they sound, act and look like cry babies. I mean, Cleveland sucked before its inhabitants began masquerading as mature sports fans. Now that the city is occupied by whiners, it has somehow become even more undesirable.

As the great Ichiro Suzuki once said, “To tell the truth, I’m not excited to go to Cleveland, but we have to. If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face, because I’m lying.”

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