In Major League Sports, Stupid Is as Stupid Does

I guess I'm about the stupidest person in America. I still think of myself as a sports fan.

I never realized I was so dumb until the last year or so.

First, it was the pooh-bahs of baseball, who clutched fiendishly at my ignorance during their negotiations with the striking players. It was the owners' assumption that I, along with millions of others in the sporting public, would march eagerly into the ballparks once they decided that it was all right for the national pastime to resume.

Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, who rubs the hair of a dear departed dog on her players for good luck, was so certain of our ultimate surrender that she hiked up the price of an upper-deck ticket to $30 for the postseason. When about half of the top tier remained unpopulated, she got really mad at us.

And now it's football that is depending ardently on our empty-headedness. One of football's fraternity brothers, a former advertising man named Art Modell who has operated the Cleveland Browns for most of the last four decades, has elected to pursue larger profits in the previously jilted National Football League city of Baltimore.

The dedicated fans of Cleveland were sadly misguided. Even though, in recent years, the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in the middle of the night, the Cardinals from St. Louis to Phoenix, the Rams from Los Angeles to St. Louis, and the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles and back to Oakland, the Cleveland fans were naive enough to think that the Browns were somehow permanently attached to Cleveland. As if the name Cleveland Browns had something to do with it. (It turns out, after all these years, the Cleveland means no more than the Browns, which the club was nicknamed in honor of legendary coach Paul Brown, whom Modell unceremoniously fired in his first major move as owner.)

In the end - if this indeed is the end - the fans weren't the only dummies in Cleveland. The newspapers and radio and television stations were also duped, reporting on the team for all that time as if it were the city's.

Then there were the local companies that associated their name with the Browns through advertising, and the others - hotels, restaurants, etc. - that relied on the commerce created by the football team.

But still, the fans were the real suckers. They actually thought that if they came to all the games and painted their faces and wore silly clothes and screamed and made fools out of themselves, that if about 70,000 of them showed up every Sunday and everybody else in town talked about the Browns the rest of the week and bought all of their merchandise, then perhaps they could think of the team as collectively theirs.

The people of Baltimore thought like that once, too. They know what it's like to live in a broken city after a team walks out on a happy marriage. They still despise the man, Robert Irsay, who did to them precisely what Mr. Modell has done to Cleveland. It will be interesting to see how they receive this Ohio man. With the guarantees and the honeymoon and all, it will be several years before Modell can make them look stupid. The fans in my city, and maybe yours, are a different story, however. Our team could move to Cleveland any minute.

In the meantime, I'm not sure what to do. I suppose I'll still watch the games when I can, and maybe go to one if somebody gives me tickets, but it would probably be a good idea not to get too wrapped up in it. I learned from Forrest Gump's mama that stupid is as stupid does.

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