Thoughts on the Passing of Art Modell


Longtime Browns owner and Cleveland’s Public Enemy No. 1 for the past 17 years, Art Modell, has passed away.

The event has stirred up a wide range of emotions across the landscape of Cleveland fandom. We are, again, at a confusing time.

On one hand, our Cleveland hand, Modell was a monster who destroyed our prized institution, the Cleveland Browns.

He was selfish to steal something bigger than one person, and he contributed to the negative portrayal Cleveland sports fans now live with.

On the other hand, Modell was a human being. Like every single one of us, he was not perfect. And, he had his merits.

The role he played in creating the National Football League we know today will be a point of recognition made throughout the rest of this season. He progressively hired the NFL’s first African American general manager. He served as president and on the board of our other prized and world-renowned institution, the Cleveland Clinic.

He donated millions of dollars in support of other hospitals and the performing arts. He served his country in World War II.

Your definition of where the Browns fit within the spectrum of life compared to hospitals and playhouses is part of the confusion.

The best advice I have ever heard, and continue to pawn off on others, is to never let other people tell you how to feel. This is our chance to choose.

The Browns’ move to Baltimore, or LeBron James’ decision to move to Miami, are complicated issues. No talking head on ESPN can fully explain what two Clevelanders can feel totally different about, so don’t let them.

Instead, ponder this question and hope that in itself makes you human: can one atrocious act undo every positive thing a person has accomplished in his/her life?

Should Modell be forgiven in death for damaging the culture of a city? Or should all of the good he has done in his life outweigh the bad?

This is something I’ve also asked myself when thinking about Joe Paterno. Do the millions of good things done in his life simply get erased in the atrocious act of letting a sex offender roam free on his college campus?

The answers to these questions live inside all of us. It is forever different, as we are all different.

That is the essence of being human. We can contemplate death and can decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil. Maybe there is no black and white when it comes to Modell. Then again, maybe you choose to believe there is.

I choose to believe the definition of our own humanity must be found somewhere in the grey intersection of both good and evil.

This is where I hope Cleveland’s hearts start to lean on this strange day of reflection and rancor. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel and decide for yourself how you will remember or define Art Modell.

Here is how I feel:

I am passionate about Cleveland sports and I hate what the Browns have become.

I feel Modell’s death, in some strange way, has turned a page toward the good for the new Browns.

I feel I would never want my entire life to be judged on the basis of one mistake I have made.

I wish every Baltimore Ravens fan I see on the street would offer to buy me a beer. It’s the least they could do.

I want the Browns to win the Super Bowl more than I should.

I realize being a Cleveland sports fan has made many of us bitter and sad. I believe Art Modell is one of the reasons why.

I want Cleveland sports fans burned by Modell and LeBron James to feel whole again.

I had always hoped the day of Modell’s passing would give me peace, and now that it has, I can see that peace is still lost.

I wish the Modell family peace.

I hope Art Modell is never enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as punishment for his NFL-related sins.

As for his other immortal destinations, I wish him the best.

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