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'They don't represent us': Mike Polk Jr. on why Cleveland Browns fans shouldn't accept offensive shirts and signs

'Make them feel like the pariahs that they deserve to be. Justifiable group-shaming is an effective method of maintaining the integrity of a community.'

CLEVELAND — I did not attend the Cleveland Browns' second preseason game this past Sunday. I am still a Browns fan; I’m just no longer a "Pay-good-money-to-sit-in-the-rain-and-watch-third-stringers-play-meaningless-football-against-Gardner-Minshew"-level Browns fan. You have to draw lines.

Though the stadium was far from full this weekend, thousands of people did attend, but if you were you to scan social media, you might assume that there were only a couple people of consequence at the game.

Specifically, there was a bootleg t-shirt salesman trying to hustle his tasteless Deshaun Watson scandal-themed apparel. Then there was the leading candidate for the 2022 "Dad of the Year" award who proudly displayed a repulsive sign alongside a child who is probably his son, who is — I need not remind you — just a kid, and therefore doesn't deserve the same level of scorn as his father but does deserve a much better father.

I say it seems like these were the only people there because, despite the bafflingly respectable attendance, these were the two primary images from the game that continued popping up on my social media timelines.

And as you might expect, the national feedback has been "spirited," to say the least, with no shortage of folks suggesting that these goons are representative of Browns fans as a whole. Cincinnati fans in particular seemed quite judgmental, including one guy who, ironically, has Joe Mixon as his profile banner. That's certainly a choice.

But just because that Bengals fan happens to be a hypocrite, did you notice how I heroically refrained from declaring this proves all Bengals fans are hypocrites? Because that would be silly.

Now, to be clear, I am by no means suggesting these people are the only gross Browns fans. I'm sure some people actually bought these shirts, most likely some guys I went to high school with. Heck, this guy probably got one for his wife for their anniversary.

Regardless, you will not see the stands awash in tasteless t-shirts like this one at Browns games this season. What you will see is a whole lot of fans donning the jerseys of Joe Thomas, Bernie Kosar, Clay Matthews, Nick Chubb, and other players that fans are able to be proud of both on and off the field.

For every one of these performative, callous, jerk Browns fans, there are 1,000 non-jerks who recognize the gravity of the Watson situation, don't take it lightly, and will continue to grapple with this situation in their own way: as lifelong supporters of their home team.   

My suggestion to my fellow Browns fans is that if you happen to encounter one of these bad actors and it bothers you, tell them how you feel about what they're doing, and do so peacefully but firmly. Let them know that they don’t represent us. Make them feel like the pariahs that they deserve to be. Justifiable group-shaming is an effective method of maintaining the integrity of a community.

Need proof? Within hours of these pictures dropping, Browns fans apparently figured out who this guy was and voiced their displeasure on his social media pages so vigorously that he has reportedly closed all of his accounts. What a loss for the world, and what a great reminder that while our fanbase — like all fanbases — inevitably contains jerks, it contains far more people willing to tell a jerk to shut up because he's making us all look bad.

It's a small victory, but we take what we can get these days.

Speaking of, just a heads for all of you Browns-weary Cleveland fans out there: Your Guardians are currently in first place and your equally playoff-bound Cavaliers tip off their regular season in just 57 days. 

Stay up, Cleveland.

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