One might assume the announcement of a statue and a tribute to one of the best Cleveland Browns players of all-time would be cause for celebration among team alumni.
That's not the case.
According to ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi, former Browns players are unhappy with the state of affairs in the alumni department and doubt the motives of Jimmy and Dee Haslam in the decision to erect a statue honoring Jim Brown.
Only the Browns.
As Grossi writes:
The former players have been devalued, they believe, by Haslam’s business advisors who can’t monetize alumni relations. They see former players continually passed over for relevant roles and no alumni advocate in the team’s headquarters.
The Browns alumni department has been severely reduced and reorganized under the supervision of Kevin Griffin, vice president of fan experience and marketing. Browns alums feel they have been disrespected and marginalized.
Perhaps the most vocal critic of the Haslam regime is Dick Ambrose. The former linebacker known commonly by his nickname "Bam-Bam," has served as judge of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas for the last 12 years. Ambrose penned a letter to Haslam in November detailing alumni's grievances, and did not hold back in Grossi's piece.
"The fans value the past, and the past is more than Jim Brown. That’s our bottom line."
The Browns posed the announcement as the beginning of a new devotion to honor alumni, stating in the subheadline: "Team evaluating additional opportunities to recognize prominent Cleveland contributors." Ambrose and others apparently aren't buying it.
As Ambrose explained to Grossi, the team alumni preferred the Mike Holmgren reign as opposed to the Haslam era.
"We were not happy with the way things evolved when this ownership took over," Ambrose said. "When Holmgren was there, the relationship was pretty good because he used the Green Bay Packers model [of valuing team alumni]. This group has been a little more bottom-line."
In other words, as Grossi explains, Haslam redirected the money Holmgren used to give to team alumni into the pockets of Jim Brown, now making a six-figure salary in an advisory role.
Besides Brown, Swagger, the team dog-mascot, has been a sticking point for team alumni. Former players abhor the fact that Swagger's handlers receive $800 per appearance, while alumni are often asked to work for free.
Amidst the alumni's complaints, relations between the team and alumni appeared to be improving before the announcement. Following Ambrose's November letter to Haslam, the Browns Alumni Advisory Board was created in late 2015. The board, composed of former players from all Browns eras, meets on a quarterly basis with Griffin and President Alec Scheiner and Griffin to repair relations and work together on marketing opportunities.
"I think the front office acknowledges that alumni relations is important," Ambrose said. "I think the letter to Haslam triggered that. The team has taken a bit of a PR hit on that and I think it is willing to work more with alumni now and make some positive changes."
So, what can be made of all of this drama?
The Browns' announcement of the statue honoring Jim Brown was met with skepticism by former players, particularly Ambrose. Former alumni want to see the Browns honor players besides Brown and heal relations.
Will Haslam and the Browns listen to the gripes of former players?