The Joyous Masochism of Rooting for the Cleveland Browns

Terrance Mitchell of the Cleveland Browns celebrates with fans in 2018.
Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

My favorite parable about the joyous, mad futility of being a sports fan involves a man named Scott Entsminger. On the whole, there was nothing remarkable about Scott Entsminger. He lived in Mansfield, Ohio, worked for General Motors for 32 years before retiring to fish and spend time with his wife and teenage son, and spent his off hours playing music with a group of friends in what they called the “Old Fogies Band.” And more than anything (except his family), he loved the Cleveland Browns. They were the center of his world, so much so that he wrote a song for the team every year and sent it to them, along with “other advice on how to run the team.” Entsminger was a thoroughly ordinary man, but in July 2013, when he died suddenly at the age of 55, his extraordinary love for his Browns won him immortality. In his obituary, in addition to “encourag[ing] everyone to wear their Cleveland Browns clothing to the service in honor of Scott,” his family made sure to include the following line:

He respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one last time. 

If the 2013 Cleveland Browns had a sense of humor, they would have provided six players, ideally in full uniform, to lay Mr. Entsminger to his eternal rest. But, then again, they probably would have dropped him.

It is difficult to find romance in sports anymore — I think I quit looking for it after Love & Basketball — but if there is a place it is still exists, it is in the unrequited love of the fans of a perpetually losing team. There’s really nothing quite like it. If every time you turned the key of a Volvo it exploded, you’d stop buying Volvos. If every time you went to a certain restaurant eating the food caused you to fall onto the floor, uncontrollably vomiting and defecating, you’d would no longer eat there. If every time you tried on a sweater from the Gap it caught on fire, you’d shop somewhere else.

But not only do dedicated fans never abandon the sports teams that, over the course of several decades, cause them nothing but pain — they in fact wear that pain as an emblem of honor, a sign of their loyalty and fortitude. The misery binds them even closer to their team, deepens their love. It’s an extreme version of the irrational investment strategy of every diehard sports fan: You invest thousands of hours and a lot of emotional capital in a sports franchise that does not care about you and, in fact, is solely separating you from your money, in exchange for some future psychological benefits that may never come. Remember when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 and fans went to a wall on Waveland Avenue to write the names of loved ones who never got to see the Cubs win a title in their lifetime? It was very sweet, but those people are dead. They watched the Cubs every day for their entire freaking lives, the Cubs never won that title, and then those people died. Game over.

When the Cubs finally won that World Series in 2016 — fulfilling a longtime prophecy of my fellow rival Cardinals fans that if that ever happened, the world would soon end; five days later, it sorta did — it took them off the long-suffering sports fan tote board, joining Red Sox fans (2004), White Sox fans (2005), Saints fans (2009), Cavaliers fans (2016) and, more recently, Eagles fans (2017) and Raptors fans (2019). The Cubs winning the World Series is one of the few positive sports stories that broke through from the sports world to the front-page-of-the-Times real world, a spot usually reserved only for national teams like the USWNT and individual heroes like Serena Williams or Tiger Woods. There aren’t many teams like that left. The Cleveland Indians, maybe; the Buffalo Bills, probably; the New York Knicks, definitely.

But the closest outcome to the Cubs winning the World Series would have to be the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl. This is the most moribund franchise in the NFL, one whose previous incarnation (the one that Art Modell sneaked off to Baltimore in the middle of the night, an act of betrayal so profound there’s an epidemic of Browns fans urinating on his grave) perpetually approached greatness but always fell infuriatingly short, and whose current incarnation (which began with an expansion team in 1999) has been flat-out terrible for 20 years, reaching the playoffs only once in those two decades. But their fanbase has remained steadfast and frighteningly dedicated: I went to a Browns game in Cleveland a few years ago, and it felt like a cross between a frantic gathering of lunatic soccer hooligans and an unhinged Mad Max sequel. Few people on earth want anything as much as Browns fans want a Super Bowl championship. One Browns fan is trying to conjure one into existence by inking a prophecy on his body.

And that’s why the biggest story in the NFL this upcoming season — other than the sport’s inexplicably increasing success dancing between the raindrops on matters CTE, Trump, Kaepernick, and Goodell — might just be that the Cleveland Browns are going to be one of the best teams in football … and almost certainly the most fun. During years in the wilderness in which the team, run by a Moneyball-esque analytics team (which included former baseball exec Paul DePodesta, the inspiration for the Jonah Hill character in that film), lost at a rate even previous Browns teams couldn’t match, they built up draft picks and planned for the future, and that future, at last, seems to have arrived. The Browns, amazingly, have everything. They have a young, ferocious defense led by former No. 1 overall draft pick Myles Garrett. They have a deep running-back core, with one of the most likable players in the league in Nick Chubb and, well, one of the least likable in Kareem Hunt, the man suspended for the rest of the season (and then released by the Chiefs) last November after video surfaced of him punching and kicking a woman in an elevator. (He is extremely talented so now is — of course — back, after sitting out eight more games to start this season.) They have mercurial but astonishingly gifted wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., precisely the sort of hypnotic player whose skills more than make up for his personality quirks. And they have the rarest commodity of all: A true franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield (another No. 1 pick), an outspoken, ornery cuss of a player who thinks nothing of insulting other teams’ quarterbacks (which Mayfield has attempted to clarify and walk back from, which, frankly, is no fun at all) and flipping off the opposing sideline. He’s the sort of player everyone hates — hates to love and loves to hate — basically what we were all hoping Johnny Manziel was going to be. He’s exactly how your team becomes the team everyone is talking about.

