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COLUMN | 'Perfect Season Parade' will bring more embarrassment to Cleveland than it will to Browns

If the 'Perfect Season Parade' is a protest, why isn't it being advertised as one?

CLEVELAND -- Every time someone brings up the 'Perfect Season Parade,' which is intended to mock the Cleveland Browns' 0-16 season, I can't help but wonder what LeBron James thinks.

You remember LeBron James, right? The homegrown hero who brought Cleveland a real parade for the right reasons a mere 18 months ago. The same James who has become a symbol of pride for the city in every way that the Browns haven't in the past 19 years.

On the one hand, he might support it. After all, James has become one of the Browns' most publicly outspoken critics, lamenting the laundry list of missed draft picks that has helped lead to all this losing. Whether it's been Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson, James hasn't been shy to remind the Browns of their failures, doing so with a voice that carries louder than any procession could.

Something, however, tells me that's not the case.

When James first came back to Cleveland, one of the biggest things that stood out was how vividly he envisioned Cleveland's first championship parade in more than 50 years.

“For me, I've had a vision of boats and floats going down E. 9th Street in a parade,” James said in 2014.

James' vision, of course, would come to fruition in a championship celebration Cleveland will never forget. But less than two years later, a small but vocal portion of the Browns' fanbase will self-parody that very image -- for reasons I still don't entirely understand.

Defenders of the parade -- led by its leader/organizer, Chris McNeil (@Reflog_18) -- will tell you that the parade isn't actually a parade -- it's a protest of the Browns' ineptness. Taken at their word, that's something I could get on board with; you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more vocal on social media about his frustration with the current state of Cleveland's professional football team than yours truly.

The problem, however, is that if this is really a protest, then why isn't it advertised as such? Protests performed by sports fans aren't anything new. As recently as 2012, Columbus Blue Jackets fans protested the franchise because of its on-ice shortcomings.

Perhaps it would have received more attention if they disguised it as a parade celebrating the team's failures.

Over the past few days, McNeil has done dozens of interviews -- including one with WKYC's Jim Donovan -- as the parade has drawn widespread coverage. According to his Instagram, McNeil began actively promoting the parade on Oct. 4, at which point the Browns were merely a fourth of the way through their would-be winless season. After the Browns' final home game -- with two games left to avoid 0-16 -- the social media celebrity posed in FirstEnergy Stadium wearing a t-shirt promoting the parade. If he didn't want it to happen, as he has claimed on multiple occasions, he sure had a funny way of showing it.

Believers in McNeil's benevolence will point to the proceeds from the parade going to the Cleveland Food Bank, which you can donate to here. And while I commend McNeil for adding a charitable aspect to his cause, I'm a firm believer that there are other ways to raise money without the embarrassing stigma associated with the parade.

"What's so embarrassing about the parade?" you might be asking. "Shouldn't the Browns be embarrassed for their 0-16 season?"

You'll get no argument from me on the latter -- the Browns and specifically, owner Jimmy Haslam -- deserve to wear the egg of a winless season on their faces. But despite the city's name being printed across the chests of their terrible uniforms, the Browns aren't a reflection of the people of Cleveland, or even Northeast Ohio. John in the Dawg Pound didn't drop that ball, Corey Coleman did. I didn't abandon the run game, that was Hue Jackson.

But you know what will serve as a reflection of the city? A few hundred (or maybe even thousand) Browns fans marching around the stadium, celebrating the second 0-16 season in NFL history. Nobody -- especially nationally -- will care much that the celebration is intended to be sarcastic or that its organizer lives closer to Columbus than Cleveland, just like nobody cared that it was only a few Cavs fans who burned LeBron's jersey when he took his talents to South Beach in 2010.

Cleveland just buried its reputation as a loser sports town and now there are people who want to bring it back to life? What for? Haslam already knows his team is bad -- the firing of Sashi Brown showed as much. How did the Detroit Lions ever get past their 0-16 season in 2008 without their fans celebrating their misery?

Any positive effect you think this might have on the Browns -- and it won't -- is mitigated by the downside of the embarrassment Cleveland will have to endure as it's perceived as a city that celebrates losing. In fact, it's already happening.

Earlier this week, CBSSports.com ran a story on the 'Perfect Season Parade.' Nowhere was it mentioned the event was intended to serve as a protest of the team's shortcomings, but it had plenty to say about Saturday's "celebration."

"Browns fans didn't get to celebrate a single victory in 2017 and because they are clearly desperate to celebrate something, ANYTHING, thousands of fans will be taking part in a "Perfect Season" parade this week to celebrate the team's 0-16 record," John Breech wrote.

When it was brought to McNeil's attention that his alleged message was being misinterpreted, he shrugged it off.

"Who cares what others think?" he wrote. "#ClevelandAgainstTheWorld."

The first person I ever heard use that phrase was LeBron. I can't imagine that this is what he had in mind.

Read the other side: Cleveland Browns 'Perfect Season' parade is appropriate act of protest for fans

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