Life as a Browns fan was hard already. Anytime anyone has some sort of a 3-1 game lead in a deciding series you are reminded of the 2016 World Series and the incomprehensible comeback of the Chicago Cubs. Anytime any Cleveland team does well or does awful or does literally anything, you have announcers, tweeters, armchair GMs drudging up “same old Browns,” or “wait ’til they screw this up again,” or any of the numerous labels that have been put on a city and its fandom that just simply want to break even. Yet, all through all of it, we wear it like a badge of honor: “yeah, I’m a Cleveland fan, so what?” We joke about the losing because it’s our losing. We all think up ways a high draft pick could hurt himself or the franchise before he’s even selected. It’s gallows humor to the nth degree, self-deprecation where it’s funny because it’s true and you have to laugh so the tears are joyous, not real. But after the events of last Thursday’s literal beatdown of the Steelers, I felt something I hadn’t felt before as a Browns fan: ashamed.
Now obviously, I’m not going to stop being a Browns fan, but I consciously didn’t wear any Browns garb this week, which is hard to do when at least 25% of the t-shirts I wear daily have either Baker Mayfield’s face on them or the Browns helmet in some sort of fashion.1 But I felt as though it almost wasn’t right to rep my “squad”2 after Myles Garrett went full Super Saiyan and tried to educate Mason Rudolph on how best to remove and replace a person’s helmet.3 It was tough seeing journalists like Adam Schefter and @ProFootballTalk so vehemently go after a player on my team, calling the actions what they are: unthinkable, unimaginable, inexcusable.
Normally, as is the tradition when something terrible happens to the Browns on the bi-weekly basis that it happens, you try to stick up for the player and/or person responsible. However, it is hard to say Garrett was in the right and stick up for your own player; he wasn’t and it was painfully obvious. You can’t use a helmet, the most obvious piece of safety equipment a player has, as a weapon, no matter how much you might want to beat the living hell out of the loudmouth quarterback who was yelling at you, attempted and failed to twist YOUR helmet off, may or may not have kicked and/or punched you in the junk, and continued to come at you after you’ve been separated and despite being held back by two players both weighing 300+ pounds. In our Slack,4 part of the week was spent conversing about why it seemed we were letting Garrett have a pass and focusing so much on Rudolph and how he seemingly came out of antagonizing a situation and instigating a fight smelling like roses. The end result of the conversation was basically this: Garrett was in the wrong and nothing can change that, but Rudolph getting by with no suspension5 is a travesty.
It would be great to be able to say all of that to any person that questions “hey, are you seriously still a Browns fan after all that?” but most of those interactions are fleeting. It’s hard to say “well actually” without sounding like an ass. It’s hard to put aside the actions of a person who you know is in the wrong and look at the broader picture when, no matter what, that picture still has a player on your team brandishing a weapon against another person while on the football field. I am fully capable of saying “I’m a Browns fan for life” because I am, but after Garrett connected with Rudolph’s dome, I questioned whether or not I’m in the right for being a fan of this team, as crazy as it sounds.
I can’t help but also feel weird rooting for a lowered sentence for the player who perpetrated all of this. Like, they definitely shouldn’t have set an indefinite suspension, since it’s outlawed in the CBA, but it also feels kinda like the right thing to do? For sure he shouldn’t be on the field for the rest of the season, but there’s also no reason to imitate that he should be out for any of next year as well. Because the NFL is NOT like the MLB, who bans any player suspended for PEDs from the postseason, making it known that he is suspended for any playoff games is stretching it further than precedent. It all feels dirty to be wishing and hoping for lesser punishment when a player so obviously committed such an act, but at the same time, the past penalties for acts closely resembling these are much lower than “indefinite” and “at minimums”.