What the Browns don’t understand

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry taunted an opposing player after scoring a touchdown Sunday, then wouldn’t apologize for it. Nor did his head coach expect him to.

Therein lies the problem with this underachieving team.

As an outsider to the Cleveland area (we moved here almost six years ago from out of state), I find it fascinating – and sometimes hilarious – to see how fans react to the local professional sports teams. I learned very quickly that a synonym for Cleveland is “Browns Town.”

No kidding.

Never mind that the Browns haven’t won an NFL championship since 1964, before the Super Bowl era began. Most of those years across the past half-century, the team hasn’t even been competitive. And 20 years ago, the then-owner moved the team to Baltimore. Many passionate Browns fans still haven’t forgotten that. (Cleveland got an expansion franchise three years later.)

Never mind that there are two other major professional sports teams in Cleveland, both of which actually are (or were) pretty good.

No, this is Browns Town. Clevelanders would rather freeze their fingers off at First Energy Stadium on the shores of Lake Erie than battle mayflies for a week during the summer heat at Progressive Field. The Q, or Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse or whatever they call it these days, has no such outside limitations. Doesn’t matter.

Team sports

Anybody remember who the three Indians starting pitchers were who began the season in the minor leagues, but all played pivotal roles in the baseball team’s push to the postseason (which fell just short)? Didn’t think so. Zack Plesac, Adam Plutko and Aaron Civale provide a bright future for the Indians.

No superstar resumes there, just quality athletes who did their jobs very well.

The Cavaliers basketball team reached the NBA finals four consecutive years, winning one title, all with LeBron James as the cornerstone. When he left before last season, the team fell apart. But the Cavs gave this city the sports championship it was starving for.

I think the Browns are trying to re-create the Cavs’ success using the Cavs’ formula. I’m not a fan.

Basketball, football and baseball are team sports. In basketball sometimes you can get away with stacking a team full of superstars – or, in the Cavs case, one really big superstar – and challenge for the title.

Strong leadership

Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich

But which NBA team has had the most success over the past 20 years? The San Antonio Spurs have won five championships in that time frame – 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2014. They had the same coach for all five: Gregg Popovich.

What’s up with “Pop?” Alone among coaches in the ego-driven NBA, Popovich actually runs his team. He demands that the players fit into his system, not the other way around. Even superstars like David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker – current or future Hall of Famers, all – bought into Popovich’s system. They thrived as individuals, and flourished as teams.

As an alum of Michigan State University, I enjoy following the Spartan basketball program. Coach Tom Izzo – the head coach for 25 years, and an assistant to Jud Heathcote before that – has reached the NCAA Tournament Final Four eight times in those 25 years, more than any other coach.

What’s Izzo’s secret? He doesn’t recruit the five-star one-and-done players that Kentucky and Duke sign. He goes after the next level of players – excellent athletes, perhaps a little under the radar, then keeps them three or four years and develops them. His teams, most years, are veteran teams with a mix of freshmen and sophomores.

He pushes them hard, in practices and during games. He’s not berating them; he’s pushing them to become better players. And better young men.

Tom Izzo, Cassius Winston

They know that. Which is why they submit to his authority.

Izzo knows when to be soft, as well. Over the weekend, the brother of his star player, Cassius Winston, was hit by a train and killed. About 24 hours later, the team played a game.

“I guess if I was to be honest, I expected him not to play, but everyone grieves a different way, and we left it 100 percent up to Cassius,” Izzo said. “His brothers are the world to him. I’ve never seen a kid over my years that was as close with his brothers. Zachary grew up around the team so much. He grew close to all the guys.”

Winston played, and played well in an easy non-conference victory.

Winston is a senior, beginning his fourth season under Izzo’s tutelage. In his first three seasons, he averaged 6.7, 12.6 and 18.8 points per game. That’s the Izzo way. Keep improving, keep getting better, become a leader.

Izzo’s passion for basketball is well-documented. He screams at referees during games. He screams at his own players during timeouts.

Channel the passion

But unlike Jarvis Landry of the Browns, Izzo’s passion is not about himself. He’s challenging his players to reach their full potential, to go beyond what they think they are even capable of. For their own good. For the good of the team.

That is what the Cleveland Browns do not understand.

What is the culture of the Browns? How does an organization develop a winning attitude?

Browns Football

Owner Jimmy Haslam has to decide this, then hire and draft employees who will buy into his system. Head Coach Freddie Kitchens doesn’t know what the culture is. Jarvis Landry is allowed to run the team, basically, and set his own culture.

