Cleveland primer for new athletes in town

094-20130124-0189_300I watched Doug Dieken receive a lifetime achievement award at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards a couple weeks ago. Dieken is a guy who figured it out. He played hard his whole career in Cleveland, then stuck around and built a very nice life for himself and his family, starting a couple of businesses and becoming a commentator for the Browns.

He isn’t the greatest color commentator. He wasn’t the greatest offensive tackle. He was good, and he had a long career for the Browns. Like several other Cleveland athletes, Dieken is beloved in town long after his playing days are over. To be honest, it really shouldn’t be that hard to do.

With a new crop of athletes coming to Cleveland every year, I feel like there should be some kind of primer- a tip sheet if you will. Truthfully, most of the things on the list seem like common sense, but as we all know sense just isn’t very common these days.

So these are my tips for the new athlete in Cleveland. If you want the fans to like you, and be set for life in town after your career is over, try following these suggestions.

The most important rule- be a decent human being.

Seriously. That trumps most everything else.

What do we mean by “being a decent human being”? It really is simple- treat other people like they matter. Smile at people when they smile at you. Acknowledge the kid waiving at you from across the street. The waiter or waitress at the restaurant? Chances are they told you their name when he or she first came to the table. Why not call him or her by name?

Oh, and tipping? You don’t have to be over the top. But I promise you that athletes who are bad tippers are well known around town.

I’ve never been a celebrity, so I won’t pretend to know what it is like to be asked to sign something or take a picture with someone everytime you go out. But in the grand scheme of things, a couple minutes here or there seems like a small price to pay for adulation.

Don’t waste your opportunity.

Look, you work hard- but you also have been given an amazing gift. It’s one that thousands of kids dream of having. Yes, it is your life to live. But for the relatively short time you get to spend in the highlight reels, just stay out of trouble. No matter what Charles Barkley says, he and you are role models. You can either be a good one, or a bad one.

Don’t be the athlete that dads have to have a talk with their sons about. Don’t be the guy that mistreats women. And don’t be the guy that makes a dad have to explain the phrase “banned substance”.

Understand the passion of Cleveland fans.

Up until now, these tips could apply to any athlete anywhere. Now we get a little specific to Cleveland. Facts are facts. The psyche of the average Cleveland fan is pretty fragile these days. I apologize for that. No, this is not your fault. You are coming from Texas or California or Florida and have no clue what it’s like here. Cleveland fans can be desperate and a bit paranoid. Losing games and losing star players will do that to you.

Be sensitive to the idea that we’ve had to say goodbye to so many stars. Don’t joke about leaving. It really won’t go over well. Don’t tell us you plan to stay forever either. We’ve been told that before. More than likely you won’t come off as sincere, even if you are.

Support the other teams in town. You don’t have to go to every Cavaliers game for example, but be seen there sometime. Wish the other teams well when in the media scrum. Go to a high school football game around town. Go see the Lake Erie Monsters or the Crushers.

I’m not even insisting that they become your favorite teams. Look, if you grew up in Chicago and are a big Cubs fan, nobody is going to begrudge you that. It is how you come across that is more important. Downplay your allegiance in public. Enjoy your favorite team in private.

For the love of all that is good in this world, don’t wear a Miami Heat or New York Yankee hat. Period.

This town is so hungry for a winner. The team that ends that championship drought will have statues in their likeness and streets named after them. You will not pay for meals. Kids will be named after you. Around town you will be forever remembered and loved. Not a bad trade off when you think about it.

Be cautious about social media.

Believe me, I appreciate athletes on Twittter as someone that sometimes needs to find something to write about. I will say that the fastest place where an athlete can get tripped up is on twitter. No question it can be a great place to make a fan’s day. If you had a goal to make a splash quickly in town, that would be the place to start. But the trade off can be ugly. You won’t want to read what some fanatics will say after a loss or tough performance.

Winning isn’t everything.

Chances are good you will play your career and never win a championship. If you play your career in Cleveland, there is unfortunately a decent chance you won’t even get to see the post-season very often. When you hang ’em up, if you were never fortunate to be on a winning team, you can still be known as a winner in this community. Refer to rule number 1. It’s why fans around here love guys like Phil Dawson. It’s why Doug Dieken got a lifetime achievement award. It’s why Austin Carr is loved in town, even though most people didn’t even see him play.

