One thing that I've learned in my decades as a Championship-free Browns fan, and secondarily as a human being, is that things are never so bad that acts of extreme stupidity can't make them worse.
For most Browns fans, the last few days have been spent attempting to creep out from under the communal black cloud of doom that seems to grow after a loss, particularly in years where our hopes are higher. That effort has been made harder thanks to a recent story which seems designed solely to embarrass the Cleveland Browns fan base.
Unless you've been blissfully away from the mass media for the last few days, you've heard the tale of an innocent eight-year-old Jets fan who was "tackled" on the way out of the Stadium to the Muni Lot last Sunday. The story basically goes like this:
* Father and young son decide to go to see their favorite team, the New York Jets, down at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
* They naively dress in team colors and park at the Muni Lot.
* Throughout the game they are pelted with food and called derisive things.
* On the way out, evil drunk Browns fan tackles young child.
* Angry mother complains to media.
* Universal condemnation follows. Browns fans are embarrassed.
See? There's no loss so disheartening that it can't be made worse by acting like idiots afterwards. No bad fortune that we can't manage to push up the humiliation curve from Disappointment into Embarrassment.
We've been here before, haven't we? Our team may not win much, but we can debase ourselves at a Championship level.
We Browns fans must be a bad lot. Let us now hang our heads in shame.
* * *
There are certain points in life where you have to take a step back and objectively say that something went wrong somewhere.
For example, if you find yourself standing in your front yard, watching your house burn down, it's hard to escape the conclusion that something went awry.
It's a fairly simple process, truth be told. Ask yourself whether the outcome you've achieved is desirable, and if the answer is "No", try to learn from mistakes.
In this example, we may reach the conclusion that it's unwise for your wife to leave her hair curler plugged in while it sits atop a pile of gasoline-soaked rags. Or that campfires on the kitchen table are a bad idea. Or that your basement meth lab wasn't the best way to earn some extra cash.
Whatever it was, your house is burning down, so something went wrong somewhere.
We're in a similar situation here: When a story of a tackled youngster hits the airwaves and makes us all look like dirtballs, I think we can can all safely agree that Something Amazingly Dumb happened.
All that's left is to offer rationalizations and point fingers.
I call it "Find the Stupid". It's like "Where's Waldo", except we look for really stupid things amongst the noisy crowd. Let's play, shall we?
I must warn you that, as a member of the media, I will fill in any inconvenient blank spaces with my own guesses and prejudices. It may not seem fair, but I'm allowed. Those are the rules. That's how we play the game.
* * *
Don Pardo, who's playing today? Well, Wink, today's Find the Stupid contestants are...
CONTESTANT #1 is "Drunk Browns Fan". Our early leader out of the box, Drunk Browns Fan is a beer-soaked reprobate so upset about his 3-6 team's loss to the New York Jets that he elects to physically assault an eight-year-old boy. Per the best of our knowledge, he then goes home to drink more beer, download low-rent porn, step on kittens and cheat on his taxes, because that's what football fans are like.
CONTESTANT #2 calls herself "Angry Mom". Angry Mom is angry because she told her husband not to take their son down to the Browns game, and she just knew that this sort of thing would happen. After hearing the tale of woe, she does the only thing she can: Complain to the media about the noxiousness of Drunk Browns Fan and his ilk. They're all the same, after all!
CONTESTANT #3 comes straight from the same home as "Angry Mom". He's "Trusting Dad"! Trusting Dad just wanted to take his son to a football game, a perfectly unstandable desire that all fathers certainly share. Unfortunately, Trusting Dad may not have been aware of some of the less agreeable aspects of human nature that one is likely to see while being happy people in green amidst a sea of disappointed orange and brown. Oops.
* * *
So many qualified contestants, so little time.
What's tough about trying to be a judge on Find the Stupid is that I can relate to all of them.
In my younger days, I had a few occasions where I was so drunk that I did some amazingly dumb things that seemed like a good idea at the time. For instance, I have a missing tooth thanks to being young, dumb, and intoxicated. A self-inflicted wound from the War of Life. They pile up over time.
I've been an angry parent, fired up about how my kids were treated. I remember being unreasonably upset at my daughter's softball coach many years ago. I've been trusting Dad, hoping that I could take my kids to things that they probably weren't ready to do or not being paranoid enough to ponder the worst outcomes.
