Mike Brown and the Bengals: When Nepotism in Sports Goes Wrong

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Mike Brown and the Bengals: When Nepotism in Sports Goes Wrong
Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals fans outside of Cincinnati typically accept that they are the minority.

Often times Ohio natives—the Bengals fan base—doesn’t span much farther than Southwest Ohio, and Some would argue there are as many Steeler fans in Cincinnati as Bengals fans.

The ticket sales might agree.

Having lived in Patriot Country, Gator Country and now Hollywood, I’ve embraced being the only Bengals fan at the bar.

In fact, I usually don't watch the game at the bar because it isn't on regional TV. Times like this I wish I was in Cincinnati—if only for the four hours to watch the game.

Then I remember that the game was blacked out in Ohio and no one got to see it.

I didn’t choose to be born in Cincinnati. However, I did choose to be a Bengals fan.

And as an educated, interested Bengals fan, I have to ask myself, when will be our time?

I watch friends who are Alabama fans elated year in and year out by their football team.

I see Patriot fans realistically predicting Super Bowl appearances repeatedly.

I hear Laker fans appalled at losing streaks.

I see these friends with expectations of greatness and I wonder:

When will I have that feeling about my team?

I never have. Not about the Bengals anyway.

I’ve had that swagger about other teams that I’ve personally played on, but I’ll set the over-under at ten for people who recognize my ex-AAU basketball team the Cincinnati Select.

I’ve never been able to walk into a bar with my Andy Dalton jersey freshly dry-cleaned and know that my team would win. I’ve hoped they’d win. I’ve prayed that they win, but seldom do I know.

So the question is: What separates franchises like the Patriots or the Steelers from the Bengals?

Is it big plays like the immaculate receptions or the Tuck rule play?

Is it finding consistent quarterback play?

Is it location?

Are family ties effecting business in the Bengals front office?

Submit Vote vote to see results

It starts at the top.

I’m not at the top, so I can’t say exactly what’s different in the juice in Cincinnati compared to New England or being poured at NY Giant training facilities, but I do know that no organization runs well without strong leadership.

As of late, especially considering what the stadium cost the City of Cincinnati, this franchise is not solid. 

If you take a look at the people who are actually at the top for the Bengals, you only see a few last names; mostly Brown and Blackburn.

Mike Brown is the owner. Mike Brown is also the GM and President.

Pete Brown,  the Senior VP of Player Personnel, is his brother.

Katie Blackburn, the Executive VP, is his daughter. Troy Blackburn, the Vice President, is his son-in-law.

I’m fully aware that nepotism exists and that it has a firm place in the NFL. It's neither positive or negative in my mind, but it's there. Originally, I thought this could be the issue. But it’s not just a Bengals' thing.

The Rooneys do it in Pittsburgh.

The Maras do it in New York.

So clearly problems don't come from the relationship between the members of the front office, those franchises operate just fine.

It comes from the people in the front office.

I could find several other reasons to support or refute why the Bengals are in this perpetual state of mediocrity.

Certain figures and statistics stand out more than others, but I think I’ve seen all that I need to come to my conclusion. 

The Bengals franchise has been abysmal the last 20 years (give or take the last two) because Mike Brown has bad judgment and no one with enough power seems to call him on it. Mike Brown has adopted this role very similar to Jerry Jones in Dallas. Brown not only signs the paychecks as owner, he also operates as General Manager and oversees the player personnel decisions. Along with that, he’s also the President, so he has to oversee the day-to-day operations of the franchise.

Katie Blackburn, Bengals Exec Vice President, is Mike Brown's daughter. Credit: Dartmouth Alumni Magazine

Did I mention this guy is 77 years old?

The same year Mike Brown was born, Parker Brothers first released the game Monopoly. Just for perspective, the same year 2012 first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick was born Nintendo released the Game Boy.

My how times have changed.

As I thought more about it, I figured someone had to be in the front office that could influence Brown’s decisions.

Why were people letting him get away with so many risky deals?

Why isn’t anyone pushing him to make better decisions?

Why was David Shula given the opportunity to go 19-53 becoming the fastest coach to reach 50 losses? Why wasn’t Bruce Coslet fired? Why are we even considering keeping Rey Maualuga for 2013? Good job on drafting Carson. But for every Carson Palmer there are three Akili Smiths, Peter Warricks and Chris Perrys.

The answer is loyalty.

A great trait to have, but it's not always good for business.

ESPN's Colin Cowherd (@ESPN_Colin) has often been heard on his radio show The Herd referring to conditional loyalty. He says to remain loyal to family and loyal to a particular point within business. What would Cowherd say about Brown? His family is his business. 

And then I looked deeper.

How much can we really trust the judgment of Mike Brown? I don’t trust it very much at all anymore and here’s why.

In 2009, the Wall Street Journal published a report of just what the construction of Paul Brown Stadium did to the city of Cincinnati. Sure, Mike Brown worked to keep them there and named it after his local legend of a father, but it also ran $205M over budget and the city is still paying for it.

If Mike Brown really loved the City of Cincinnati he never would have negotiated such a one-sided deal.

I understand the nature of the business and getting as much as you can, but when throwing around estimates like $350M, I find it hard to believe that he couldn’t see the risks involved for the city. It doesn’t matter to him though. He's great to have at a negotiating table, but as a Bengals' fan and Cincinnati native, I want to see him do what is best for the city, not necessarily his wallet.

Is the City of Cincinnati better off without Mike Brown?

Submit Vote vote to see results

So now, taxpayers are paying for this great stadium when 14 percent of residents live below the poverty line and 6.9 percent are unemployed.

Meanwhile, the Brown family is rolling in the dough in a huge mansion somewhere like Indian Hill.

At 77 years old, one would think that Mike Brown would have reached a stage in his life where he sought the well being of a team or city over his own. Because of his tangled involvement with the team, Brown would also benefit financially from a change in perspective.

What Mike Brown doesn’t realize is that he has the power to rejuvenate a city in desperate need.

Sports fans yearn for a legit playoff team, whether its the Reds or the Bengals. The city needs a boost in morale. It’s one of those cities looking for something to cling to—a city looking for hope.

I don’t know for sure what changes can be made to focus the franchise even more in the right direction. The acquisition of Dalton and Green has certainly helped his résumé, but he can’t stop there. With $55.1M of cap space for 2013, Mike Brown has the money to bring in the quality of players that the Bengals need to take that next step. 

A step that will help the Bengals consistently beat the Steelers and Ravens (at least once a year). A step that will prevent losses like those to the Dolphins and Browns this year. 

A step that will move fans like me closer to knowing what my Alabama-born friends feel. (That’s not fair, Alabama is a dynasty)

I’ll take the Boise State fan mentality at this point. At least people see them as a legitimate program headed in the right direction.

All the hopes of Mike Brown stepping down are moot. He’s not stepping down until his health forces him to. And then his daughter will take over. Will things be different then? I don’t know. I have to lean towards no. Which is why, if I were in the front office, I would focus my efforts on proving to the Browns that their legacy could be determinant on the next eight months.

With a young, burgeoning team and $55.1M of cap space heading into the 2013 season, it’s now or never. This Bengals' fan hasn’t completely lost hope in what Mike Brown and family can do. But I’m one of the few and time is running out.

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