No Fan Appreciation at Cleveland Browns Stadium?

The hot topic this week concerning off-the-field activity involves fans being mistreated at Cleveland Browns games. Some fans are complaining about other fans being loud, rowdy, drunk, and offensive. Others are complaining that the staff at the stadium is throwing people out with very little provocation and that their fun is being curtailed by up-tight fans. I think it’s somewhere in the middle.

Football is the kind of sport where image is everything. Players are tough and intimidation is part of the game. Fans tend to reflect their team, so if the guys are rough on the field, fans cheer and get a bit rough themselves. I’m not entirely sure that the Dawg Pound was exactly what Hanford Dixon had in mind when he called his teammates “dawgs” but it’s a name that has stuck. And a name that has meaning all over the country. Much like the orange helmet, people associate the Dawg Pound with the Cleveland Browns.

Sadly, in recent years the team hasn’t been very successful and some would argue there was no bite left in the “dawgs.” As we start to see progress, and a team that is finding ways to win again, we have to ask ourselves if the rough and tough reputation is one we want back. Do we want other teams – and their fans – to feel intimidated when they play in our house? I for one say yes. I want Cleveland to be a place where other teams don’t want to visit. I want Cleveland Browns Stadium to be a place where only the brown and orange are worn.  But I want it to be for the play on the field and not what goes on in the stands.

I never want opposing fans to feel unsafe in Cleveland Browns Stadium. I don’t want beer thrown at them, let alone punches. I don’t want them to feel like they can’t spend their money in our town. If our team is winning, and dominating on the field, then that says it all.  They won’t come in here and be disrespectful to us or start problems because they will be humbled by our teams magnificence. Okay, maybe that’s going a bit far, but I hope you see where I’m going with this.

I don’t want Browns fans to be “ugly” fans. I want to see a stadium full of fans with pride, and people who are truly proud don’t need to belittle others, be mean to others, hurt others. They can just be happy with their superiority. And that’s what a winning team will give back to us – our pride.

When it comes to the atmosphere at the stadium, political correctness is starting to take hold and people don’t feel like they can enjoy the game and celebrate the way tradition demands: with lots of beer, yelling, standing to cheer, and a few obscenities. I don’t always like the way some fans behave at the stadium, but I know what I will see before I  buy my ticket.

If I want polite, then I’ll go watch a high school football game. The rules are different there. At an NFL game, particularly in Cleveland, there is a tradition of good-natured rowdiness that should always remain. There are only eight homes games per season, so fans have to maximize their opportunities to behave like fans. Again, there are limits and common sense tells most of us how to behave. I truly believe it is only a small minority that makes complete fools out of themselves but if handled in the right way, no one has to have their game day enjoyment taken away.

This brings me to the rules at the stadium and the staff members working there.

I’ve seen firsthand workers that go out of their way to help you enjoy the game, and workers who just don’t seem to want me to have any fun. I’ve read recently about some fans that were escorted out for “excessive standing.” What? Um, hello? We stand up and cheer at games! I’ve never had a problem with someone who stood up a lot, was asked by the people behind them to sit, and didn’t listen. Most fans understand you also want to see and, if asked nicely, are happy to be considerate. When it gets to be a problem is when staff members overreact. I understand that they have 70,000+ fans to worry about, but (and I feel like I’m repeating myself) a little common sense goes a long way.

People looking to change things at the stadium tend to fall into two groups: fans who want to keep the rowdy tradition and fans who want a more “family-friendly” environment. To the family-friendly group I say this:  just stay home.

Yes, there is a family seating section, but you can’t get there without traveling through the people you are trying to avoid. Trying to change the entire stadium for your family values isn’t fair to the people who have always enjoyed the game in a rowdy way. You have other options for family-friendly sporting events: the Lake Erie Monsters, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers, your local high school football game. All of these teams, and many more, are specifically targeting families in their marketing and go out of their way to lure you to their games. Please take them up on their offers and go. You’ll have a great time. But leave my rowdy friends alone.

For the rowdy people out there: I’m one of you. When I can, I tailgate and then scream and yell and stand during the game. I call the opposing fans names. I enjoy good-natured name-calling. It’s part of the fun and in 25 years of going to Browns games I have never been part of a fight. If you have the right attitude, it’s all good. But I agree that things are starting to change and that stadium staff in some cases is taking away our fun. Instead of doing the usual phone call and email campaigns complaining to the Browns about bad treatment, why don’t we try something different: let’s point out the staff members that help us enjoy the game!

My challenge to Browns fans who are going to the game against Tennessee this week: try to remember the name of one, just one, staff person at the stadium that helped you. Smiled at you. Told you to enjoy the game. Treated you like a guest. Just one. And then on Monday next week, email the Browns thanking them for hiring  Joe to work the gate or Karen at the beer stand or Brian handling security in the family section.

Perhaps if we point out to the Browns the kind of staffers that make our day more enjoyable, they will hire more of those people and eventually they’ll figure out who the people are that are not helping us. We are, after all, the customer. And if we can behave in a responsible manner, have fun, cheer our team on to victory, why wouldn’t they listen to us?

Let’s not get wrapped up in whether the Browns appreciate their fans this week – let’s turn things around and appreciate the people that work on Sunday so that we can enjoy some football! After all, I’m sure most of them would rather be sitting with us than working behind a counter! Go Browns!

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