I can see myself in all of their shoes.
In this case, of course, if we did have someone attack an eight-year-old kid there's absolutely no excuse for that behavior. He would win by default.
But that's the problem. The truth seems nebulous and hard to pin down. There were no police reports filed, There were very few witnesses. Just the letter from Angry Mom, who wasn't even there.
It won't hit the mainstream media, of course, but the story doesn't seem to be as clear-cut as Angry Mom's letter made it out to be. The only three (unproven, of course) eyewitness accounts I've heard point more to a very drunk person stumbling, staggering, and falling into the kid.
You can see this sort of thing happening, pretty easily. There's a lot of booze in play before, during, and after games, and some guys drink too much. Sometimes they can't walk, can't think. So, if a drunk fan stumbled into and knocked over a kid, that is unfortunate because you never want to see someone hurt at what should be a happy experience. But it's also completely inappropriate to besmirch a large group of people about.
Or maybe Drunk Browns Fan had evil intent. Or maybe he was so drunk his judgement was impaired. Or maybe we're supposed to exist in the perfect world that Angry Mom and Trusting Dad want, where the tribal aspects of being a sports fan are viewed as irrelevant next to our common humanity. Or maybe, just maybe, everything looks different based on your perspective.
The point, I guess, is that we can't really pick a winner. We're the blind men trying to determine the precise nature of an elephant. We weren't there, can't see, can't say.
Either way, I can't eliminate any one of them. They all win, and none of them win. As in many situations, there's more than enough Stupid to go around. It's the one unlimited resource humanity seems to be able to reliably create. I've created more than my fair share. Maybe you have too.
* * *
I'm the wrong guy. I really am. I see that now.
I've spent the last eight years of my life trying to create a free-standing Browns news outlet that is built in a fan-centric way, committed to the truth, but sympathetic to fans.
I got it into it because it was fun, and after years of anonymously building back-office systems for Fortune 100 firms, I enjoyed doing something where you got so much love and positive feedback.
When push comes to shove, though, a guy like me shouldn't be running a news outlet.
When this story came down, I purposefully decided not to ask anyone to dive into it. Not to cover up for Browns fans, but because the truth was so nebulous and jumping on it wouldn't help anything.
My initial impression when I heard about the story was that a drunk fan decided it would be funny to tackle the kid. Turns out he might not even have had that level of coherence. Whatever the truth, the idea that a fan would actually take his anger out on an eight-year-old boggles my mind too much to even consider. After reading the articles and accounts it still does. As it's starting to seem, of course, the real truth may be innocuous.
But that doesn't matter. We won't ever know, and this being the 21st Century, will forget about it inside of ten days. The damage has already been done. We'll all survive, but anyone proud to be a Browns fan has been embarrassed by this story. The residual stink will be minor, but will cling to all of us.
It's too late. It's out there. It's done.
And that's the real story from the meta-level, where a key takeaway is not whether an eight-year-old has a bruised shin, but the way the story is thrown out there to the masses.
If you want to succeed in the news business, particularly the sports media, concerns about accuracy of side stories and the social/moral value of your work have to be pushed close to irrelevancy. If you get the letter, you print it because it will increase traffic to your web site, regardless of the lasting effects. Or you dive into the story because "Child Assaulted at Browns Game" can get people to stick around after a commercial break.
The most important thing in journalism isn't the truth or feeling good about your work. It's detachment. It's critical that you don't care what effect your story has on people. Just get the story out, get the page views or ratings, and move on.
Here is the Reporter's Code, as I've learned it: You matter. Your career matters. Nothing else does.
You can print Brady Quinn's home address if that gets you some more page views. Or you can play the 911 tape of a grief-striken mother as long as she's related to Randy Lerner. Or you can steal content and print it under your own name if it gets you ahead. Or you can print a letter embarrassing all Browns fans as long as it gets your web site mentioned on an ESPN TV show where people shout at each other.
And we will all be intrigued and click on the links, and we'll repeat them, and we'll chatter about them, and we'll give you traffic and ratings, and we'll forget, and we'll move on.
So, there is some good news. I finally Found the Stupid.
Turns out it was you and me, all along.
Barry McBride is a one-time useful member of society who now runs the Orange and Brown Report. He hates it when his email client mistakes email messages for spam, so please contact him via the OBR contact form, via Twitter, or on the forums.