I’m convinced that Child Services will come charging into my house someday soon. They’ll pound on my door early one morning after a concerned neighbor tips them off, and they’ll rescue my children from the horror they’ve endured throughout their young lives.
I’m raising my kids as Cleveland sports fans, and as a lifelong fan myself, I’m certain that qualifies as child abuse. I’m just waiting for someone to haul my parents away for the torture I’ve endured while rooting for these teams my whole life.
The list of traumatic experiences I’ve witnessed during my time as a loyal Browns, Indians and Cavaliers fan is extensive and evolving, with the latest addition coming courtesy of a certain basketball player who took his gigantic ego to South Beach a couple years ago. So why would I knowingly expose my children to the same heartache and misery? Because I’m an optimist, and even after all these years, I have faith that the tide will turn in Cleveland. I’m just hoping it happens in time for my kids to experience the joy of rooting for a winner, and the excitement that comes with watching your team score a monumental touchdown, hit that memorable walk-off homer or win the biggest game of the season.
Unfortunately, I’m starting to fear that they may not get that chance. Not because our teams won’t ever be good again, but because they haven’t been good enough, long enough, to pull my kids in and earn their loyalty.
My youngest, Eliot, turned three today. He may be my last hope. My daughter is nine and, while she enjoys playing soccer and has a passing interest when the Browns are on TV, she already knows the drill. “The Browns always lose,” she told my wife and me last season. She had a point. My other son will be six this summer, and he’s about as interested in sports as he is in reading the dictionary. I learned early that you can’t force it.
Then there’s Eliot, who loves wearing his Browns and Indians hats, and who got excited yesterday when I told him baseball season would be starting soon. I think he shows an interest because my wife and I are both big sports fans, but I’m just thrilled we have a shot with him. If our teams don’t give him something to root for and someone to believe in, though, that chance may fizzle long before he’s truly hooked.
I know, there are so many things in life that are so much more important than sports. I didn’t used to think that, but it’s amazing how naturally and categorically your priorities change when you start paying bills and having kids. Still, fathers (and mothers) have been bonding with their children over sports for decades, and while it’s easy to become cynical in this age of me-first, multi-millionaire, multi-felonious athletes and billionaire owners who wring your wallet dry as soon as you walk into their luxurious new stadiums, these are still, fundamentally, the games we grew up loving.
I remember going to my first baseball games and being hypnotized by the rhythm of the game and the sights and sounds that you can only experience in the stadium. I remember freezing my little butt off watching the Browns go to battle with the Steelers in old Municipal Stadium, and I remember singing “Bernie, Bernie!” whenever the song parody came on WMMS during their ’80s heydays. Of course, I also remember watching Michael Jordan single-handedly devastate a city with “The Shot” over Craig Ehlo, and I remember how quiet a room full of rabid Browns fans suddenly got when John Elway ripped our hearts out in 1987 and when Earnest Byner fumbled away our Super Bowl dreams one year later.
Those were heartbreaking moments, no doubt, moments from which the city’s fans have arguably never fully recovered. But at least those teams were playing for something. Those teams captured my 10-year-old imagination and helped instill in me a belief that we are always “thisclose” to finally winning it all. If Jordan’s shot clangs off the back rim…if just one of those Elway passes falls incomplete…if Byner can hang on to the ball for one more second…if Charlie Nagy’s glove was an inch longer in the 1997 World Series….
I’d prefer my kids have happier memories of their childhood sports teams, but above all else, I just want them to care. I want them to be excited when Spring Training starts every year, and to count down the days until the next Browns game. I want to pass that kind of passion on to them, and have them tell their kids about all the games they watched with their old man when they were growing up.
So please — Mike Holmgren, Randy Lerner, Chris Antonetti, Larry Dolan, Chris Grant, Dan Gilbert, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy — I don’t care who it is, but could one of you please get it right? Could one of you build something that my kids can latch on to? Could one of you prove to them that Cleveland sports teams are capable of winning big games, and sustaining that success for more than a year or three?
For his birthday, could one of you show Eliot just how much fun it is to be a true, loyal and eternally optimistic sports fan? His dad — and his mom, and his grandparents, and his great-grandparents, his aunts, uncles and cousins, and maybe even his older brother and sister — would forever be grateful.