Landry needs to grow up. He is part of a team, and it does not revolve around him.

Passion is a good thing. I’m not suggesting he muzzle his passion.

However, he must channel that passion into positive plays. Taunting an opponent, which cost his team an extra point (it could have cost his team the game), is unacceptable. Landry must fuel that passion between the white lines, while the clock is ticking. Catching passes. Blocking for his teammates. Doing whatever else his coaches ask him to do to help the team win.

My wife and I raised three boys. They could have gotten into all kinds of mischief. But we didn’t let them get destructive. We didn’t crush their spirits; we re-focused them in positive directions.

Sports offers a great outlet for male aggression. But it has to be done correctly. You’re not helping your team if all you do is cause penalties and do things to get ejected from games. Channel that energy. Work with your own talent. Get better at what you do. Make yourself better, and make your team better.

A winning plan

The Cleveland Browns will never come close to winning a Super Bowl until they understand this. Fans can scream and offer advice til they are blue in the face, but none of it matters, really.

Cut the noise. Focus on what’s important.

Develop the individual. For the good of the team.

If the individual won’t play that game, keep him off the roster, no matter how much talent he has. Find players who will.

Just ask Gregg Popovich or Tom Izzo. Both are winners, for a reason.

Naming the lie I’ve lived with all my life

I’m not good enough.

Like a broken branch hanging from a tree, I don’t fit in. I’m not connected.

I’ve lived this lie all my life, without even knowing it. I knew something wasn’t right in my heart, but I couldn’t name it.

Until this month.

Let me explain.

The wound is given

I grew up in a Leave-It-To-Beaver home, father-mother-son-daughter. From the outside we were an all-American family. Living in the suburbs. Dad had a good job most of the time (my sister and I were shielded from the tough times – we always were provided for). Good public schools, and a college education.

We made a couple of out-of-state moves, in the middle of my second-grade year and just before ninth grade. Those were hard, moving to a new place where we didn’t know anyone, but that allowed me to keep my façade intact.

I was a loner. No close friends. I was bullied a little bit in junior high because I’m small physically and quiet. I was an easy target and wouldn’t complain. We moved after eighth grade, and that ended.

I knew my parents had my back, but my sister and I received no affection growing up. No encouragement or praise. Little advice. We didn’t take risks, try new things, step out of comfort zones, have people over for dinner, none of that.

My whole life I thought loneliness was my wound, the bleeding in my heart that I could not stop. Satan allowed me to think that, to identify the wrong wound. That way, I’d never heal.

In October I spent two days with Mom and Dad. Just the three of us.

Dad

Dad is 85 and doesn’t expect to live too much longer. His death is not imminent, but he knows the end is coming. Mom turns 82 this week and is very healthy.

“If Mom dies before I do, I’m in trouble,” Dad told me last month.

He’s right. She provides for his every need. As she has every day of their 59-year marriage.

I’ve never heard Mom express an original thought or opinion. When she speaks, it’s often softly so no one will hear her or respond. She stays in the background.

Personality-wise, I am my mom’s son. I rarely will tell you what’s on my mind. (It’s much easier for me to communicate by writing than by speaking. Just sayin’ …)

There are reasons for this. Looking at the upbringing of my parents – ie, my grandparents, on both sides – I see where their personalities come from.

The point: Mom and Dad are who they are. They raised me. They did the best they could. They did a good job.

The wound continues

But this wound …

I told myself I’d break the cycle when I had children. I won’t pass the wound on to them. I knew I had a wound as a child and young adult, even though I couldn’t name it correctly.

But since I had mis-identified the wound and I didn’t have a support system to fight it, I did pass it on to our sons. I see that now. It manifests itself differently in each of them, but it’s there.

Satan tailors our wounds to our weaknesses. My sons may have different wounds than I do. I should ask them about that. I began a conversation about this the other day with my youngest son, and we’ll see where that goes.

My wound affects my marriage, too. We’ve been married 34 years – from the outside, we’ve got a great marriage. And it is great in many ways. But I have not been the husband and father that my family needed – and still need.

Facing my shadow

The week before I visited Mom and Dad, a good friend and I attended a three-day conference in Chicago on inner-city ministry, since the church we attend is starting a campus in an inner-city area of Lorain, Ohio. One of the keynote speakers discussed emotional health. I also attended a workshop he led on the topic.

Then, I bought his book. I’ve started reading it, because I am not an emotionally healthy leader.

Not even close.