It is astounding that this positivity, flash, and controversy is surrounding the Browns, of all teams, and it’s certainly possible that it’ll all blow up in everyone’s faces: These are the Browns, after all. But the Cleveland Browns of 2019 look an awful lot like the Chicago Cubs of 2016, an endlessly tortured franchise and fanbase whose decades in the wilderness might be coming to an end. Like what happened with the Cubs, expect to see a bunch of Johnny-Come-Lately fans suddenly wearing Mayfield jerseys in the next year; they’re almost certainly your kid’s favorite team already. Browns fans have been waiting most of their lives for a team like this to come around. They’re either going to make the front page of every newspaper and website in the country, or they’re going to implode in the most spectacular fashion. Either way is an improvement. Either way will have been worth the wait. And if it doesn’t work out, there is some good news, Browns fans: Someday you will be dead and this will all be over.

The Joyous Masochism of Rooting for the Cleveland Browns

Promoted links by Taboola


Nathan Carman Testifies About His Mother’s Mysterious Disappearance

By James D. Walsh

“I did not hear her scream”

the top line

This Is How Trump Will Tank the Economy and His Presidency

By Josh Barro

Trump’s trade war might be headed into a self-reinforcing death spiral.


Anti-Abortion Activists Object to State Bans — But Only on Tactics

By Ed Kilgore

Anti-abortion leaders are discouraging extreme state abortion laws, preferring stealth until the time is ripe for a frontal assault on Roe v. Wade.

In case you were feeling too optimistic about Democrats’ chances of thwarting Trump’s agenda

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has just completed three weeks of radiation treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, the U.S. Supreme Court disclosed Friday.

The radiation therapy, conducted on an outpatient basis, began Aug. 5, shortly after a localized cancerous tumor was discovered on Ginsburg’s pancreas. The treatment included the insertion of a stent in Ginsburg’s bile duct, according to a statement issued by the court.

Doctors at Sloan Kettering said further tests showed no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body. The treatment comes just months after Ginsburg was operated on for lung cancer last December. The 86-year-old justice has battled cancer in various forms over the last 20 years.


David Koch’s Monstrous Legacy

By Sarah Jones

The world is burning, and he and his brother own a share of the blame.


Today’s Republicans Use the Filibuster Just Like the Segregationists Did

By Ed Kilgore

Until Democrats show the moral outrage that overcame filibusters against civil rights, you can forget about gun, climate change, or immigration bills.


The Joyous Masochism of Rooting for the Cleveland Browns

By Will Leitch

The most desultory team in the NFL is going to be very good and very fun this season.

joe biden

How Big a Problem is Joe Biden’s ‘Enthusiasm Gap’?

By Gabriel Debenedetti and Benjamin Hart

Intelligencer staffers discuss the Democratic frontrunner’s pragmatic pitch.


Accidentally Destroying My iPhone Really Put My Entire Life in Perspective

By Brian Feldman

It literally hurts to swipe on my phone now.

the national interest

the national interest

Trump Is Melting Down Because China Won’t Give In on Trade

By Jonathan Chait

Trump’s international disputes usually end quietly. This one might be different.


Bolsonaro may face some serious consequences for his heedless environmental policies

European leaders have reacted with growing fear and anger to the fires ravaging Brazil’s rain forest, calling it a worldwide crisis that is accelerating global warming — and one that Brazil’s leader appears unwilling to combat.

President Emmanuel Macron of France went so far, on Friday, as to accuse President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil of lying about being committed to fighting climate change and protecting the Amazon forest.

As a result, Mr. Macron said, he would try to kill a major trade deal between Europe and South America that has been years in the making.

interesting times

interesting times

The Presidency of Donald Trump Never Gets Any Less Absurd

By Andrew Sullivan

We have known this project’s nature since that journey down an escalator, and the surrealism has only intensified since.

vision 2020

Moulton Drops Out of 2020 Race; Could de Blasio Be Next?

By Ed Kilgore

We’re now down to 21 Democratic presidential candidates, with tougher rules for participation in debates likely to winnow several more.

