WILLIAMS: Browns about to receive HBO spotlight


Buckle up, Browns fans — HBO cameras are about to roll.

Maybe the ride won’t be bumpy.

When training camp opens this week in Berea, HBO cameras will be everywhere to get footage for this summer’s edition of the reality series “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cleveland Browns.”

“Hard Knocks” examines one NFL team from the start of training camp until the final cuts. There are five one-hour episodes and the producers like to showcase established players and underdog hopefuls.

Sometimes, the show points an unflinching spotlight on the team it’s showcasing. But not always.

Last summer, HBO’s “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers” gave a pass to quarterback Jameis Winston. In the 2015 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers made Winston the number-one overall pick despite his questionable behavior at Florida State (shoplifting, sexual assault allegation, a vulgar outburst).

Veteran viewers braced for the “Winston confronts his past” moment. It never happened. The #metoo movement took off a few months later. Maybe if it had begun sooner, Winston might have faced tougher questions.

Colts defensive lineman John Simon, the Cardinal Mooney High School graduate who was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for Ohio State, was a Texans linebacker in 2015 when “Hard Knocks” came to Houston.

Last month, Simon attended a charity event at Avalon Golf Course in Howland and said the added cameras weren’t that big of a distraction.

“In the NFL, you usually have cameras around you all day any way,” Simon said. “It was just a little level above that.

“After a day or two, they kind of settle in,” Simon said. “They do a great job of respecting the players, keeping their distance when they know we’re trying to get some work done.”

Simon said some players enjoy the extra attention. During the Texans’ “Hard Knocks,” linebacker Brian Cushing certainly wasn’t shy.

“I don’t think it was too much of a distraction,” Simon said. “Obviously, you always have guys on the team who will tend to gravitate to the cameras more than other guys. Other guys try to stay out of it.

“It’s great for the fans, it gives you good insight into what’s going around training camp. If you are a fan of that team, you kind of get to see the day-to-day process of training camp.”

Coming off an 0-16 season, the Browns are a fascinating choice for “Hard Knocks.” Hue Jackson remains head coach, but Todd Haley is the new offensive coordinator and he has head coaching experience with the Chiefs.

Future Hall-of-Famer Joe Thomas has retired, so the search for new team leaders is under way. Wide receiver Josh Gordon and rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield should receive plenty of attention.

Maybe the NFL’s national anthem protests won’t be spotlighted, but that’s not likely. It’s hard to imagine the NFL’s continuing dilemma of players protesting police brutality during the national anthem being ignored.

Simon had a front-row seat last fall when Vice President Mike Pence stormed out of the stadium in Indianapolis when members of the San Francisco 49ers — ground zero for the anthem protest — knelt.

Simon expressed uncertainty about what’s next.

“That’s an ongoing thing and we’ll have to see how that plays out throughout the year,” Simon said. “We’ve had some meetings in Indy about it.

“Personally, I respect everyone in our locker room, I respect their opinions and what they want to do. That’s my family over there and when you are with them all day you have these tough discussions and you respect each other’s opinions, and that’s how you make it work. I can guarantee everyone in that building, at least in my organization is there to win football games. That’s the main priority.”

In May, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a league policy for handling protests. The league wanted players feeling the urge to protest to stay in the locker room out of camera range or face fines and suspensions.

But the NFL foolishly took this step without consulting the NFL Players Association. The union eventually filed a grievance.

All was quiet until last week when Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey announced that he planned to protest. A day later, the Miami Dolphins announced that anyone protesting on the sidelines would face a suspension.

Within 12 hours, the backlash was overflowing and the NFL suspended its anthem policy, saying league and union officials are working together to resolve the issue.

Maybe it will be solved by Aug. 9 when the Browns play their first preseason game against the New York Giants. It’s doubtful.

In Friday’s statement, the league said, “No new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks while these confidential discussions are ongoing.

“The NFL and NFLPA reflect the great values of America, which are repeatedly demonstrated by the many players doing extraordinary work in communities across our country to promote equality, fairness and justice. Our shared focus will remain on finding a solution to the anthem issue through mutual, good faith commitments, outside of litigation.”

The anthem issue is far from over. What happens next will be televised.

Buckle up, just to be safe.

Tom Williams is a sportswriter at The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @Williams_Vindy.

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