The speaker and author, Peter Scazerro, talked about “facing your shadow.” Scazerro put it this way:

 

Everyone has a shadow. So what is it?

Your shadow is the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of who you are.

The Emotionally Healthy Leader, page 55

 

Largely unconscious. Yes. Damaged and mostly hidden. Satan wants it that way.

Don’t tell me Satan doesn’t exist. We either give Satan too much credit, or none at all. The spiritual world is very real. You and I both know it, too.

Yes, you do. Even if you won’t acknowledge it out loud, you know that there is a bigger story out there.

We must understand this. Our very lives depend on it.

I’m not exaggerating.

John Eldredge, in his book “Wild at Heart,” has a different name for the “shadow.” He calls it a “wound,” and says most of us get that wound from our fathers.

Naming the wound

The week after I visited Mom and Dad, I attended a four-day retreat based on Eldredge’s book with about 100 men. Eldredge and a couple of his staff led video sessions, followed by personal experiences from a number of leaders of the retreat. That was followed by quiet times across the 80-plus-acre campsite where we could wrestle with God on the topic just discussed.

During one of those quiet times, God named my wound.

I see it in my growing-up years.

I also see it in a couple of jobs I’ve had. I worked for 24 years at The Saginaw (Mich.) News; most of that time I was a copy editor. I loved it there. We were a fantastic team. I was part of a bigger story, helping produce a top-notch daily newspaper that was the talk of the town, literally.

But something happened. The Internet came along, and newspaper management didn’t handle it well. Overnight, we were micromanaged. I’d done the same job for two decades, and I was no longer good enough.

I stopped trying. I gave minimum effort and put in no extra time. My passion disappeared. I survived this way for two years before we were downsized.

I did not handle that period of my life well at all. My wife, especially, suffered severely. We only recently began talking about issues related to that, and I was downsized nine years ago.

traffic 4

My most recent job, as a driver for a day program for adults with developmental disabilities, ended in August. During my exit interview, I discovered a side issue that I didn’t know about. I had been blacklisted as a driver from picking up individuals at two houses around town. At each house, I did something that someone inside the house didn’t like. Instead of giving me the chance to work it out and get it right, I was not allowed to ever return to those homes. The company has a zero tolerance policy for some very minor issues.

When I discovered that, I got angry. I hadn’t felt anger in a long time, and it surprised me that anger came over this issue.

Why?

Because I wasn’t good enough to do my job. I was not allowed to do my job to the best of my ability.

I’m not good enough.

The wrong question

Jesus Himself said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Even Jesus says I’m not good enough, right?

But the story doesn’t end there.

Indeed, that’s the wrong question.

Whether I’m good enough or not is irrelevant. God loves me anyway.

The summer after ninth grade, I attended a church camp in western Pennsylvania. The counselors and other campers – my peers – noticed me and cared about me just because I was there. I didn’t have to do anything to earn their love and respect.

It wasn’t a sermon that won me over, or a good book. It certainly wasn’t a church service. What changed my life? People cared about me, and made it clear that Jesus cared about them – and me – like that too. I wanted what they had. Jesus was it.

I asked Jesus to “save” me from my sins, and He did.

Deception

Immediately, Satan took me out. He kept me focused on my faults and shortcomings, kept me fuzzy about my wound or shadow.

My salvation was not the issue; my effectiveness as a Christian was.

chapel

This battle took place in my heart, in the spiritual realm. This is real life, as real as it gets.

It’s still taking place there.

But naming my wound and allowing God to defeat it gives me the courage to live life the way God wants me to live it. I’ve buried my true feelings for far too long.

God doesn’t care whether I’m good enough or not. He loves me anyway.

He loves you like that, too.

As a journalist, I like to ask questions. Asking the right question yields the best answer.

If you could ask God one question about your own life, what would it be?

Be careful. He just might answer it.

A new chapter in the book of life

We recently revisited a chapter in our lives that closed six years ago – at the same time as new chapters are being written.

Our youngest son started graduate school this week at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich. In a whirlwind weekend, we helped him move from Ypsilanti to Mount Pleasant, about a two-hour drive, to help him start a new chapter.

We drove up to Michigan Friday night to stay with our oldest son, who also helped with the move. Saturday morning in a drizzle, we loaded up our son’s belongings, then under overcast skies helped him get settled in his new apartment.

On the way, we drove past Michigan State University, where my wife and I met in the early 1980s. The sun came out during that part of our trip. Of course. The sun always shines in East Lansing, right? (Even though we had to take two detours to get from I-96 to U.S. 127.)