Trump asking the tough, wrongly spelled questions

….My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powel or Chairman Xi?


life after warming

life after warming

The Political Status Quo Is No Match for Climate Change

By David Wallace-Wells

As the Amazon rainforest burns at an alarming rate in Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Jay Inslee’s climate change presidential candidacy flames out.

Seth, we hardly knew ye

Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts is dropping out of the presidential race, ending a candidacy that emphasized Mr. Moulton’s centrist politics and military service but gained no traction with Democratic primary voters.

Mr. Moulton, 40, said in an interview that he had no immediate plans to endorse another candidate, but he warmly praised former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Mr. Moulton planned to announce the end of his campaign in a formal speech before the Democratic National Committee on Friday.

Mr. Moulton suggested that most of the other Democratic candidates were also laboring in vain at this point, with only a tiny few — Mr. Biden and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — remaining as real competitors for the nomination. He warned in the interview that if Democrats were to embrace an overly liberal platform, it could make it harder for the party to defeat President Trump.

just asking questions

just asking questions

Jeffrey Gundlach on Recession Odds, Bitcoin, and Why Trump Might Not Run Again

By Jebediah Reed

The bond-market maven expects things to get wild in 2020.

China shows again that it’s willing to fight fire with fire on tariffs

China on Friday announced tariff hikes on $75 billion of U.S. products in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s planned increase, deepening a trade war that threatens to tip the global economy into recession.

The tariffs of 10% and 5% take effect on two batches of goods on Sept. 1 and Dec. 15, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It gave no details of what goods would be affected but the timing matches Trump’s planned duty hikes.

One of the Koch brothers has died at 79

David Koch, billionaire conservative activist and philanthropist, has died. He was 79.

He and his brother, Charles, co-owned Koch Industries, a Nebraska-based energy and chemical company, since 1983. David stepped down from running the Koch organization last year due to declining health.

Things are going about as expected since the U.S. withdrew from the INF treaty

The Pentagon said on Monday it had tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit its target after more than 500 km (310 miles) of flight, its first such test since the demise of a landmark nuclear pact this month.

Washington formally withdrew from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) on Aug. 2 after accusing Moscow of violating it, a charge dismissed by the Kremlin.

The pact had prohibited land-based missiles with a range of 310-3,400 miles, reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

Putin told his Security Council on Friday that Russia could not stand idly by, and that U.S. talk of deploying new missiles in the Asia-Pacific region “affects our core interests as it is close to Russia’s borders”.

Pompeo gets one of North Korea’s always colorful nicknames

North Korea’s top diplomat said on Friday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a “diehard toxin” who only complicates denuclearisation talks and North Korea was ready for both dialogue and standoff.

Buttigieg’s new plan for addressing addiction and mental health issues

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Friday unveiled a $100 billion plan to expand access to mental health and addiction treatment that coincided with a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire — a state hit hard by the opioid crisis.

The wide-ranging plan calls for integrating treatment into primary care settings, increasing the number of available treatment beds, making it easier for patients to get access to medication for opioid addiction, investing in suicide prevention for veterans and addressing disparities in behavioral health care.

“For years, politicians in Washington have claimed to prioritize mental health care while slashing funding for treatment and ignoring America’s growing addiction and mental health crisis,” Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., said in a statement. “That neglect must end. Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal.”

1619 project

The ‘1619 Project’ Isn’t Anti-American — It’s Anti-White Identity Politics

By Eric Levitz

The centrality of slavery to the American story is only threatening to one’s national identity if one chooses to identify as white.

jeffrey epstein

jeffrey epstein

Jeffrey Epstein Used a Bullet, Dead Cat to Intimidate Graydon Carter: Report

By Matt Stieb

A former Vanity Fair editor says Epstein placed a decapitated cat and a bullet outside Carter’s homes to pressure him to tell reporters to back off.

A concerning development

The George Washington Bridge is now closed in both directions due to police activity. NYPD is responding with its partners to a suspicious device.

Expect detours and delays around the GWB approaches. Use alternate routes.



Democrats Are Turning Their Attention to a Very Unsexy Bulwark of Democracy

By Zak Cheney-Rice

Democrats have historically not focused their energies on the secretaries of state. But the office is crucial to state elections.

the high life

Barack and Michelle Obama Are Reportedly Buying a Mansion in Martha’s Vineyard

By Matt Stieb

Who needs politics when you can have lighthouses, the gingerbread cottages of Edgartown, and a mansion with a $64,000 mortgage payment?

criminal justice reform

criminal justice reform

Louisiana Gubernatorial Candidate Wants to Roll Back Criminal-Justice Reform

By Ed Kilgore

Congressman Ralph Abraham is so committed to law-and-order politics that he voted against the modest criminal-justice-reform bill Trump signed.

vision 2020

Democratic National Committee Rejects Possibility of Official Climate Debate

By Matt Stieb

Climate protestors disrupted the DNC during the vote, which also paved the way for unofficial climate town halls to turn into de-facto debates.

Read More

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: