I'm well-known (maybe not around FTS yet) for my outspoken criticism of ESPN. It's something I've spent thousands of words and hours of discussion on and that won't stop. But today the Believeland story hit the front page.
And to be honest, this might be the best thing associated with ESPN in years. Just a sweeping narrative of a city trying to put itself back together again and how a simple "Decision" mirrors, impacts and at the very same time has no importance whatsoever. It's everything and it's nothing.
We've all talked about the foolishness of being a sports fan, the torture we put ourselves through and the ecstasy that comes from the hope that your city will be associated with the word Champion. But at the end of the day, sports are an outlet. They're a projection of what we all want--of passion, of joy, of seeing individuals come together as a team to achieve something, just as this group of "individuals" in Cleveland are hoping to come together to make this city great. It's hard work and perseverance, and ultimately, pride.
That's why Cleveland is such a great sports city. We are the CLEVELAND Indians, the CLEVELAND Browns, the CLEVELAND Cavaliers. And I truly feel that in very few cities does that first word mean more than the team name itself.
I know Cleveland is the laughing stock. I know no one wants to go there. I know people find nothing redeemable about a city that on the outside looks barren and forgotten, like the half-life of a Carl Sandburg poem. I've been in other cities where the mere mention of Cleveland brings a scowl or a smirk. "Where are you from?" "Cleveland." "Why the hell would you want to live there?" Then the anger and pride rise up. Because that's where I'm from and it's who I am. Because I love this place, from University Circle to the Metroparks, from Cedar-Lee to Little Italy. And as crazy as it sounds, I always think to myself about that person, "You don't deserve Cleveland."
Because there is something more to this city. There's creativity and ingenuity springing from that hope. There are great people trying to cry out and break free. You can see it--in Michael Symon's cooking, in the work of Harvey Pekar (RIP), in the Cleveland Clinic, in the work of graphic designers and artists from Tremont to Cleveland Heights, in the stories of Dan Chaon, hell, even in Peyton Hillis.
Yet, one person, as dumb as it seems, represented that hope. He was self-made. A Clevelander (even if it wasn't "truly" Cleveland...we've been through the Akron vs. Cleveland stuff). A person that epitomized the ideals of a city trying to turn it all around and start anew.
And he didn't understand any of that. He was content in his monomaniacal bubble to think he was the end-all, be-all. That's fine. But he never tapped into what makes Cleveland great. He was detached. He would never understand those conversations at the Sokolowski's bar, or a collective group of people standing up and cheering at the Winking Lizard in Coventry.
He's gone, but Cleveland is still here. We're not going anywhere. Many have left, but those of us who have chosen to keep our talents in Northeast Ohio are proud. Proud of the orange barrels, the slush, the fire coming from the steel mill. Proud of each other.
Frustration. Agony. Depression. Anger. But at the end of the day, Hope.