Good luck rook. We’re cheering for you.

  • maxfnmloans

    I worked at Champps in Lyndhurst about 1000 years ago. I waited on a few current (at the time) and former Cleveland athletes. Servers ALWAYS remember the bad tippers. And just like a person will tell 20 people about a bad experience in a restaurant, and maybe 2 or 3 about a good one, the same goes for servers and their customers. Not that the experienced servers knew who the bad tippers were and would pay off the host stand to avoid them or anything.

  • JK

    Winning isn’t everything, It’s just 99.9% of everything.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    Recommended viewing materials for all incoming rookies seeking to “understand Cleveland”:

    1981 AFC Divisional playoff vs. Oakland
    1987 AFC Championship game
    1988 AFC Championship game
    1989 NBA Eastern Conference first round, Cavs. vs. Bulls, Game 5
    1995 World Series
    1995 Browns final game at Municipal Stadium
    1997 World series, Game 7
    2003 NFL Wild Card- Browns vs. Steelers
    2007 ALCS
    2009 NBA Eastern Conference Finals
    2010 NBA Eastern conference Semifinals, Cavs. vs. Celtics
    “Cleveland ’95 – A Football Life” NFL Network documentary

    *If you actually do watch all of these, you will have a much better understanding of the damaged psyche of the average Cleveland sports fan. You will also understand why we like to drink. A lot.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    What a list wow and it basically encompasses most of my life. I found myself trying to picture those orange helmets running around even if it was just for a fleeting moment.

    The funny thing is I don’t even think about any of the Cleveland teams winning it all anymore I’m to the point where I’d settle for just being relevant. I’ll gladly take a few division titles regardless of the sport or heck even just making the playoffs. This is what I’ve been reduced to between the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers.

  • woofersus

    I’d be concerned that watching all of those events in rapid succession would cause depression in even the most confident athlete, thus ruining his psyche for the duration of his time here.

  • Fern

    then of course there was: July 8th, 2010 (complete with comic sans postscript)

  • mgbode

    well, then he’ll fit right in.

    also, I think we need to extend the list to include the 1992 Cavs v. Bulls ECF (the one right after we ended Larry Bird’s career in the 2nd round).


    and it wouldn’t be a Cleveland list without some of the PR disasters. Perhaps he can watch Lombardi’s video film showing Kosar’s diminished skills. A quick movie-montage of the great draft busts. Another of the coaches and QBs for the Browns.

    good times.

  • mgbode

    So Rick, you are basically saying that athletes should just copy everything that Joe Haden did except for the 1 weekend in Vegas (assuming we believe his agent’s story on that one).

  • theherd10

    I have said that so may times to my wife. “I just want the (insert Browns/Cavs/Tribe here based on beginning of respective season) to be RELEVANT.”

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    That was off the field and goes into the “bad decisions/screw job/of course” category. Right next to Gordon Gund being Boozer’d!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    LoL yea I’m willing to settle for relevance that’s how low I’ve sunk due to the trauma Cleveland sports teams have caused me.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    O’ ye(35 more “e”s)a!!!!

  • porckchop

    Here’s my abridged version of this article
    Hey Rookie, you want to fit in in this town? You want to know how to be a class act and be adored? Go over to Quicken Loans, ask to speak with a guy named “Z”, big fella, you can’t miss him. Listen carefully and you’ll be fine.

  • Harv 21

    Will spare everyone the pages I could dump on this subject, including about whether the current athletes are in fact any worse than the Diekens pre-huge money, pre-Twitter, etc.

    I’ll just add something simple that would solve the p.r.probs of so many jocks:
    “If someone gives you the opportunity to shut up, take it.” A circumspect athlete will get the benefit of the doubt in this town every time.

  • porckchop

    The bar I work at gets a lot of current and former players in during HOF. There are some both current and former that you look forward to coming in, they act like normal human beings and don’t expect any butt kissery. Then there is the “Do you know who I am?” set and worse their toadies, and you just get down when you see them come in.

    Then there is Michael Irvin, who is for better and worse, on a completly different level than any other athlete I’ve ever even seen in a public setting.

