The Cleveland Browns, apologies and forgiveness

I know this might come off as an overly emotional post wherein it seems like I’ve lost my grip. Just imagine me coming off a week-long vacation where I’m pretty unemotional about sports. I am not sad or mourning or anything like that. I just found this to be an interesting lens through which to look at the Browns—specifically their need to apologize for how bad their season was, and what it means going forward. That said, I accept the Haslams’ apology about this year’s Cleveland Browns season.

I don’t know if anyone else did, and I wasn’t bowled over by the letter to season ticket holders, but I found it appropriate. It’s a positive thing to hear Jimmy Haslam step up once again and claim responsibility for his horrendous record as owner of the team. There’s luck throughout the universe for sure, but it only exists at the margins. You can’t be as bad as the Browns have been since Haslam purchased the team and blame that on downside luck. So he did owe fans an apology because he’s the only one who has any ability to change things. Accepting an apology is one thing. Forgiving Jimmy Haslam and his crew is going to take a whole lot more.

The internet is riddled with conversation talking about the difference between accepting an apology and forgiveness. It seems that there has to be a combination of these two things in order for people to move along from something that warranted an apology. The apology is like the turning point from the downward trend and hopefully signals a new one upward. Forgiveness can only be achieved as improvements and amends are made on the way to a better future together. Absent that, the apology either signals the end of a relationship or a reminder of a negative past and an unfulfilled promise to change and do better.

I know this is all a little bit emo for a sports website. The issue here is that Jimmy Haslam can’t guarantee success. He can keep the people he’s hired for three years or longer and let them work on their plan, which is continuity and somewhat positive by itself. He can stop being meddlesome with a hair-trigger firing finger, but what that means to a spurned Browns fan is something else entirely. For far too long Browns fans have bought tickets and followed a team based on tradition and habit. The team has spent most of its re-existence daring fans to quit smoking the Orange and Brown for their health and well-being. He can only do that by winning and unlike other kinds of apologies and forgiveness cycles, this isn’t just a change in his own behavior.

We’d all like to believe that if Jimmy just stops being the Jimmy that hired and fired Chud, Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine that he’ll achieve our mutually beneficial goals on the field. We’d all like to think that Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta and Hue Jackson are the most perfect hires ever with inevitable Super Bowl appearances and victories on the horizon. The question remaining is whether or not Jimmy Haslam can achieve forgiveness by being a good owner even if his team fails to advance to the playoffs in the next two to five years. This presumes that you can be a good owner while also not making the playoffs in a time span of two to five years. I don’t know if that’s even reasonable. Can you be considered a good owner if you operate with continuity and dignity while also not achieving playoff appearances and competitive seasons?

This is where we sit in 2017 as Cleveland Browns fans. We’re ready for another high draft pick. Jimmy Haslam has started to make amends by jumping over the lowest possible bar by not firing people. You can only celebrate that so much. There’s no guarantee that this plan with these planners is going to yield acceptable results until it actually does. That’s why even though I accept Jimmy Haslam’s apology I’m not going to advocate for my family to buy season tickets next year. For me, that’s the difference between accepting an apology and forgiveness with the Cleveland Browns. They’ve got a hell of a lot more work to do.