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Mike Polk Jr.: Cleveland Browns fans in yet another tight spot, but this one hits differently

I’m still a Browns fan, I’m just not a particularly proud one right now.

CLEVELAND — So I guess any Steelers fan whom I ever condemned for supporting a team that made Ben Roethlisberger the face of their franchise despite his icky past can start forming a single file line so you can each take your turn calling me a hypocrite. That should only take a couple of months.

Of course, I do have another option: In order to avoid being a hypocrite, all I have to do is renounce my football team and abandon something that has been a big part of my life since I was a child. 

Isn’t football a blast? What a relaxing form of recreation we’ve chosen.  

Vince Lombardi once said that “Winning isn’t everything, but it’s the only thing”.

Whether you agree with that philosophy or not, it certainly appears that the Browns are all in on it.

This Deshaun Watson move has put the fans in a pretty tough spot, and as you may be aware the Browns fanbase has already been through quite a bit over the last few decades. We were a bad team for a very long time. It was kind of our brand.

But the word “bad” has different meanings, and while we certainly weren’t crazy about following a “bad” team that represented this definition of the term: “Failing to reach an acceptable standard," at least there was nothing dishonorable about being that kind of bad. In fact, quite the opposite.

There’s an odd sense of honor in supporting a consistently dreadful sports franchise. The ability to remain loyal to something despite a near total lack of reward speaks gospels to one’s character. For years now, we Browns fans were pitied but still respected by fans of other teams: the kind of begrudging respect that comes from continuing to support a noble, if ultimately hopeless cause.

But we’re now being asked to support a team that’s adopting another definition of the word “bad”. Specifically, the “morally objectionable” meaning of the term, and it’s THAT kind of “bad” that many Browns fans can’t get on board with.

No fanbase is pure. To support any NFL team is to be in some way, compromised.

To offer an uncomfortably direct example: I spent all of last season cheering for a team featuring Kareem Hunt in a stadium named after a company that’s currently embroiled in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme in what has been called the biggest corruption scandal in state history. So it’s not like my hands have been clean up until now.

It has to be noted that Watson is innocent until proven guilty. He has denied all 22 allegations, two grand juries have declined to indict him, and no one really knows how this will play out legally. But that doesn’t change the fact that The Browns still chose to acquire a guy who has 22 allegations against him despite not knowing how this will play out legally.  We already took our bag of silver regardless of what the interest rate eventually ends up being.

I’ve heard some Browns fans say that they’re done with the team and they’ll never be back, and I get it.

Everyone will have to make their own individual choice about this and I can understand and empathize with all of them.

I myself don’t plan to stop being a Browns fan at this time.  Because no one gets to take my lifelong football team away from me forever through a controversial personnel decision with which I disagree. I’ve been a part of this team longer than anyone in that front office, certainly longer than anyone on that roster, and when they’re all gone in ten years or so, I’ll still be around. 

I got a Kardiac Kids shirt when I was still just a Ginger Baby. I went to countless games at Municipal with my Dad, and tailgated with all of his unsavory friends, I bothered Earnest Byner for autographs at training camp and got to experience both the best and worst parts about being a Browns fan, watching the competent teams of my youth deliver great regular seasons that ultimately ended in playoff tragedy. When the team was stolen by Baltimore I waited patiently and renewed my tickets to witness the abomination that was the expansion era Browns. I endured losing season after losing season, 32 starting QBS and however many coaches. One season, I watched my team win zero games. Zero. Not only did I not quit supporting them, I marched in a parade to commemorate it. 

So I’m still a Browns fan, I’m just not a particularly proud one right now. It turns out I had an easier time being a fan of an 0-16 team with a laughably incompetent front office than I’m having right being the fan of a competitive team with a ruthlessly competent one.

Of course, in a perfect world we wouldn’t be debating whether it’s better to have to support a good bad football team or a bad good football team because we’d be a good good football team that we could be entirely proud of. But now I’m just talking about fantasy football, I suppose.

Regardless of where you stand, please be patient with each other right now Browns fans. Remember that we’ve been through a whole lot together and we’ll get through this too.

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