For decades, Cleveland, Ohio has been the butt of jokes; either it’s slammed as ‘the mistake on the lake,’ or its major league American football team, the Browns, are blowing through quarterbacks like it’s their job. If you google ‘Cleveland sports’ there’s a Wikipedia page called, ‘Cleveland sports curse’ that perfectly encompasses the identity Cleveland teams have inhabited. What goes unrecognized, however, is that Cleveland has held onto three major league sports teams despite their losing records. I grew up in Cleveland watching Browns games every Sunday, always hearing that ‘it’s a rebuilding year’ after each inevitable loss. In Cleveland, there’s a persistent optimism which, despite failures, promotes the belief that good hard work and continuous fan support will help teams win their league’s championship. It’s this very same attitude that kept Clevelanders going to Cavs’ games through the rollercoaster of Lebron James leaving, coming back, and then winning the city its first national championship in a record 52 years.
That 52-year drought was broken in 2016 when the Cavaliers brought home an NBA national championship, upsetting the widely favored Golden State Warriors. This moment was a shifting point for Cleveland sports, after coming back to win from an unprecedented 3-1 deficit, Cleveland fans got a chance to root for the (unfortunately named) Indians as they competed in the World Series. Today, the Browns have some of the best players in the NFL, including promising newbie Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Junior, who, although new to Cleveland, has gone out of his way to express his excitement to be in a city titled, ‘the Paris of the Midwest.’ Once an athlete expresses their commitment and admiration for Cleveland and its fans, the people of the town embrace them as a local hero. Baker Mayfield has spent one season with the Browns, and there are already beers at local breweries named after him. Cleveland sports legends canonized by the people are subject to being kicked off the list if they ever speak poorly of the city or its fans. For example, despite Kyrie Irving’s impressive career with the Cavs, his jersey can no longer be worn by true fans. This is due to the backhanded comment he made about Cleaveland after moving to the Boston Celtics, stating he’s excited to finally be in a ‘real sports town.’ This kind of comment is what gets you blacklisted in Cleveland, as Cleveland is very much a real sports town.
The Browns’ lineup this year has people purchasing new jerseys and packing into First Energy Stadium (the home of the Browns). Cleveland’s major sports teams (the Cavs, Indians, and Browns) are a substantial economic boost for the relatively small city. Cleaveland’s loyal fans keep season ticket holders buying each year, even when it is clear that the Browns are not going to win a single game of the season. Recently, Cleveland was the site of the MLB’s All-Star Game, a considerable feat for the city. The press had a chance to come to Cleveland and see it at its finest, dispelling some of the ‘mistake on the lake’ chatter that has consumed the city’s public image since the ’70s.
Sports are part of Cleveland; they bleed through the city’s core galvanizing the economy and the people. Cleveland Sports are making a comeback, and so is the city. In 1969 Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire spurring a national conversation about conservation, but also painting Cleveland as a national joke. Today, Clevelanders find pride in their city and they’re showing it by supporting Cleveland’s sports teams.