By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
You have spoken: Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996. The scars left from that heart-ripping act have not healed over 17 years. Not by a long shot.
That’s the undeniable conclusion of an informal, non-scientific survey we conducted the past week.
With Modell up for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the day before the Super Bowl, we asked readers to guide my vote on the selection committee. Should I speak out against Modell’s candidacy, as I did the one other time he was a finalist in 2002? Should I speak in favor? Or should I remain neutral and let the other 45 voters decide?
The results were emphatic. We conducted the poll from Monday through Friday. Users of Twitter were asked to vote simply #ArtOut or #ArtIn. A total of 3,400 Tweets were tabulated and 2,780 – 81.8 percent – voted #ArtOut. #ArtIn received 620 mentions, 18.2 percent.
At the same time, we asked readers to send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with name, city and phone number. I anticipated the emails would come from the most passionate respondents. That was truly the case.
We received 667 emails. The anti-Modell sentiment numbered 607 – 91 percent. Only 42 – 6.3 percent -- were pro-Modell. Somewhat surprisingly, 18 respondents asked that we remain neutral.
“I believe that it is time to move on, not for the sake of Art’s legacy or for the fans of Baltimore. I couldn’t care less about either,” wrote Robert White of Akron. “We have a new owner and a new direction. It’s time to move forward. State your case. Sit back and let the newbies rewrite history. We know what happened.”
That was a minority opinion.
From near and far: As you would expect, the plurality of responses came from Northeast Ohio (25.6 percent). Another 24.4 percent came from the rest of Ohio – making an even 50 percent of responses from the Browns’ home state.
The remainder of comments came from 38 states and 12 countries. We received emails from Washington to Florida, and from Hawaii to New Hampshire. We heard from Canada, Scotland, Australia, Poland, United Kingdom, Russia, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Kosovo, France and China.
The passion on the Modell issue certainly was not limited to Ohioans.
“The passage of time may soften the blow, but it doesn’t change the fact that Art decided to go,” wrote Dale Yurovich from Chiang Rai, Thailand. “What he did was, still is, and will always be a selfish act, contrary to the best interest of the NFL. Do not let the passage of time re-write history or fashion a sympathetic spin simply because Modell is not around any longer.”
Artie Pesh-Imam of Issaquah, Wash., wrote: “Art should not be in the hall of fame for the simple reason that he used the Browns to save himself from financial distress. It’s one thing if the guy was a strong businessman and put in quality effort but couldn’t find success, but we know that’s not the case. The Browns organization saved Modell from bankruptcy. The hall of fame for any institution represents those who made an undeniably positive impact upon that institution. Modell, I don’t believe, fits this criteria.”
Dozens of emails from an older generation began like this one from Glick Schultz of Durham, N.C., who wrote, “I’ve been a Browns fan since my first trip to the Stadium in the mid-fifties … “
But the younger generation – some might say that “lost generation” of Browns fans – weighed in, too.
Kent Scheerer of Brunswick wrote, “I’m 26 and all I can remember growing up is my parents devastated by the move, having to pick a random team to vote for, and being told stories of ‘how great the Browns used to be’ like a bedtime story. Then nothing but sub-par play 14 years. How could my generation possibly care enough about the positive impact to Baltimore, and a now a division rival after conference realignment a few years back, to vote him in?”
On to New Orleans: The meeting to hash out Modell’s candidacy will take place the day before the Baltimore Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47.
Modell renamed the Browns the Ravens and owned them until the second phase of a two-pronged sale to Maryland businessman Steven Bisciotti was finalized in 2004. After Bisciotti took over, Modell remained a 1 percent minority owner and was a visible presence with the team right up until the time he died on Sept. 6 at the age of 87.
His spirit has been a driving force in the Ravens’ storybook season. His death unquestionably has pushed Modell back onto the doorstep of the Hall of Fame. But his numerous detractors agree that Modell’s death did not change his legacy.
“I think sensitivity to Art Modell’s family is appropriate, given his passing, but nothing has changed in terms of Art’s qualifications for the HOF,” wrote Hal Diener of Lewis Center, Ohio. “Not only did Art rip the sports heart out of the city of Cleveland, he outright lied about his plans while maneuvering the relocation behind the scenes.”
On the theme of “forgiving,” Dale Harris, a church pastor in Clayton, Ohio, wrote, “Forgiveness and moving on do not require enshrining someone as a hero.”
And this from Alan Crockett, a Cleveland native now living in a Baltimore suburb: “When Mr. Modell passed last year, the prevailing theme among sports reporters here was how such an angel of a man was still being so unfairly vilified by Cleveland and subsequently having his rightful Hall of Fame honor denied. This outrage continuously filled the airwaves especially since everyone knows ‘it was Cleveland’s own stupidity’ that forced Modell into leaving. This perception is why I implore (you) to stand up for the truth. Forgiving is one thing, but we should make sure no one ever, ever forgets.”
Supporters of Modell have persistently charged my opposition to him is the result of “a personal vendetta.” There is no vendetta. This poll shows that the people most affected by Modell’s move – generations of fans of the Browns – want me to represent their case to the Hall of Fame committee.
Doing anything less would be irresponsible.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.com
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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