Saturday evening, we left our sons in Mount Pleasant (the oldest graduated from CMU earlier and planned to introduce his brother to a few friends to help him get settled). We drove to Saginaw, where our family wrote the longest chapter in our lives.

Reminiscing

We lived in Saginaw for 27 years, by far the longest I’ve lived anywhere. We raised our three sons there. We connected with a church family, our sons’ friends, people we met at their schools, volunteers we met in the community. I had a wonderful job there.

Sunday morning, we attended the church where we served while we lived there. While some people have moved on and new folks attend now, we saw many friends from that chapter in our lives.

We met several of them as soon as we arrived. “We’re having church in the parking lot,” I told the 11 a.m. worship leader, who arrived shortly after we did.

The worship leader and his wife were married the same day we were, the same year. We each raised three children alongside each other. Those kind of friendships last a lifetime.

We reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen in a couple of years, since the last time we visited. We exchanged many hugs and handshakes and smiles.

We didn’t drive past the old house this time, or visit other places where memories were made. The weekend was already full. We drove 600 miles in 48 hours.

As we reminisced with old friends about good times and how life has changed for us all, we focused on the good memories. We do that, don’t we? The good old days. We overlook the hard times and remember the good times. Or, we try to.

Turning the page quickly

My job there was eliminated in 2009, and we left Saginaw in 2012. The chapters in our lives – especially mine – since then became shorter and more numerous.

A little over a year in Rockford, Illinois. A new job in Elyria, Ohio, which lasted 13 months. We’d had enough of out-of-state moves by then, so we’ve stayed here. After an 11-month search, I landed another job – the first non-office job I’d had since I graduated from college. I worked directly with adults with developmental disabilities.

That chapter in my life lasted 2.5 years, ending just a couple of weeks ago. It ended suddenly, but it was time.

I’ve always had a passion for serving my community. Even when I was working full-time and raising three children, I found time to volunteer with several organizations, mostly dealing with children or hunger issues.

In retirement, I dream of becoming a full-time volunteer, doing various things. Here in Elyria, I’ve continued one or two volunteer activities I’ve been involved with for many years. But as with any chapter in life, some doors have closed, and a few new ones have opened.

A new chapter

Now that I don’t answer to a supervisor anymore, a new chapter has just begun.

Our church is opening its third satellite campus in a nearby city. When the recently-hired pastor shared his vision for the campus with those of us who attended an informational meeting, I got excited. His vision is similar to the vision of the church in Saginaw where we raised our sons.

Is this where God wants us now? We haven’t made that formal decision yet. We’re still praying, still considering.

The pastor has organized a weekly morning prayer group at the new location – which isn’t scheduled to open for worship services until next spring, but which is launching other programs even now – to begin connecting with each other and seeing where we each may fit in. Since I’m not working now and I have the time, I showed up on a recent morning.

About a dozen of us prayed. We were done in a half-hour, so we could get on with our day. It was beautiful.

Our church has been trying to open this campus for several years, but the timing wasn’t right. Plans kept falling through. Until now.

I enjoy being a small part of something big, whether it’s a company, a volunteer agency or a church. What’s my niche?

During this transition time for me, I likely will seek new roles, as well as expand current roles.

In the past I liked structure. My primary job was newspaper copy editor. While the news changed every day, the deadlines I faced did not. I knew my role, and tried to do it well. Reporters love the variety in their job – new experiences, new people to meet, not knowing what they were going to write about that day. My job, in the office, was to take those written experiences and help transform them into a newspaper.

News happens 24/7 but a copy editor’s job occurs on a regular schedule, so the paper reaches your doorstep at roughly the same time every day. Everyone at the paper plays a part in making that happen. Everyone – reporters, editors and many others – is needed.

Until newspaper executives started eliminating copy desks, including the one where I worked, to save money. But that’s a different story.

Bottom line: When that job ended, the structure in my life ended too.

I haven’t always handled it well.

An open book

I do have a creative streak in me. Will it come out now? Can I be flexible? Can I be happy doing different things each day?

These decisions don’t have to be made immediately. We will see how God leads me, and us.

The next chapter of my life begins with a blank page. It’s not entirely blank, of course; I’m not starting over completely.

But I am changing direction.

Has God been preparing me for this moment?

Perhaps I’ll have an answer for that question soon; possibly, it will take some time before I know.

Either way, it’s time to start writing.

Finding passion in the midst of constant change

Nothing lasts on Earth. Nothing at all.

Is that a good thing?

