Thursday, May 14, 2009

“Defend Cleveland”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Writing is a profession that explodes the boundaries of a traditional career. As a means for gainful employment, it can be unreliable and streaky. Yet as a habit deeply rooted in the soul, it may allow one to draw inspiration from nearly anything. Sometimes, the puzzle-pieces yielded from such bursts of creativity can fit together in an unexpected context that develops later.

I thought of this recently, while enjoying the social networking site, Facebook.
For a long while, the true allure of this Internet tool eluded my comprehension. But in recent months, it has become a useful way to connect with other reporters, musicians, and personalities from across the network.

While musing about our situation here in northeastern Ohio, I composed a two-paragraph assessment of life by Lake Erie. It was written in stark, yet honest terms:

“CLEVELAND - Home of the Rock Hall, yet home also to gritty, under-appreciated citizens wallowing in urban despair. Our companies have been sold to outsiders seeking carpetbagger success. Our factories, breweries, and public institutions have closed. Our banks have been seized and re-sold by the government. Our sports teams have struggled to win a championship since the mid-60's. Our elected officials have attracted FBI investigations and charges of outright corruption, while remaining indifferent. Our schools are crumbling. Our winters are filled with lake-effect snow and insane shifts in temperature. Our streets are overrun with beggars and petty criminals seeking hope.

And yet... we love this city. It is our home. Our identity is here... grappling with fate, sore from failure, bowed by circumstance. We breathe and ingest Cleveland every day of the year. Tough, scrappy, and able to survive. Not so notable as New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Yet undeniably part of the American Experience.

We defend Cleveland - because this is who we are.”

The last line of my short essay came from a motorcycling friend in Hambden who had an unusual T-shirt that caught my attention. His black garment boasted twin pistols over a defiant admonition – ‘Defend Cleveland.’

Soon after the note was posted, I received a comment from someone called ‘Bear Clevelandrockandroll.’ The tone of their message made me smile:

“You described Cleveland and the people who grew up here, stayed here, raised their kids one could have painted the picture better with words. Congrats man, you hit out of the ballpark. Beautiful.”

Weeks later, my rebellious bit of scribbling had almost been forgotten. Then, I received a message from Scott Miller at WNCX radio:

“Scott here... e-mail Mark Bradley ( to tell him he's a hack journalist from Atlanta and not welcome here in Cleveland. Yesterday's article included the gem ‘at least we (Atlantans) don't have to live in Cleveland.’ Help me and Jeff put this punk in his place. Worst Journalist ever...”

I found a link to Bradley’s story. It was about the Cleveland Cavaliers – Atlanta Hawks basketball playoff series beginning on May 5th. Most of the text seemed to be a straightforward, if partisan assessment of the competition. Yet the slap against our big neighbor to the west stung forcefully.

Instead of sending a quick e-mail rant in response, I decided to compose something more thoughtful for Mr. Bradley. As I tapped at the keyboard, hints of my earlier piece began to appear:


“Earlier today, Scott Miller at WNCX sent a message about Mark Bradley's slam of Cleveland in a blog report for the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper. The comment was included with his coverage of game one between our Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks.

Miller encouraged those of us on the Northcoast to speak up about this bit of wordsmithing rudeness. Keeping in mind that Mr. Bradley has probably elicited many emotional responses from Cleveland, I chose to take a different angle in my own reply:


I'm sure you've been receiving lots of e-mail from Cleveland regarding your comment about the city on May 5th:

‘This city, as you’d expect, is pumped. We Atlantans moan over the state of our franchises, but Clevelanders have it way worse. For one thing, they have to live in Cleveland. For another, they haven’t seen a pro title since the Browns beat the Colts 27-0 to win the NFL title in 1964.’

As a journalist and author here, just let me respond by saying that Cleveland has a unique personality among cities around the Great Lakes. While we aren't so populous as Chicago, or headline-worthy as Detroit, this point on the map carries a strong identity. LeBron is notable to be sure, but only the latest reflection of our local spirit. 'Witness' if you will that we landed the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame after a boisterous competition. And that when Modell left town, fan intensity made the NFL choose to leave the Browns name and colors here, something that had never happened in league history.

Living in Cleveland isn't a woeful prospect, as you seem to believe. Instead, we celebrate our city and its diverse history. We ARE Cleveland, toughened by adversity of circumstances and weather. We revel in the challenges of life on the Northcoast. It has helped us to develop the sort of tenacity that makes for success.

Soon, we hope to see that manifested by our Cavaliers. It will be particularly meaningful because LeBron grew up here, in Ohio. So he literally embodies all of our hopes and aspirations.

I invite you to visit Cleveland someday... and realize how mistaken you are about our home on the shores of Lake Erie.”

Not surprisingly, there was no response from Bradley. But Scott Miller had an upbeat view of my message:

“Rod.... that's awesome. Considerably more diplomatic than most e-mails he's received I'm sure. We'll post it on the morning show page at Kudos...”

Nothing I might offer as a journalist could hope to equal the positive impact LeBron James offered to residents of the Northcoast. Simply stated, I wasn’t in his league.

But with my writing task completed, I was sure of one thing.

Cleveland had been defended!

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