How the Cleveland Browns are like North Korea
The Browns are entering yet another regime change, so I thought it was an apt time to point out the obvious link to North Korea. Admittedly, the Haslam family is not currently testing nuclear weapons. And, Kim Jong-un hasn’t yet been able to land running back talent akin to Nick Chubb. And, John Dorsey was only fired (not executed). Those somewhat minor differences aside, let’s look at the incredible similarities shared by these two organizations.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of Western Europe knows that different “elite” families ruled different swaths of land for centuries. The Habsburgs were founded in the eleventh century and, through an odd combination of ritual and incest, ruled most of Europe until the early 1900s. The Windsors continue to be the royal family of the United Kingdom, and are famous for indifference after car wrecks and at least one pedofile prince. Both the Cleveland Browns and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea also have their beginnings rooted in family.
The Browns were named for their first head coach – Paul Brown. From the forties to the sixties, Paul Brown’s dynasty encapsulated several championships. When the team was sold to Art Modell, he fired Brown, but another Brown – Jim Brown— was able to carry the Cleveland franchise for several more years. The Browns went on to dominate professional football until the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, after which time they fell into obscurity. The Browns are now owned by the Haslam family.
At the conclusion of World War II, the Korean peninsula was divided at the 38th Parallel, and the DPRK was established in the north by the Soviet Union (ironically near the time of the Cleveland Browns’ founding). The Soviet Union appointed Kim Il-sung as the de facto dictator of North Korea. The Kim family has managed to control North Korea ever since, while the last Cleveland Brown even named ‘Brown’ was cornerback, Sheldon Brown, in 2012. Now, you could perhaps count offensive guard, Bryant Browning, who was on the practice squad for the Browns in 2012… but, he never played in an actual game and his name was ‘Browning,’ not ‘Brown.’ This is a serious football article, and I’m not going to entertain such nonsense. Nevertheless, the Haslam family runs the Browns in much the same manner the Kim family runs North Korea – into the ground! (Ba-zing!)
ONE AND DONE
Something happened to video games when I was eleven years old (1995 – ha!). In previous times, all my fun with a video game was sequestered to whatever occurred in one continuous sitting – If I lost, it was over, and to win, I would have to defeat the entire game. With the advent PlayStation memory cartridges, the game could continue for weeks or months. My character or robot or team could make a terrible decision and die. I could fall into an endless abyss or be decapitated by Sub Zero (on Mortal Kombat) or fail to make the NFL playoffs (on John Madden Football). But I could improve on my poor jump or mistimed block or bad play-calling, and succeed the next day. I could learn from my mistakes. North Korea and the Browns have the unfortunate habit of not allowing for mistakes at all.
It was the blatant policy of dictator Kim Jong-Il (in power from 1994 to 2011) to execute scientists and researchers who disappointed him. Under his rule, the research and development of nuclear weapons generally followed the same routine: If the test of a nuclear weapon or delivery system was successful, the scientists and researchers would be praised and lauded with parades and incentives. If the nuclear test went awry, the staff members involved (anyone from the lead scientist to the guy in charge of coffee runs) were executed. This prevented any type of learning-from-your-mistakes advances in the North Korean nuclear program. They were always starting over from scratch. The lifespan of nuclear scientists seemed to have been greatly improved after Kim Jong-un took over in 2011. That blissful time of living-after-a-mistake may have come to an end, however. After an unproductive meeting with officials from the United States, Kim Jong-un had his entire nuclear envoy executed in the Spring of 2019.
Since 2001 the Browns have carried on a similar “do or die” type of management. In those years, the Browns have had nine general managers (average time in office – 2.1 years), ten head coaches (average time at the helm – 1.9 years), and an astounding thirty (at least) starting quarterbacks (average time in the pocket – two-thirds of a season). One would see those bafflingly fickle numbers and imagine the Browns must have had several owners in that timespan. But, much like North Korea, the Browns have surprisingly had only two owners (the Lerner family and Haslam family) since 2001. This is extremely reminiscent of the North Korean brand of leadership: Continuity in the top office with frequent and jarring turbulence at every other position. With all the upheaval, in both the Browns’ executive staff and the North Korean regime, it does not seem shocking that both are, at their hearts, divided.
DIVIDED, WE CRUMBLE
There are always at least two sides to a divorce, and a divorce in which both sides equally prosper is a nuptial rarity. Countries and NFL franchises seem to follow the same tradition. Sure, the Texans and Titans are simultaneously in the playoffs (but, the Texans have a wider fanbase and better players), the Jazz and Pelicans seem to both be on the upswing (I have no examples of this, only optimistic assumptions), and both Westeros and The North (Winterfell) could theoretically coexist and flourish…but, come on…we all saw Sansa’s face at that meeting. Those aforementioned divisions might be called proportionate, but in the cases of Korea and the Cleveland, the ‘winners’ could not be clearer.
In 1996, the Browns’ owner, Art Modell, could no longer sustain a franchise in Cleveland, Ohio. Partly due to Modell’s poor business decisions and partly due to Cleveland’s city government administration, Modell decided to move the team to Baltimore, Maryland. Modell was so adamant about leaving Cleveland that he paid over ten million dollars in restitution and fines. The team was renamed the Baltimore Ravens. Since 2000, the Ravens have made the playoffs twelve times and won the Super Bowl twice (total regular season record: 190-130). In the same time span, the Cleveland Browns (who regained their franchise in 1999) have made the playoffs once (total regular season record: 99-220-1). It seems that the disconnect from Cleveland was the correct move for Modell and his franchise.
An analogous set of circumstances occurred after the Korean peninsula was divided in the early 1950s. The communist-backed North Koreans languished under the Kim Dynasty while the South Koreans flourished with the guidance of the United States. Living in a backward society under an ultra-suppressive government, the North Koreans have almost no commerce, no innovation, and very little consistent electricity (North Korea’s GDP is 115th in the world at $40 billion). Conversely, South Korea is a world leader in technological innovation, automobiles and shipbuilding (South Korea’s GDP is 11th in the world at $1.53 trillion). With South Korean companies such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia, it is easy to see how North Koreans (if given access to real free information) may be envious of their southern counterparts.
The Browns are not North Korea. They are not evil or torturous (except to maybe their fans) or ruled by a megalomaniac dictator. If the Browns were evil, they would win at all costs…they will never be able to pay the painful cost of drafting good offensive linemen. If the Browns were torturous, they would hire a boring head coach like Mike McArthy and grind the ball with Nick Chubb… Games would last less than two hours and there would never be a press conference. If the Browns had a megalomaniac dictator, he would move them to Baltimore and name them the ‘Ravens.’ The Browns will never be the Ravens.