Depends on your outlook.

If you are adventurous, you like doing new things all the time. You create change. Things that last probably bore you.

If you prefer security, commitment and long-term involvement, then change gets in the way. You might even fear it.

What if change comes, and you wish it wouldn’t?

I’m finding it hard to remain committed to much of anything these days. Maybe I have some secret anger, a restlessness, an insecurity, an impatience with something that keeps me from things that last.

Perhaps it’s none of those things. Perhaps this is just the way life is.

Short-term volunteering

For example, I enjoy mentoring elementary-age students through local schools. Many children these days need a good male role model. If I can help, I enjoy doing that.

Our church in Saginaw, Mich., partnered with the elementary school across the street, and that’s where I first got involved. I showed up at lunchtime and played games with the student, ate lunch with him, and gave him encouragement. Sometimes I helped him with homework that he didn’t finish in the morning.

That lasted a couple of years, until we moved to Rockford, Ill. A month or two after we moved there, I found a reading program through Rockford Public Schools. That winter/spring and the following fall, I spent an hour in a classroom, reading with four students whom the teacher sent to me in 15-minute segments. I assisted them with words they had trouble pronouncing, and I helped with their comprehension – do you understand what you are reading?

We moved away after a year to Elyria, Ohio. I found a lunchtime mentoring program at Midview Schools in nearby Grafton. After a year, that program disappeared and I never heard from the school district again.

So I connected with Greater Cleveland Volunteers, which introduced me to My Mentor My Friend, a lunchtime mentoring program at four elementaries in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  I picked the school on the west side of Cleveland (the other three schools all were on the east side), and mentored three students there in a little more than a year.

Trying to make a difference

My first student there moved away in the summer. My second student, probably a loner like me, seemed uncomfortable with the one-on-one attention and dropped out of the program. My third student also moved away this summer.

That’s the lifestyle of the typical low-income inner-city student. Many live with one parent, or in the case of one of my students, with Grandpa. The parent often rents and moves across town frequently. My last student told me his dad got a job in Arizona, and he was planning to move out there to be with him. Dad said Cleveland was too violent. The student had anger management issues and it wasn’t unusual for him to be on suspension when I showed up to mentor.

Did I make a difference? Only God knows. I will never see the long-term results of any student I have mentored thus far, in any district in any state.

That’s just the way it is.

And now, My Mentor My Friend lost its United Way funding and has ended.

The Cleveland school district might keep the mentoring program going on its own. We’ll see. I’m also looking into another mentoring program in Lorain, which is nearer to my home. Either way, it’s another new start.

Elyria City Schools doesn’t have a mentoring program, a teacher there told me recently, because of the work involved to set up and administer such a program. I get that. When a man wants to work with children, red flags go up, don’t they?

At each school district, I had to pass a background check. In Cleveland, I also faced two interviews, fingerprinting and had to provide references – as intensive as any job interview I’ve had.

A year and a half later, is it all for naught?

Where’s the passion?

I’ve had trouble keeping jobs long-term as well. I had one job that lasted eight weeks. The job in Rockford lasted 14 months. My first job here in Elyria lasted 13 months. My next job lasted 2.5 years, but I got burned out. Without going into details, that job is over too.

I enjoy volunteering in the community. Mentoring, yes, but doing other things as well.

It’s me and God now. I no longer answer to a supervisor.

Will I find work again? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Financially, we are doing well.

And, as I said, I’m burned out. Impatient. Perhaps angry.

I have no home on Earth. I’ve felt that way for a long time.

The Rev. Doug Mater, who is the current pastor of a former church where we worshipped and served, wrote the following in a church newsletter earlier this year:

 

How often do we let our God-given strengths go to waste? We spend so much time trying to overcome our limitations by doing things we are not equipped to do. On the contrary, we should consider our special talents for ministry and focus on doing these things better, asking ourselves if we are trying to do something that we are not equipped to do, just for the sake of thinking I need to be different. …

We must continue to be the best we can at these talents so that others will see us as Christians who care about others and want them to share in the joy that we have in Jesus Christ. So, I ask you to look at your talents and keep practicing them. … Let us excel for God with the talents He has given us for his glory.

 

That’s a great message. Often we focus on our weaknesses and try to get better. Or take a job, any job, just to meet the budget.

Instead, we should emphasize our strengths and do them with passion.

What am I “equipped to do?” Do I have any “special talents?” How can I “excel for God?”

As I face yet another transition in my life, this is a good time to ponder such questions.

The journey continues.