It's too fucking easy to move a sports team. All you need is a struggling local government dopey enough to give you $500 million of taxpayer money and the approval of around 30 other guys who also like getting free money. Public disapproval doesn't affect the decisions of the oligarchs who own franchises—just about the only thing that really keeps a team in one place is the lease that it signed.
And there are painfully few karmic consequences to moving a team. Walter O'Malley dicked over Brooklyn when he moved the Dodgers to LA, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Clay Bennett screwed Seattle by stealing away the Sonics to Oklahoma City, and now he gets to watch Kevin Durant in his prime. If they were famous politicians they'd be destroyed in obituaries like Dick Nixon or Maggie Thatcher. But sports owners only inspire hatred from the small percentage of the population whose teams they take away. So their legacies get spit-shined by the media because journalists will stick up for anyone who ever comped a drink for them.
Which brings me to Art Modell. He was a shitty owner even before he moved the Browns to Baltimore. He fired Paul Brown, the best football coach ever; forced Jim Brown, the best football player ever, to retire early because he missed training camp; he couldn't turn a profit running a football team in Cleveland, which is like losing money as a coke dealer. He gets lionized for helping put football on TV, but if he hadn't done it some other owner would have.
In the intervening two decades since the Browns moved, the wounds he inflicted on Cleveland sat and festered. The replacement team has had more owners than playoff appearances, and the current owner is the subject of an FBI investigation. If this were soccer they would have been relegated to the third division years ago. Meanwhile, the ersatz-Browns have won two Super Bowls since the move. This is like looking at your ex-girlfriend's honeymoon pictures on Facebook while sending yet another batch of messages out on JDate.
So it seems unfair to charge Paul Serbu with a crime. You may not have heard of Serbu, but he should be a goddamn legend. He's the Browns fan who posted a video of himself pissing on Art Modell's grave and subsequently got charged with "disorderly conduct in a cemetery."
Let's state the obvious here: Pissing on Art Modell's grave shouldn't be a crime. There should be a new law explicitly stating that if someone moves a sports team to a different metropolitan area (sorry, New Jersey Nets fans), then fans of that team are allowed to desecrate your remains in any manner they see fit. PIss, shit, used tampons—everything is fair game. You get to keep your millions in government handouts, your trophy wife, and your charity golf tournament. They can't do anything to hurt you when you're alive. But when you're dead, they can get their revenge. Don't want your kids to have to hose off your headstone? Then don't move your fucking team.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my personal stake in this matter. Growing up in Connecticut, my family had season tickets to the Hartford Whalers. They rarely won, but were entertaining in losses, and when you're a kid you're still capable of loving a team unconditionally. I don't care about anything now as much as I cared about the Whalers when I was young. But when I was 12, a vile piece of shit named Pete Karmanos moved the team to North Carolina, where he actually started spending money on free agents and eventually won a Stanley Cup. At least Browns fans got a replacement team. I got nothing.
And what could I do? I couldn't have stopped the team from moving. Hell, I couldn't even go to bed without putting on orthodontic headgear back then. When a team moves, it highlights the one-sided nature of your relationship with them. It doesn't matter how much you cheer for them or how much you care—at the end of the day you're just a line item. Once upon a time an owner might have felt shame over robbing a community of something that it loved, but Ronald Reagan exterminated any incentive to take the public good into account 30 years ago. A fan of a team that has moved is left with nothing but rage and some T-shirts they can sell for profit once they're considered vintage.
So hey, Pete Karmanos, if your trick ass is reading this, just know that when you die I'm gonna take a shit on your grave. Don't like it? Well you should've thought of that before you moved the Whalers. Disorderly conduct or not, sometimes you simply have to do the right thing.
Follow Robert Wheel on Twitter.
Tags: cleveland browns, art modell, paul brown, jim brown, owners, crimes, pissing on art modell's grave, baltimore ravens, browns move to baltimore, hartford whalers, oligarchs, pete karmanos, paul serbu, disorderly conduct in a cemetery, nfl, football