  • André Yoder

    My dad named me after Andre Thorton. He’s pretty much the guy you described here. Never really won to many games with the tribe.

  • dan

    My advice is much more simple:

    1) Work hard and do your best;
    2) Try not to be a complete jackass;
    3) Remember that the fans have a long experience of losing and of hearing cliches about how things are about to get better, which they never do, and accordingly they will respond to disappointment in a manner consistent with their experience with the franchise and not with your much more limited experience; and
    4) When in doubt, refer to rule 1.

  • Andre

    My dad named me after Andre Thorton. He’s pretty much the guy you described here. Never really won to many games with the tribe.

  • JK

    Is that just cuz you’re the kool aid man? Or you like winning too?

  • MrCleaveland

    A couple more Don’t`s and Do`s:

    Don’t refer to yourself in the third person.

    Don’t brag about how humbled you are by your magnificence.

    Don’t act like a fool in the end zone as if it’s all about you.

    Don’t criticize the fans, no matter how much we deserve it.

    Do go on Trivisonno’s show and when you eventually realize that he’s an ignorant ass, tell him so.

    Do respect the game.

  • MrCleaveland

    Good one, Sham the Man.

  • tsm

    Curious about the Irvin comment…..can you expand?

  • Garry_Owen

    Did someone do that with Triv?

  • MrCleaveland

    Not that I know of. But I haven’t listened to him in many years. I quit when he started ranting about how the medical profession doesn’t want to cure cancer because there’s too much money to be made in treating it.

  • Garry_Owen

    I can pick up WTAM in fall and winter evenings, and can handle about 15 minutes of Triv, but for some reason (maybe it’s distance making the heart grow fonder?) I really enjoy those 15 minutes. But then, suddenly, at minute 15, I hate it. I caught 15 minutes last night wherein he was bloviating about how everyone – the NFL, Art Modell, Al Lerner, the City of Cleveland, Carmen Policy, and maybe even the Girl Scouts – were conspiring to move the Browns out of Cleveland. I’m not saying he’s wrong (nobody in his studio ever tells him he’s wrong), but . . .

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I couldn’t remember was it you who said 35 “e”s?

  • The_Real_Shamrock



  • MrCleaveland

    Guilty. But I think it was “a”s.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    O, well at least I was close, lol.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    In the interest of brevity (and my sanity), I decided to limit my list to actual on the field/court happenings, with the exception of the “Cleveland ’95” documentary.

    The middle segment of that program did as good of a job summarizing the move and the impact it had on the city as anything I’ve ever seen. In my opinion, it should be required viewing for every player that ever puts on a Browns jersey. Some people disagree with me, and think it’s “water under the bridge” and irrelevant to the current Browns franchise. I think it’s a permanent scar on the city and the football culture in this town, and every player who wears orange and brown needs to know the story so they can better understand what the Browns mean to Cleveland.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    Yeah, I could make a whole other list of just off the field kicks to the groin, but typing that list was painful enough.

  • Garry_Owen

    So, don’t be a d***.

  • mgbode

    yeah, I thought the overall movie was mostly should have been called “Belichick’s coaching tree” but there were certainly segments that played well to what was happening in the city.

    Byner and Everitt going to the Dawg Pound after the Cinci game in particular.

  • historycat

    It would be nice for each tip to give an example of someone who excels at it, and someone who fails.

    Be like: Bernie
    Don’t be like:Braylon (for example)

  • Wow

    To this day the Indians losses hurt the most, I don’t know why, they just do.

  • Wow

    don’t go on awful radio shows either.

  • MrCleaveland

    Agree wholeheartedly. That Chip Kelly guy was a total Duck.

  • This is without a doubt a phenomenal article.It should be required reading for all incoming rookies in our big 3 sport teams.

  • SDA

    Same here, you cant leave us hanging like this.

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    A sort of Goofus and Gallant for the Cleveland Sports World….

  • maxfnmloans

    the “hangers on” were definitely the worst. Acting like they were something special even though they were nothing more than remoras.

  • porckchop

    The man just has a presence. He just seems to believe in himself more than anyone else believes in themselves if that makes sense. I’ve seen him talk to NFL/HOF/TV people and hit (jokingly, I think) on a cocktail server with the exact same conviction.