Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday's Musings on Sports - Modell the Villain or Hero?

Last Thursday, Art Modell who could be easily characterized as one of the more polarizing figures in NFL history, passed away of natural causes at the age of 87. For those who do not remember him, Modell's claim to fame or ticket to infamy was his 1996 decision to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore where they were renamed the Baltimore Ravens as homage to Edgar Allan Poe.

Prior to moving the team to Baltimore, the Browns enjoyed a loyal fan following in Cleveland where they drew better attendance numbers than their performance on the field could ever justify. The old Municipal Stadium where they played (also owned by Modell) was a nightmare for all visiting teams as the Browns' fans were rabid in their support for their beloved Browns and their abject hatred for the visitors.

The move from Cleveland to Baltimore was reportedly motivated by the City of Cleveland's move to build Jacobs Field (aka the Jake by the Lake) for the Cleveland Indians which deprived Modell of much needed income from the rent paid by the Browns' baseball cousins. Although this was hardly the first time that a football team had moved (the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis a decade earlier with moving trucks which left in the middle of the night), this move was devastating to the City of Cleveland. Even though a new franchise was granted to Cleveland a few years later, the current incarnation of the Cleveland Browns has not healed the wounds caused by the 1996 departure for Baltimore.

As much as Modell's decision was reviled in Cleveland, it was welcomed by the City of Baltimore. I can recall debates as Mrs KB's aunt and uncle's home in Baltimore between her cousin D who lived in Baltimore and his brother E who lived in Cleveland about the merits of the move. But more than just the City of Baltimore was touched by Modell. I heard a story today on the radio (I don't recall which program it ran on) about how when Ray Lewis was charged with murder in Atlanta, Modell got on the phone with Hank Aaron to try to find Lewis the best lawyer (Lewis was eventually convicted on only an obstruction of justice charge). There have been quite a few stories which ran after Modell's death which mentioned that Lewis cried after Modell passed. However, back in Cleveland, the current Browns ownership did not have observances of his passing out of fear that people would use the moment to show that they still had not forgiven Modell.

The differing views on Modell made me think about the role that certain people have played historically and the reward that they received. Korach decided to challenge Moshe & Aharon for the leadership of the Jewish people, in part because he saw through prophecy that he would have many great leaders and prophets who would descend from him. Korach thought to himself, if I will merit to have these people come from me, it must be because I am a great man and I should be the true leader of the Jews. Little did Korach realized that he was rewarded with these great descendants because through his actions, Moshe and Aharon became recognized as the true leaders of the Jews. Now, I would not call Art Modell a Korach, but his decison to act has caused many ripples both in Baltimore and Cleveland where the differing perspectives see him as hero or villain.

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