A Cleveland Sports Culture Immersion: Will Leitch Flees To The Cleve

From twitter.com/williamfleitch
  • From twitter.com/williamfleitch

Will Leitch had never been to Cleveland and really only associated the city with the Drew Carey Show theme song and 30 Rock jokes (click that link, it's great), but he came here to learn. As apart of the "Leitch Across America" series for Sports on Earth, the writer — who founded Deadspin, wrote four books and is a contributing editor of New York Magazine — became immersed in Cleveland sports culture, guided by the guys at Waiting For Next year.

"I'll be talking to everybody who won't run away from me about what makes this town tick," he writes in his introductory piece, "about the history, about the bars, the restaurants, about how hard it is to get something to eat after 8 p.m. around here, and about Bernie Kosar a lot, probably. This is my first trip up here, so don't trust my judgement. I'm only here to learn."

Today, the final installment of his Cleveland series was posted. Here's what his "legitimately pleasant weekend" in Cleveland produced in the order his stories were published (click the links for the full stories):

September 9: "Leitch Across America: Cleveland" — Leitch's first story after 24 hours in the city.

CLEVELAND — A man is wearing a Joe Jurevicius jersey, sitting in the lobby of the Doubletree By Hilton hotel in downtown Cleveland, sipping out of a thermos, leaving everyone the damn well alone. The Cleveland Browns have just lost 23-10, at home, to a Miami Dolphins team that's not particularly good, and the hotel is as bustling as anything in down Cleveland gets, mostly with Dolphins fans checking into their rooms after the victory, doing so politely and quietly, with little fuss. Cleveland is not a place to crow about your victories over the home team, partly out of a sense of personal safety, but mostly out of respect or sympathy.

September 10: "The Fans They Don't Deserve" — written after 48 hours in Cleveland.

Browns fans deserve more than Standard Generic Stadium, and they know it. But then again, this is the central conflict of today's Cleveland Browns: They are a replacement for, a symbol toward and a simulacrum of a franchise that meant everything to this city … but they're not exactly that old franchise. These Cleveland Browns are a monument to the old Browns, but they're not the old Browns. For the sake of continuity, convenience and civic clarity, these Browns share a name, and a record book, and a fanbase with those old Browns. Their fans share memories between the two, and they've decided to connect them, to pretend that it's all seamless, to pretend that 1996-98 never happened. But they're not the same thing. The Cleveland Browns are a cover band making inferior music. They're an avatar. They're Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, desperately trying to remake Kim Novak back into Madeleine.

Podcast: "The Will Leitch Experience Episode 2.31" — a 44-minute podcast, joined by writer Scott Raab (click here for all the stories Scene has done featuring Scott Raab).

The Esquire writer, Cleveland native and author of "The Whore of Akron" talks about the compliant local media in Cleveland, how cynical Cleveland sports can make you and, yes, LeBron.

Podcast: "The Will Leitch Experience Episode 2.32" — a 26-minute podcast with Joe Posnanski.

The NBC Sports columnist — and former Sports on Earther — talks about his hometown of Cleveland and how it has changed since he was a kid.

September 11: "Downtown Dilemma" — a long piece on downtown Cleveland, Dan Gilbert, Lebron and development.

CLEVELAND — You can't necessarily judge a city by the quality and vibrance of its downtown area, but it's not the worst place to start. When you look at major American cities, it's insane how difficult it can be to get a sandwich after 10 p.m. We built these cities, constructed whole sprawling communities surrounding them, and then watched as we burnt a hole in the middle. Millions of people organize their entire lives around the opportunities a city provides and yet won't step foot in the place after 6 p.m. You look at these cities, so lovingly mapped out and plotted, and they're abandoned, incredible views with no one looking at them.

Podcast: "The Will Leitch Experience Episode 2.33" — a 25-minute podcast with author James Frey

The author of "A Million Little Pieces" is a diehard Cleveland Browns fans, and talks about just how much pain that has caused him.

September 12: "The Indians Are No Joke" — written after Leitch took in games at Progressive Field.

You don't feel forlorn at an Indians game: This is not like Miami, where not only are there few people in the stands, they're not paying any attention to what's going on either. Indians fans are as loyal as Cleveland's reputation would make you think; everyone in my section on Wednesday had been to every game of the Royals series and looked at me with suspicion, like I'd murdered the person who regularly sat in my seat rather than merely having bought his/her ticket on StubHub. (The mock sneer the woman gave me when I mistakenly sat in the wrong seat was joking, but only sort of.) There are Indians fans who adore this team. There are just a lot fewer of them than there used to be.

September 13: "Cleveland By The Numbers" — Leitch's wrap up piece on his trip to Cleveland. You'll want to read this one. As he'll do with the other cities he visits, he ranks Cleveland on six categories: Facilities, history, icons, loyalty, passion, recent success, and category he calls "Completely Objective, Catch-All, Make Sure the Final Tally Is Precisely The Number I Want It To Be."

CLEVELAND — As with San Francisco, the purpose of the Leitch Across America tour is to understand cities and specific areas in ways that are as close to how the locals see them as possible. These trips are learning experiences. It was legitimately refreshing to just sit and talk to Cleveland sports fans all week. These are passionate people, as eager to tell their stories as I am to hear them. I came into Cleveland knowing little more about the city — which I'd never visited — than the "Cleveland Rocks!" song and some "30 Rock" jokes. Now I find myself cheering for their teams when they play. I'm can't wait to get back here again.

Podcast: "The Will Leitch Experience Episode 2.35" — a 26-minute podcast with blogger Rick Greyshock.

Rick Greyshock, Cleveland Browns blogger and one of the founders of the "Waiting for Next Year" site, wraps up Cleveland week, talking with Will about blogging in smaller markets, covering the Browns and what needs to happen to improve Cleveland teams.

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Doug Brown

Doug Brown is a staff writer at Scene with a passion for public records laws and investigative reporting. A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., he has an M.A. in journalism from the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a B.A. in political science from Hiram College. Prior to joining Scene,...
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