Last week, the Cleveland Browns announced that they would be unveiling a new logo to accompany the impending uniform changes. The first hint of the change came via a letter mailed to Browns Backers presidents. Soon after, the announcement became public, reported by media members like Daryl Ruiter who had to quell fears that the organization would do something drastic that would desecrate the treasured tradition of the team that fans hold so dear. They asked fans to sign up to be notified about the changes immediately when they happened. The team’s Twitter showed a video previewing “the evolution” of the logo, in a teaser trailer normally reserved for highly-anticipated movie releases like a new Star Wars.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) February 18, 2015
Then, on the heels of the self-generated hype, the team announced the logo change on Tuesday: a virtually identical logo of the helmet with color changes, and a cartoon-y dog emblem with a fierce scowl to represent the Dawg Pound (a term repurposed for the entire fan base without anyone’s permission) that “exemplifies the ‘Play Like A Brown’ attitude.” They also introduced a new font resembling a blockier version of Helvetica. This was exactly for what Browns fans had been waiting the last fifty years. Yay. Fantastic. Hallelujah. Huzzah.
Because I think my feelings on the logo changes are marginally relevant to the tone of this post, I’ll share them: I’ve always liked the elf logo, I find the new crossing guard vest orange mildly offensive, I think it’s stupid that the logo used during broadcasts and on merchandise is a piece of regulation league equipment,1 but am mostly just relieved that they didn’t put Poochie from The Simpsons in Browns garb and slap him on the helmet. I’m not outraged; merely confused and annoyed.
The reaction to the logo is a gigantic problem for the Cleveland Browns organization. My chief concern is not anyone’s approval or disapproval of the logo change (though that could be a concern as well), but the explosion of mockery and ridicule both inside and outside the fan base.2 It’s a problem caused by the Cleveland Browns — after all, they were practically begging for it.
Everyone lined up and threw softballs (provided by the Browns themselves) at the dunk booth target, repeatedly drenching the organization in insults. Take your pick of individuals or media outlets, they all took a shot: ESPN’s SportsNation, BuzzFeed, and SBNation all made the Browns take a bath as funny as one involving a cat and posted to Youtube. Even once respectable institutions like the Washington Post joined in on the fun. I joked, “Citrus enthusiasts have surely noticed that the Browns evolved from a tangerine orange to a more grapefruit-like red orange.” The Browns logo change invited fruit-related humor! How could anyone not tell a joke? They made it so damn easy. It’s bad enough to be the scrawny, pimply, awkward Dungeons & Dragons aficionado that’s harassed by all the bigger and stronger kids in school — don’t post a “Kick Me” sign on your back and parade the hallways asking for trouble.
If the Browns teaser trailer for its logo change was for a Star Wars movie, it would have been for the Return of Jar Jar Binks. They spent actual money on actual focus groups — man hours that are indirectly paid for with ticket revenue — and came to the conclusion that the organization needed a different hue of orange and a sans-serif font. That’s great if it is in fact the right message, but don’t bungle the delivery. It’s as if your significant other violently shook you awake at the crack of dawn to tell you that there’s two cups left in the coffee pot for later. “You woke me up for that?”
And The Orangening is only the latest in a cavalcade of hilarity bordering on absurdity to befall the franchise. The Browns drafted a celebrity instead of a quarterback, have an owner whose chief business was alleged to be fraudulent to the tune of millions of dollars, drafted a receiver who can’t stay sober for more than eight months even with his career on the line, had a coach exit with a 32 bullet Powerpoint presentation justifying his departure, and became the subject of the NFL’s first texting investigation, all in the past year.
The moral of all this is that the Browns are a punchline — an endless source of humor. Every sports media outlet in the country has gotten more mileage out of “the Cleveland Browns” than Rodney Dangerfield did with “I get no respect.” And the Browns get no respect. “When the Browns win the Super Bowl” is the new “When hell freezes over.” This was all typified by the reaction to the logo change: thousands of laughs at the expense of an organization lacking the self-awareness to know they were being laughed at. The Browns are an organization with a chronic credibility crisis that starts with its logo changes and ends with its on-field product.
Preferably, the upcoming uniform changes won’t be such a knee-slapper. I love a good comedy, but I don’t like the Browns being the biggest joke in the NFL. In order for the Browns to be taken seriously, they need to stop being so funny.