We are just seeing the first hints of light, as the 2004 season prepares to dawn. Still, it is the past which echoes through today's newswire as we count down the days to the beginning of training camp.
The sudden retirement of Dolphin running back Ricky Williams brings back memories of the legendary Jim Brown, who retired after the 1965 season to seek a career in acting. In fact, the Palm Beach Post even hints that Brown might have something to do with Williams' decision. In Detroit, they're living the Barry Sanders surprise all over again as well.
Williams decision to retire also prompts Terry Pluto to ponder what-if scenarios around the 1999 NFL Draft. While the Browns were overtly circling quarterbacks, there was a constant thread of speculation that the team might go in a different direction and pick Williams. As it turns out, the right choice would have been about fifth on the team's list - Donovan McNabb. The value of 20-20 hindsight has never been more apparent than when looking back at the Browns first two drafts.
Another, more personal, echo from the past can be found about halfway through Roger Brown's media column. After his comments on the Indians rating success, the Plain Dealer's media watcher discusses the Browns desire to completely produce their own TV programs, and how that will effect their relationship with local TV station WKYC. Brown discusses the obvious worries about the team's ability to be objective when covering itself.
That is a concern, and a very valid one. But I have another, because I remember 1995.
Shortly after Art Modell declared his intention to move the team to Baltimore, media coverage of Browns fans protests helped turn the move into an issue that required the NFL to respond. The Sports Illustrated cover, with Modell sucker-punching a dawg representing Browns fans, still can be seen in my mind's eye.
Still, the NFL could use its muscle to silence the fans. I vividly remember an ABC Monday Night Football game against the Steelers, when the network served as a platform for the league's apologists. From the commentators excuse-making for Modell's betrayal, to the refusal to show Browns and Steeler fans in the stadium, the broadcast was a display of the league's sometimes ruthless use of media power.
When was the last time you watched a football game where they never showed fans in the stands? If you were watching that night, you saw one.
As much as we love the game, it is controlled by a giant business which is always looking to push its profit margins higher.
An independent media has helped to keep the NFL monster under control in times like the horrible winter of 1995. But what happens when the NFL controls the media?
We've already seen it. We saw it on a Monday night in 1995.
Naturally, my worries are compounded by my job as managing editor here. Bernie's Insiders is an independent media outlet and the NFL is a formidable competitor with giant vaults of cash. But I worry even more about the future.
The more that the NFL directly controls the media, the less options fans will have when something goes wrong. The less help fans will have to change things and make their voices heard.
When big business and money is involved, at some point, push comes to shove.
As we've learned in Cleveland, when that happens, it's always the fans who get shoved.
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