gbs.mac@emory.edu

     Atlanta, Georgia

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Narrative Football League: Cleveland Edition

Updated: Mar 2



The Cleveland Browns have been a major NFL story line this year. Excessively so given that they are a 5-7 team with a low playoff probability. At the start of the season it was all about a "new" Browns led by Baker Mayfield with elite talent like Odell Beckham. It was a comeback story. The long suffering Browns were going to be a playoff contender.


The important backdrop for the Brown's 2019 narrative is difficult it is to overcome a history of losing. My theory is that organizations that lose develop a culture of mediocrity from top to bottom. From executives to support staff. In these organizations its hard to achieve excellence. Its also really hard to transform these types of organizations without wholesale changes. Adding just a few high performers is more likely to result in a few frustrated high performers than an organization devoted to excellence.


The latest Brown's news was Freddy Kitchens wearing a "Pittsburgh started it t-shirt" with "no regrets."


I wore a T-shirt. I wore a jacket with it. My daughters wanted me to wear the shirt. And I’d wear it again,” Kitchens said. “I put a jacket on, I covered it up. I took a picture with a fan. That was as simple as that. T-shirt didn’t cause us to give up 40-yard passes.

This was an "interesting" move by a Brown's leader. On one level it shows solidarity with a fan base.


But two problems. First, the t-shirt itself highlights the excessive passion of fan communities. Fan communities almost always react defensively. Fans will almost always justify and rationalize their team's behaviors. This might be okay for the unknown fan but its a bad look for an organizations leaders. It suggests a lack of awareness.


Second, with the Browns history of struggles this kind of leadership mistake (if nothing else it is a media mistake) suggests that the organization still doesn't know how to operate. It's a public display of a lack of sophistication. Do you want a coach that does things that make it easy for every media talking head to come down on Cleveland?