It is an often-repeated NFL axiom that team executives and coaches shudder with apprehension when thinking about the three weeks between the end of organized team activities and the beginning of training camp. Almost any news that comes out of those first few weeks of July will be of the type that gets coaches cussing and organizations releasing cautiously worded statements.
NFL crime spikes in the summer months. News is often of the, “Player X was arrested for DUI,” or “Police are questioning Player Y in connection with an incident at a nightclub.” Once the news breaks, the reaction cycle begins. Uproar ensues, the usual sanctimonious scribes quickly pen their columns from a soapbox, those same columns are then ridiculed by sports blogs across the Internet.
On June 26, the Browns were faced with their own crime news when undrafted signee Ausar Walcott was arrested on a charge of attempted murder. With the murder investigation into former Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Aaron Hernandez ongoing at the same time (Hernandez was also arrested on June 26 but his connection to the murder had been covered since June 18), Walcott’s arrest took a backseat nationally and was lightly covered. However, in a move that received similarly tepid national coverage, the Browns released Walcott just as the Patriots did with their embattled employee.
So the Browns avoided heavy national media coverage for the transgression of a player they had signed just six weeks earlier while the Patriots were questioned and battered for the arrest of an established contributor to whom they had made a clear commitment by signing him to an extension that included a $12.5 million signing bonus two years before his rookie contract was set to expire. That sounds like the media was doing its job properly instead of piling on Cleveland in the umpteenth reprise of their least funny and most overdone attempt at sports humor.
But Cleveland fans should know to never breathe a sigh of relief. Before long, the Browns found themselves back in their customary place as the comical crutch for sports media outlets. The “news” that Browns fan Scott E. Entsminger, who passed away on July 4, requested the team send six players to “let him down one last time” as pallbearers went viral faster than a Hollywood disaster flick epidemic on July 9.
This nonstory should have been confined to the corners of the Internet that exist to harvest cheap laughs and page views – which is not to disparage the inhabitants of those corners as I am a willing supplier of the aforementioned cheap laughs and page views when it is not my own team at the center of the joke. Instead, it was covered as news by outlets that purport to be veritable journalistic organizations, including ESPN, the Los Angeles Times, and CBS Sports.
This anger at the media for reappropriating a nonstory about the lifelong devotion and disappointment of Browns fans into an easy shot at Cleveland to please the masses may arise from falsely believing that the fantasy world of HBO’s Aaron Sorkin-written “The Newsroom” could exist. After all, we are living in the Era of the Entertainment Media and in 2013 blogs can find themselves leading mainstream media outlets to stories like bloodhounds rushing out ahead of a hunting party.
While the reality that Sorkin has created on the fictional News Night with Will McAvoy may be unattainable, it should not be too bold to ask mainstream sports media to report the news instead of the “news.” No matter how dry the NFL well in the middle of July, these organizations should have the editorial conscience to conduct a good faith comparison of the shame of running a fan’s recycled joke as news against the sale of their journalistic soul for page views.
But then again, what single thing have the Browns done since returning to the NFL in 1999 to earn even the slightest fair shake from the media? Winning tends to improve a team’s image on the airwaves and over Wi-Fi networks, but the Browns can’t seem to figure that puzzle out yet.
Now, the hopes of a city lie with Jimmy Haslam and the men he has chosen to pilot his new toy NFL franchise.