McBride: A Swing and A Miss

It's no surprise that the "Brown Out" fizzled. But it was remarkable nonetheless.

If you are looking for illumination on matters football, you will not find it here.

I am not going to try to analyze the Browns surprisingly tough first-half defense or historically inept offense. I'll leave that to others who are far more capable.

Anyway, the pain is still too great. Sometimes, there are things that you can only talk about with time. In my case, that time should be about 8PM, when the OBR radio program begins.

Until then, I'm not sure I want to contemplate the mess on the field.

Instead, what I'm going to write about - hopefully for the last time - is the much-hyped fizzle of a "fan protest" which was launched against the Browns, ostensibly to create some sort of impetus for change on the part of what protesters assumed was a blissfully oblivious team owner.

The event, as we had predicted, fizzled completely when put to the test. Even controversy-happy ESPN noted that the Stadium lower bowl and Dawg Pound appeared to be quite full at kickoff, and reports from the press box quickly confirmed that CBS was as full at kickoff as it typically is, if not more so. Protest organizers were hardly welcomed in the Dawg Pound as conquering heroes, based on a stream of messages hitting Twitter shortly after kickoff.

Apparently, it was a mass movement, minus the mass. It was a non-event preceding a typically uninspiring display of football. Yawn.

Still, there was one aspect of the "Brown Out" that was utterly remarkable, if not astonishing.

The real "news" here is how badly the sports media had missed the real story regarding the mood among fans, and the way that media attention created a backlash that was larger than the event itself.

It wasn't hard to figure out that the protest wasn't going to work. The evidence was plain to see, and the media had weeks to ferret it out. Despite this, both national and local media proved itself incapable of measuring the true level of fan interest in the "Brown Out", pursuing instead easy stories with willing spokesmen. Regardless, of course, of whether or not these spokesmen had anything approaching a real mandate.

At the end of the day, Browns fans irritated by the media attention given to the sideshow shouldn't be frustrated with the fans pursuing their agenda. They should be frustrated instead with the frequent and fawning press coverage that painted these individuals as spokespeople.

It didn't take a lot of research to find out how fans really felt, nor any particular gift at reading tea leaves to know how this was going to turn out.

All the clues were there, and were plainly visible. For instance, over a week ago, the OBR published a poll indicating that 70% of fans disagreed with the protest, and a story about this poll was placed on Scout.com's popular NFL home page. Following an editorial, I personally wound up receiving nearly 300 emails on the protest, nearly all of them vowing not to support it. I didn't keep this a secret, publishing dozens of the emails. On the OBR forums, supporters of the protest were quickly drowned out on our free and open boards, and retreated to using fictitious user names and posing as forum newcomers.

There wasn't a shortage of activity outside of these pages, either. A Facebook page devoted to the notion that "Real Fans Don't Miss Kickoff" accumulated over 1100 followers in just over a week, using nothing more than social networking and fan word-of-mouth. Outside of a link placed into an OBR editorial about a week ago, I don't believe the page was linked by a single mainstream media entity. Only a brief segment on local sports talk radio station WKNR provided backers with any sort of wide access beyond the internet.

In the meantime, however, mainstream media entities both national and local gave significant video, audio, and text space to protest organizers. Video shots were arranged, camera crews placed in Berea parking lots. National platforms were provided.

All of this, when even a small amount of work would have proven that there was little chance of a mass walkout.

(Sigh)

Of course, none of this is really a big deal. The whole fracas will probably be forgotten in a matter of days or weeks, as changes are made to the organization, and the media and fan base turn their attention to other topics. A fizzled fan protest is a trivial thing. Non-news, quickly forgotten. No big deal.

But it makes me wonder. It gives me pause.

Sports news is about as easy to report as it gets. The concepts are simple, information not all that difficult to obtain, winners and losers clearly identified.

But if the media garbled this simple story beyond recognition, spewing the agenda of what looks to be a handful of individuals onto the front page of ESPN and elsewhere, how well is our media doing on subjects that really matter?

Reporting about the Cleveland Browns is a tiny niche. It's a microcosm in a vast expanse of events.

But maybe, here, in our tiny little world, is proof that maybe the truth evades those we trust to bring it to us.

Maybe, just maybe, things aren't what we think they are.


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