by Will Burge
Want to rile up Browns fans, outside of the usual sticking points like talking about backup quarterbacks and the draft? Bring up the uniforms or cheerleaders. No fan base is more passionate about the clothing giant men wear or the women on the sidelines who wear very little. Both topics will be the subject of plenty of debate in the next few years.
As owner Jimmy Haslam and team president Alec Scheiner have previously said, the Browns will be wearing new uniforms, redesigned by Nike, in 2015.
And, according to a source in the organization, the team has also started moving toward adding cheerleaders for the 2015 season. The team has had meetings and started preparations to introduce a squad and is currently in the consultation phase of the process. Reached by Scene this week, the Browns declined to comment through a team spokesman.
As renovations at FirstEnergy Stadium march on toward completion before the start of the 2015 season, so do the Browns’ efforts to modernize not only the stadium but also the game-day experience. With the fancy scoreboards also come the wiener dog races, for example.
Some may say that tradition is still important for a team that hasn’t won anything of significance since Lyndon Johnson was in office. Others say the Browns have fallen behind and need to relate to a younger, more progressive audience. Bernie Kosar says a whole bunch of things, but none of them will be for the Browns’ preseason broadcasts (speaking of the team moving on from traditions).
The Browns are currently one of six NFL teams without cheerleaders, but contrary to popular belief, the Browns did once in fact employ cheerleaders back in the team’s earlier days.
In 2010, Bill Lubinger of the Plain Dealer wrote a piece explaining that the Browns did have cheerleaders multiple times. The most recent was in 1971 when high school girls in orange turtleneck sweaters performed on the sidelines (they were not paid, incidentally). He quoted Pat Modell, wife of former owner Art Modell, as saying, "We had them one year. They looked crazy. It was ridiculous.”
And so they will have them again. Hopefully, less ridiculous. But we’ll wait for Dee Haslam’s reaction.
Remember, the team’s vice president of fan experience and marketing is Kevin Griffin who came from Seattle, where he helped engineer one of the more engaging game-day experiences in the league and built goodwill with the Seahawks’ fans for open communication.
Will cheerleaders completely fix their recent image problem? No, of course not, but they wont hurt it either. The more your team’s name is out in front of children, the stronger their bond to that team will be.
Fans need to stop seeing the Browns through a pair of rose-colored shutter shade glasses. This is not the 1980s anymore and the Browns need to build a new legacy.
And other recent moves prove the Browns aren’t beholden to vestiges of their heritage as they try to stake out a new brand for themselves.
The team announced this week that they would be replacing native son Bernie Kosar on the preseason broadcasts.
Kosar claimed it was because of his slurred speech caused by years of concussions. While that could be part of the issue, it’s much more likely to be the fact that he berated an opposing third-string quarterback and was arrested for suspicion of a DUI last season.
While the alcohol related charges for this case were dropped on Monday, the PR damage was already done.
The truth is that Bernie’s issues have gone far past what transpired last season. It was just about 18 months ago that Kosar called into do an interview with Bruce Hooley on ESPN 850 WKNR and sounded, well, hammered.
I worked for WKNR at the time and can tell you that it was a huge ordeal behind the scenes and ended with Kosar “taking some time off” from our shows.
This is not a good look for the Browns organization that is desperately trying to shake the stigma of being bumbling fools.
So maybe it is time to move on from Bernie on our broadcasts. Maybe it is time to embrace a change in uniforms. Maybe it is time for cheerleaders to walk the sidelines at FirstEnergy Stadium.