In the wake of NFL Hall of Fame voters’ most recent passing on Art Modell’s candidacy for enshrinement, a new facebook page has been dedicated to keeping Modell out of Hall, and it’s already gained some 1,500 members in little over a week, prompting some to criticize Cleveland fans for their “hate” for Modell. But of course, hate doesn’t have anything to do with the objective moral correctness of this facebook group and its stated objective of keeping Modell out of the Hall of Fame, Cleveland fan or not.
There’s no question it was a tragedy when Modell took the Browns out of Cleveland (as it was when Robert Irsay left Baltimore with the Colts in 1984, noted) and there’s not much that needs to be said about an NFL franchise as a public trust, or especially the way that trust is engrained and cherished in Northeast Ohio. In recognition of this, the NFL’s Commissioner at the time, Paul Tagliabue, publicly stated that the league would have tried to keep Modell from moving the Browns if the triple damages imposed by U.S. antitrust law weren’t so prohibitive.*
What Tagliabue also recognized with this statement was the tension that presents the best case for keeping Modell out of the Hall, that between the public trust that is/was the Cleveland Browns, and the private property rights of the owner who, at least to some degree, made the Cleveland Browns possible.
The main point with respect to the Hall of Fame candidacy, however, is that while Modell might have his property rights, nobody’s born with a right to be in any hall of fame; If we can’t prevent an owner from moving a franchise solely in his own private interest at the expense of the public’s, we can at least keep him out of the Hall of Fame for the decision. Where the NFL is constrained legally with respect to franchise mobility, it certainly isn’t (nor are its custodians, the fans and the press,) with respect to Hall of Fame enshrinement. Again, keeping Modell out of the Hall is really the only thing we can do here, so why wouldn’t we do it?
Modell and his defenders point fingers at Cleveland officials here, but we’ve never heard from Browns fans who were worried about needing a new stadium, and if the case against the City was compelling (here’s one detailed account showing that it wasn’t), it would have been easy enough to take it to the City’s people first, and probably actually would have resulted in one of the most useful lessons imaginable in how a democratic republic is supposed to work. More to the point, though, nobody’s trying to put Michael White into any halls of fame either.
Sure, Modell might otherwise have good Hall of Fame credentials, and sure, life is full of really complicated decisions, especially for folks as rich and powerful as Modell, who might otherwise be one of the best men to ever walk on Earth. But if certain decisions just aren’t so difficult. Fine for Baltimore to love Modell, fine for him to be otherwise recognized as a great man, and fine if a great man can make a complicated decision to rip the heart and soul out of tens of millions of people and an entire region by moving what’s much more than a football franchise. He just doesn’t get to be in the Hall of Fame if he does.
*Tagliabue’s statement is confirmed by Bob Costas here at this short recording of NBC’s pregame broadcast of the last Browns game in 1995 that also contains a heroic statement on the part of Mike Ditka in support of Cleveland against Modell that lends deeper significance to the phrase “that’s something Coach would say.”
“Most of the country really doesn’t understand the significance of what’s occurring in Cleveland. But they should. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. . . . These fans are some of the greatest fans in the country. I said that when I was a coach when I had to come in here. . . . The fans don’t care about this Stadium. They like this Stadium.”
Watch the whole thing. Brian Sipe makes an appearance as well.
Also, here’s a recording from Sportscenter on that day, a link to Mary Kay Cabot’s game-day account, here’s a look at an alternative history, and here’s what might be the best look at the last day, a short piece by NFL Films (good luck keeping your eyes dry after the 2:07 mark here . . . “nobody inside these walls”).
A nod the Plain Dealer’s Tony Grossi who’s well known as the leader of the cause. To have been a fly on the wall when this happened:
Six years ago, when Modell’s candidacy had its best chance – while Art still owned the Ravens and was fresh off of the Super Bowl XXXV victory – it was shot down in a legendary way when Tony Grossi, Cleveland’s representative and outspoken hater of all things Modell [advocate of justice] on behalf of the greater Cuyahoga and Northern Ohio area, gave an impassioned speech about how what Modell did to his hometown should forever forbid his enshrinement to Canton. This much is public record.
If anyone has any record of this speech (there’s another reference to it here), please do pass it on, as well as any statement on the part of Grossi explaining his opposition. These things aren’t as easy to find as one might think they’d be.
Happy Wednesday. Back later with a Frowndup.