Cleveland Browns: All Parties Need to Handle Modell Death with a Sense of Tact

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Cleveland Browns: All Parties Need to Handle Modell Death with a Sense of Tact
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

I hesitated to even pen this opinion column.

The subject matter is rife with peril. The subject of course: The death of former Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell.

Modell was a larger-than-life character. I remember well his days as owner of the Cleveland Browns. I admittedly hardly paid attention to him post-move to Baltimore.

He was humorous, gregarious, personable and, like many self-made men, a little full of himself. ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi covers his life story well in this article. And it is, no doubt, a fascinating tale.

But I'm not here to relate that story, because others can tell it much better than I could.

I decided to write to talk about tact—the concept of tact.

The NFL and Cleveland Browns announced today that they will have an "appropriate recognition" of Modell at the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. (ESPN)

Browns spokesman Neal Gulkis reportedly said plans have not yet been finalized, but the team will acknowledge Modell's death.

So basically, on Sunday, the Cleveland Browns will walk a tightrope of tact over a highly sensitive situation.

I have some suggestions that I'll get to later.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

I'd like to begin by offering my personal condolences to the Modell family in their time of grief.

There are things much bigger than football, and a big one of those is matters of life and death.

Next, I'll say I'm glad Baltimore and Cleveland both have our teams now, because Baltimore fans didn't deserve what the Colts owners—the family Irsay—did in 1984, and Cleveland fans didn't deserve what Modell did either, in 1995. 
 
Art Modell should be commended for his philanthropic work in the cities of Baltimore and Cleveland. He should be commended for Monday Night Football and Thanksgiving Day football, and a variety of other NFL innovations.

But still, there is no forgetting and there is no forgiving for Clevelanders.

Modell's decision to move the stalwart NFL franchise to Baltimore was one of the all-time sucker punches—just like Irsay's decision the decade prior.

He promised repeatedly he would never move the team and he lied to reporters just days before the announcement, saying there was nothing to the rumors of a move.

Many have pointed to Cleveland's civic leaders at the time as being to blame for the incident.
 
And, yes the administration of the city of Cleveland made some mistakes.

But to say that it's all their fault, or even all Modell's fault, is a false dichotomy. Both were culpable.

Nevertheless, when it comes down to it, Modell is the one who signed that contract on Al Lerner's airplane

Modell's line at the time was that the stadium situation didn't lend itself to the team winning. That always rang false.

The team went 11-5 the year before the move and—with Bill Belichick as coach—was looking to continue to be a perennial contender.

Modell had mismanaged his own finances.

He also badly played the wrong hand when he thought that losing the Cleveland Indians' suite revenue when they moved to Jacobs Field wouldn't be crucial to his financial well-being.

Modell said he was facing bankruptcy.

He wanted the city of Cleveland to bail him out, and he had taken umbrage at both the Indians and the Cavaliers getting new stadiums through the Gateway Initiative before his own turn.

Now, the city should've played ball. Mayor Michael White should've been much more cooperative in a more timely manner. But let's also remember, Modell was not out of options.

And it should be noted, Cleveland citizens passed the ballot initiative for massive stadium improvements by a huge margin days after the announcement.

If Modell wanted to save his fiscal rear, he could've sold the team outright, like he was later forced to do anyway, and keep a minority share, like he was later forced to do anyway.

It should also be noted that Modell did not altruistically offer for Cleveland to retain the name, colors and history of the Browns.

The city of Cleveland sued, and the NFL and Modell settled that litigation with the promise of the Browns' return.

But in the end, Modell made a selfish decision, spiteful of the city administration.

Unfortunately, it wasn't them he hurt with it. It was a fiercely loyal fanbase that he hurt—one that was steadily selling-out games.

He stabbed us through the back and right in the heart.

He punished the fans for his own bad fiscal sense and the mistakes of the city administration.

He was horribly wrong for doing so and, again, he will not be forgiven and it will not be forgotten.

And that brings us to Sunday and the "appropriate recognition."

Art Modell was a force in Cleveland prior to his calamitous decision, doing a variety of good things.

But if the NFL thinks it can get away with a "moment of silence" in Cleveland, they're being naive.

And if they choose that route, they are irresponsibly setting up a potentially powder-keg situation.

Cleveland fans are not "over it." And frankly, people should stop telling them to "get over it." After all, it's condescending and inappropriate to tell anybody how he should feel.

And if the NFL goes that route and lets it be televised, that's wholly cynical exploitation.

So what's appropriate?

May I humbly suggest a respectful acknowledgement of Modell's time in Cleveland printed in the game programs.

That would be tactful, as I have striven for myself in this column.

Go Brownies.

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