Levine: The PR Machine Breaks Down

The Kellen Winslow situation couldn't have been handled any worse by the Browns, opines Les Levine in his weekly commentary. A veteran on the Cleveland sports scene, Les has never seen a situation where so few fans support a Cleveland athlete...

The NFL is widely known for having one of the best public relations machine in any industry in this country.  My assumption is that they advised the Browns to do absolutely nothing in regard to the Kellen Winslow, Jr. situation over the past ten days.  Otherwise, how do you explain the way they responded to everything?

There must have been some legal entanglements that prevented the Browns from doing any more than they did, because from a public relations standpoint they couldn't have done worse.  The Winslow family, and his agent, must have been in control of whatever little news was confirmed.  What they didn't realize is that by keeping silent, they allowed rumors to run rampant over television, radio, and the internet.  Eventually the reality of the situation will surface, and the extent of the injuries will be known to the public.  In the meantime, however, the only thing that was avoided was an embarrassing situation for Winslow.

The best thing that the Browns could have done, with Winslow's permission, was to have a hospital press conference.  Winslow could have avoided the personal questions about his health, but he could have been given the opportunity to apologize to the fans and ask for their understanding.  He could have, at least, tried to work on the sympathies of the fans, but as time goes on, their unhappiness with him grows.

In all of my years of covering and talking sports in the Cleveland market, I have never seen a situation where the fans are 100% on one side of an issue, and in this case, there are almost no supporters of Winslow out there.  While most people weren't upset when Randy Lerner paid off Butch Davis in full when he quit as coach, they seem to be outraged by Winslow's actions, which totally appear to be in violation of his contract.

The fans image of Winslow is not a good one.  When he was drafted by the Browns, the only thing the fans knew about him, besides being a potentially great player, were the things he said about the Ohio State game, and the ‘soldier' tirade that he had during the season.  He then held out for twelve days before signing with the Browns, which also didn't endear him to the fans.  And he has been pretty much silent, even before the motorcycle accident, in the past eight or nine months of rehab from his broken leg.

If he never plays another down for the Cleveland Browns, he will just be another footnote in the team's sorry history of draft success.  Add him to the list of, in no particular order, Mike Junkin, Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown, William Green, Craig Powell, Touchdown Tommy Vardell, Steve Everitt, Clifford Charlton, Don Rogers, Willis Adams, and Steve Holden.  If Winslow's career is over, who would have believed that he would have played only two more games with the Browns than Ernie Davis?

Despite the PR problem caused by Winslow, there is at least some good news.  If they were going to lose a front-line player, tight end is probably the position of most strength on the team.  Steve Heiden and Aaron Shea, despite some flaws, have proven to be solid performers.  And, unlike last year, when the whole offensive structure had to change when Winslow got hurt, there is plenty of time to come up with something effective.

It is time for the front office to focus in on June 1, when a whole crop of veterans should become available.  By now, the Browns know what they have and what they need, and I would expect them to pick up two or three players who can provide immediate help, especially on defense.

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