WASHINGTON – An orange-shoed, brown-jerseyed Cleveland Browns fan pleaded with a House committee Tuesday to pass a bill that would help block the football team’s move to Baltimore.
John “Big Dawg” Thompson, 34, a computer supply salesman who has held season tickets to Browns’ games for 18 years, described the emotional, psychological and financial investment that he and other fans have made in the team.
“Fans need rights to protect themselves from men who park on runways in Lear jets waiting for secret knocks to sign secret deals to take away our children’s opportunity to have investments in the Cleveland Browns or any other NFL team,” Thompson said.
His voice wavered as he mentioned the community service in Cleveland that the team has performed. Players sponsored an inner-city football league for kids who often could not afford a football, Thompson said.
Thompson’s comments came during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a bill sponsored by Rep. Martin R. Hoke, R-Ohio, whose district includes the stadium where the Browns play. The bill would not prevent an owner from moving his team, but it would require that the team name remain with the city.
It also would force the NFL to provide an expansion team for the jilted city within 12 months.
The bill was meant to give fans more leverage in keeping an existing team.
NFL owners are expected to meet late this week to vote on the Browns’ proposed move to Baltimore. Team owner Art Modell needs the approval of 23 of the 30 owners.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue also appeared and was questioned by the committee, sometimes hostilely, as he asked for federal actions that would give him more power in directing team moves.
Tagliabue said past litigation and costs from collective bargaining are tying his hands and not allowing the league to block a rash of relocations.
“We’re approaching the powerless, I assure you,” he said.
The commissioner said he was hoping for a “simple piece of legislation that would recognize that the league is entitled to make decisions on where the league franchises will be located.
“And when they make those decisions,” he added, “the decisions are binding and cannot be challenged.”
Thompson said after the hearing he didn’t believe Baltimore fans “really want to take the Cleveland Browns.
“I believe that they want a new team, whether it be an expansion team, or a team that’s in a city where the city is not too happy with the revenue that it’s bringing in,” the fan said.
“I would say [to Maryland fans] to wait for expansion like they were asked to do by the league in the first place,” Thompson said. “They’ve waited for 12 years. There’s no sense in stealing somebody else’s team at this point.”