Saturday, November 05, 2016

​​Cleveland Champions

I'm a hopeless homer at heart. I root for the bumbling Browns. I celebrate the Champion Cavs. And even as I indict the Indians for their loathsome logo, I nonetheless cheered them on this past season, as they fought fiercely against the odds, overcoming virtually every obstacle, becoming a team that combined organizational front office smarts, brilliant leadership in the clubhouse and on the field, and undeniable spunk and resilience on the diamond, to become much greater than the sum of its parts. Collectively the organization gave the community a season to remember and treasure, a glorious playoff run culminating in a World Series that was truly a Fall Classic for the ages, full of epic moments, the last hurrah for some, the grand debut for others; it had masterful managerial moves, spectacular plays, human errors, and abundant reminders that the game is never over until the last man is out.

The Indians didn't blow a 3-1 Series lead anymore than Golden State blew a similar momentary advantage in the NBA finals. Comebacks are more than theoretical possibilities, especially where world-class performers are committed to making them happen.

Unlike some of my more somber friends, I don't see sports as simply a diversion, an entertainment set apart from real life. They are an indelible part of our culture. I'll leave it to scholars to evaluate the social and cultural aspects of professional and major college sports in contemporary America. However, I did once ask former Cleveland mayor Michael R. White, in a sizable but semi-formal ingathering of black folk, if he wanted his political legacy to be the lavishing of nearly one billion dollars on professional sports palaces. The look he gave me in reply was more memorable than his verbal response, and I did not find myself invited to any such assemblies as he may have continued to host.

Professional sports is of course, a massive industry, albeit one that is heavily subsidized by the public, generally via some sort of Faustian bargain. In Cuyahoga County, the early 1990s Gateway project — the clearing of public lands for the building of new professional homes for major league baseball and professional basketball teams run by wealthy owners — was financed by a regressive sales tax on tobacco and alcohol, a so-called “sin tax” that continues today.

There was a time when, in recognition of the economic realities, I referred to Cleveland teams as the Modells, the Jacobs, and the Gunds. The Jacobs were wealthy developers. The Gunds were old money, part of the fabric of Cleveland society and philanthropy. Art Modell was a New York huckster who used borrowed money to buy his way into that society on the cheap, lucking into a championship on the back of a premier organization whose culture of excellence he neither respected or knew how to preserve. When his luck ran out here after decades of mismanagement, he summarily pulled up stakes and took his marbles to Baltimore, precipitating an emotional civic crisis at the loss of “our” beloved Browns.

In some communities, ownership of pro teams is held to be a sacred trust of sorts. In Cleveland, it’s often been more of a one-way deal. But for the huge public subsidies that underwrote the Cleveland sports temples originally christened as Jacobs Field [aka “the Jake”] and Gund Arena but which are now known as Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena [“the Q”], it is likely there would be no major league baseball in northeast Ohio and the Cavs, if around, would still be playing in a cornfield.

My question for the mayor was posed in the aftermath of the Browns’ bolt for Baltimore, and the mayor's attitude evoked comparison to President Johnson's declaration that he would not be the one to "lose" Vietnam. I was really asking three questions: whether Cleveland should pursue a new team, whether a new Stadium, used optimistically no more than 15 days a year, should be built on invaluable downtown lakefront property, and was an expensive, seldom-used playground a wise expenditure of public funds.

I recall that now as we celebrate what has been by any measure a magnificent year for Cleveland sports teams. On court and on field successes remind us of the entertainment and psychic value we get from hometown sports teams. Recurring school levies and low standardized scores for both systems and students remind us of the price we pay for those good vibes and entertainments, and the disproportionate way in which that price is extracted and paid.
Kyrie Irving
Cleveland Cavaliers

Francisco Lindor
Cleveland Indians

Chris Andersen, Cleveland Cavaliers

J. R. Smith
Cleveland Cavaliers
Terrelle Pryor
Cleveland Browns
It can perhaps be said, looking down the road that Kyrie Irving, Francisco Lindor, and Terrell Pryor epitomize the promise and the personality of success in Cleveland's sports future. Each of these young men is supremely gifted, charismatic, hardworking and possessed of sublime athletic confidence. Physically, each of them resembles, along with such hard-working colleagues as the super-tatted and shirtless J. R. Smith, the multi-hued Chris "Birdman" Anderson, and the extremely social Joe Haden, larger than life versions of what many of our urban public school students will look like in early adulthood.

In the case of the professional ballplayers, what we know is that they were supported and encouraged along their journeys to professional success. In many instances, they received favored treatment, were perhaps even indulged or pampered, when they made a misstep; rules may even have been bent to ensure continued progress.

Can we begin to envision how many champions we would have in our community if we invested in our young scholars the way we invest in our athletes?

• • •



No comments: