Waiting for Errol

There’s a bright-red sign, flashing beside a door. The word “OPEN” flashes 5 times then, one letter at a time, they flash again. First the O. Then the P. And so on until “OPEN” gets spelled out. The sign flashes 5 times again, drawing attention to a place minimal in how it advertises itself. A black brick wall with the simplest of black fonts on the building’s fascia reads, “Boxing Gym.”

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What appears like a 6-pound shot put ball—with a green and white swirl pattern on it—holds the front door open. The back door is also wide-open; presumably to allow the outdoor’s humid air to flow through. The familiar smell of a boxing gym is the first thing you notice. It’s not offensive, but neither is it pleasant.

It’s always obvious when someone new walks into a boxing gym. Everyone—both the new person and those there—do a quick calculus of who is who. Who is a pro. Who is not. Who used to fight. Who never has. Who has a kind face. Who does not. And, though it’s rarely said out loud, who can beat the shit out of who, how quickly, and how.

“Can I help you, boss?” a man asks while getting his gloves tied. He has a prosthetic below his right knee. I wonder what happened. I want to ask but I don’t. Instead, I explain my reason for being there. “I’m here to interview Errol.”

“Cool,” he says, “he should be here in a bit.” He then walks to the heavy bag. Without waiting for the piercing sound of the timer marking another 3-minute round’s beginning, he punches. He circles to his right as if the sweat-stained bag has an orthodox stance. He punches again. You can see a sweat ring developing around the neck of his heather grey-colored shirt. About 10 feet away from him, there’s a man sitting on the floor and reading his phone. He too is sweating.

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As with most boxing gyms, it’s hot inside. The heat’s made worse by the simple fact it’s mid-May in north Texas. The high temperature was around 87 degrees though with humidity, it felt like 102. It’s much hotter inside the gym to where waiting outside feels like a relief.

The gym shares the building with a Mexican restaurant that sells barbacoa de borrego. There’s a tire shop is next to the restaurant. Every few minutes you hear an air impact wrench, taking off another lug nut. You don’t hear it but you can imagine the sound of a tire bouncing slightly off the ground before a worker rolls it away to get fixed. The gym’s neighbor is a shop that sells work boots.

I was standing outside, wondering if every nice car that drove by marked my wait’s end, when a man—who must have seen my camera—said something I quite couldn’t make out. Something about if I wanted to take a picture of a shoe. As he got closer, he smelled of alcohol and carried a work boot with a nail poking into its bottom. He limped and wore only a sock on one of his feet. “I paid $200 for these shoes. They are supposed to have a warranty,” he said in his broken English.

I ask him, in Spanish, what happened. Relieved that he could express his frustrations in the language he knows best, he suddenly speaks confidently. In between expletives, he says he stepped on a nail and considering how much he paid for work boots that came with a warranty, he brought them back. I’m not sure if he expected new boots, the shop to cover his medical bill, or something else. Whatever he wanted, they told him no. Annoyed, he says next time he’ll buy work boots at Wal-Mart, pay only $40 and get the same level of protection. He limped away and back into his car. I went back inside and waited. I looked around.

All gyms line their walls with pictures and posters of boxers intermixed with a few motivational quotes. A sign, written in Spanish, says, “You have 2 options…Throw in the towel and quit or use it to dry your sweat and keep going.” There’s another motivational quote, this one written on a dry-erase board, that simply says, “Do more say less.”

Of all the pictures, three boxers seem to occupy the most space: Errol Spence, Muhammad Ali, and Julio César Chávez—the father, not the son. Though, there’s at least one poster of junior; it’s in the bathroom. If you stand there, while urinating, and look at his eyes on the poster you get the sense that junior is trying hard not to look down.

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While looking around and waiting, a woman walked through the door. The same man that greeted me—who apparently, when not beating the punching bag, doubles as the information desk—asks how he could help. She inquired about joining the gym. The man’s shirt had turned a dark-colored grey and while wiping his sweat off, as best he could with his boxing gloves on, told her about the gym’s basic membership. The MMA instructor is no longer there so kickboxing class is on hold. He also told her the owner wasn’t there. He pointed to a picture on the wall and said, “if you ever come back, that’s what he looks like.”

She suddenly recognizes a picture though it’s not the one of the owner. “It’s Freddie Roach,” she says excitedly. “Yea,” the sweating man answered, “we are the home gym of world champion, Errol Spence.” She doesn’t seem to know who he is. Or, maybe she does but doesn’t care.

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She leaves and we all return to what we were doing before she arrived. Everyone, in their own way, waiting for something or someone who may not even exist.

 

 

 

 

The Hope and Doubt of the NFL Draft Explained for Those Who Don’t Know or Care 

Every year in late April, the NFL holds its draft. Over the course of 7 rounds, teams choose college players who they believe will help them win games. An attempt at parity, the NFL structures its draft with the worst teams—based on the previous season’s win-loss record—picking first in each round. So, barring any trades, the worst team picks first, the second-worst picks second, and so forth until the previous season’s Super Bowl champions pick last. The NFL has designed the system to benefit the worst teams. And still, some teams continually pick towards the top of the draft. The Cleveland Browns are one of those teams. And with the NFL Draft hosted by AT&T Stadium, 10 minutes from my house, I thought I’d attend and purposefully look for fans of the Cleveland Browns. 

Even if some sound more convinced than others, everyone here—at the NFL Draft—has an opinion. Players get compared across generations, often with caveats; He reminds me of a Brett Favre, but smaller. There is an inherent optimism to every NFL draft. Months of team speculations and player evaluations translate to hope. That eternal hope that is the only reason many watch. A hope that remains unquestioned until the moment the team you cheer for, makes their selection. At that point, optimism turns towards doubt.

You remember the supposed “can’t miss prospects,” who woefully missed. Maybe, you wonder, we should have taken the other guy—and it’s always we or us, as if we are part of the team. Maybe the guy we drafted is too short. Maybe his low-level of collegiate competition made him appear better than he is. Maybe that knee injury from high school, never fully healed. Maybe his arm is too weak. Maybe he’s too short. Too fat. Too slow. Too dumb. Maybe because he’s all these things, picking him will set us back a decade. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. These are the mental games of the draft and no fan base feels both its hopes and frustrations like those of the Cleveland Browns.

By any measure, the Browns are the worst team in the NFL. There’s a good argument they are the worse team across all major sport leagues. They didn’t win a single game in the 2017 season and only won once in 2016. In the past 3 seasons, they’ve played 48 games and only won 4. They lost 44 times. You need not be a football or even sports fan to understand the dreadfulness of that ratio.

But now, it’s late April, a few months from the 2018 season and the Browns have yet another chance to improve their team. Within the first 40 minutes of the draft, so long as they pick the right players, the Browns can greatly improve their future and along with it, the lives of their fans—especially if they pick a franchise quarterback.

Fans often talk of a franchise quarterback in mythic terms. They play what’s supposedly the most important and difficult position in all of sports. Ideally, quarterbacks are the leaders, the hub which the entire franchise—even more; a city, a region, a world-wide fan base—revolves around. At the minimum, having a franchise quarterback means that for at least a decade, a team need not worry about filling the most important position in sports. At its best, having a franchise quarterback means teams are perennial Super Bowl contenders.

Because of what’s at stake, teams and their fans can lose themselves trying to find their savior. They’ll convince themselves that a prospect has something special. That this is him. This is the player that will help take away the pain of losing. And if he does, especially in a place like Cleveland, they’ll become immortal. Parents will name children after him. Fans will get a tattoo honoring the savior. The city will give him its keys and proclaim that day as his. If they win, everywhere they go, they’ll draw a crowd of smiling, thankful fans. “Thank you, thank you,” they’ll say, reaching out to shake his hand or at least, touch his shoulder.

But, if it’s not him, and rather than winning, losing continues, fans will shun him. They’ll call him a disappointment and others will freely proclaim their hate.

——————

There are contrasting emotions that come from being a fan. Therefore, even when cheering for the lowly Browns, their fans cling to hope. Of course, not everyone—though they remain a fan—is hopeful. Some, rather than calling themselves pessimists, claim themselves as realists. This is exactly how Nolan Conn described himself.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really think it matters,” Conn answers when asked who he hopes the Browns pick. “Anybody that we pick is going to blow…we have no defined organization, meaning there’s no process in place. Whoever we take, it’s going to be dysfunctional. There’s no answer.”

Conn is 25-years-old and from Cleveland. Within the context of sports, his friend described Conn as “very sad.” Whether he’s a pessimist, realist, or sad, Conn traveled from northeast Ohio to Arlington, Texas—host of this year’s NFL Draft. That’s over 1,200 miles and 18 hours away by car. If flying, it’s close to a 5-hour flight. That’s quite a distance to travel, especially if you think what happens today, matters little. And yet, because he can’t stop caring about the team that’s continuously given him heartache, he’s here—along with many other Browns fans.

If you walk around the draft’s festivities alongside Browns fans, you’ll realize that fans of other teams look at them a little different. Every fan base shouts things at others, especially rivals. Fans of the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles yell and point at each other. Fans of the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, along with a variety of others, do the same. There are a lot of faceless voices that randomly yell, “fuck the (any of the 32 teams).” Well, expect for the Jacksonville Jaguars. No one seems to care about them enough to hate them. On the other side of the spectrum, seemingly every fan base dislikes the New England Patriots. But of all the friendly and not-so-friendly mocking that occurs in the draft, fans take a perverse joy in saying things to Browns fans.

There’s a mocking tone with which they’ll randomly ask, “Who you taking number 1?” as if they know the answer is trivial and whoever they choose will become a name added to the long list of failed hopes. Some fans of other teams will randomly yell at Browns fans, pointing out how terrible their team is, like they’ve discovered that no one else knows. “Mistake by the lake!” yells a man, unprompted, who was just walking by and saw the brown-colored jerseys. He wore a jersey of the Buffalo Bills; a team who’s largely remembered for playing in 4 straight Super Bowls and losing them all. OJ Simpson played there. This is who mocks the Cleveland Browns.

And yet, others see someone wearing a Browns jersey and they’ll stare with a sympathetic glare. They say nothing but look. It’s the look of, “Damn. You root for the Browns. I feel so sorry for you.”

There are few things like waiting for the first pick of the draft. Some years, the pick is obvious. Other years, like now, there’s no clear consensus. This uncertainty wrecks fans—like those of the Browns—who have the most to gain from the draft. Theoretically, choosing twice in the first 4 picks, can propel the Browns into a winning future. But emotionally, so much heartbreak inevitably makes Browns fans hesitant to believe things will get better soon.

All things considered, Browns fans are among the most loyal in all of sports. Here in north Texas, the Dallas Area Browns Backers (DABB) are a group of over 300 fans who each Sunday during the football season, meet across 5 bars and cheer for their beloved Browns. Ken Hill, a lifelong Browns fan born and raised in Ohio, is DABB’s president. “Always been a fan,” says Hill who wears an orange-colored Cleveland Browns hard hat to match his orange-colored, sleeveless Cleveland Browns shirt. “Grew up hugging a football. From the time I was 12 years old, was going to be a professional player with the Cleveland Browns.”

Unlike Conn, Hill is older—born in 1952—and much more optimistic. He believes the Browns will win 8 games this upcoming season. Considering the past 3 years, this is a remarkable statement. To him, this draft and who the Browns pick, is pivotal. Hill, and everyone, knows they need a quarterback. And yet if they draft a quarterback who they’ve mistakenly identified as their savior, the Browns will not just continue their losing and suffering, but will live with the regret of another wasted draft. This is the impossible riddle that awaits Browns fans.

“I’m really nervous about all the latest rumors today that just came out about Mayfield,” Hill confesses with a genuinely worried look. Baker Mayfield is the quarterback from the University of Oklahoma. Mayfield is brash, maybe arrogant. He is talented, maybe too short. In the days leading up to the draft, there’s a sudden and surprising speculation that the Browns will draft Mayfield with their first pick—essentially tabbing him as their savior. A Cleveland sports-talk radio host is so convinced this is just one of the draft’s many wild rumors that he’s promised to eat horse shit if the Browns pick Mayfield first. This type of conviction does little to calm concerns of fans like Hill.

“I don’t think he’s big enough,” explains Hill of Mayfield who stands 6 feet and 5/8 inches tall and weighs 215 pounds. Leading up to the draft, prospects get prodded and measured. Numbers impact how we view these college players. Hence, besides knowing how fast they are, how high they jump, how strong they are, we know how tall they are and how much they weigh. Other projected top quarterbacks measure 6 foot 3 inches, 221 pounds; 6 foot 5 inches, 237 pounds; and 6 foot 4 inches, 226 pounds. In a game of giants, Mayfield is relatively average. But more than that, it’s a former player whose drawn comparisons to Mayfield that raises concern.

“I don’t need to go through Johnny Manziel number 2,” says Hill. Johnny Manziel was just as brash, maybe arrogant, talented and—just like Mayfield—short. In 2014, the Browns drafted Manziel in the first round. Not even 2 years later, the Browns got rid of Manziel after various problems, including allegations he struck his then-girlfriend and shattered her eardrum. As part of a plea deal, authorities dismissed the charges and Manziel entered rehab and anger management classes. Over 2 seasons with the Browns—and his only seasons in the NFL—Manziel played 15 games. It goes without saying but Manziel was not the Browns’ savior. Many Browns fans don’t think Mayfield will be either. Others, if they draft him, may talk themselves into believing he is.

——————

It’s a pleasant north Texas afternoon with the temperature in the upper 60s. There’s a slight breeze but overall, there’s nothing that would make a liar out of anyone claiming the weather is great. If it wasn’t for the emotions born from anticipating how the draft will take form, it may as well have been a perfect day. But instead, some Browns fans—Nolan Conn included—gather around a large screen set up outside AT&T Stadium telecasting the draft happening inside the stadium. They are surrounded by thousands of fans of other teams. Ken Hill was one of the lucky few who get to watch the draft from inside the stadium. As president of DABB, Hill says the Cleveland Browns organization sent him those tickets. The rest of us, stand outside and watch.

At 7:07, local time, the screen reads “Cleveland Browns On The Clock.” Conn is there with 2 friends. All three, hold blue, aluminum bottled beers and wear Browns-related clothing. Unlike his 2 friends that appear relaxed, Conn is visibly anxious. He continuously shifts his weight from one leg to the other. Conn walks around, pulls his pants up—as if it’s an exercise to burn the excess energy. He interlocks his fingers behind his Browns cap, and waits. Every 30 seconds or so, he’ll look up at the screen to see how much time remains before the Browns make their first pick.

Waiting for the first pick feels slower than the months-long process leading up to the draft; the speculation, the rumors, which teams will trade picks, which team will choose a players higher than expected, and which players—and by extension, the teams that picked them—are most likely to fail.

At 7:15, the screen says, “The Pick Is In.” Finally.

Conn stands with his arms crossed. A minute later commissioner Roger Goodell walks to the podium and all—both inside and outside the stadium and likely many others sitting at home—instinctually boo him. Many see Goodell as a dictator-type of commissioner. The booing stops when he speaks.

“With the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft,” Goodell says, “the Cleveland Browns select Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma.” The crowd—again, both inside and outside the stadium—groans. It sounds like a loud, “OHHHHHH!” Some laugh. No one cheers. Some fans look at each other in disbelief. “The Browns shit the bed again,” someone says loudly. Conn walks away from his friends.

“I think they wasted a pick,” Conn says, not even 2 minutes after the Browns’s first pick of the draft. “I know I said, ‘it didn’t matter’ earlier, but Darnold was the pick.” Sam Darnold, whom Conn thinks was the right choice, went to the New York Jets, 2 picks later. If Darnold becomes great and Mayfield does not, Conn and many others can claim they always knew. If Darnold becomes the Jets’ savior and Mayfield fails, it’ll mark yet another heartbreak for the Browns and their fans. Fans like Conn will grow old and tell their children and grandchildren something like, “I was there, standing outside AT&T Stadium, when the Browns passed on Darnold. It was a cloudy and rainy, horrible day.”

Their children may ask, “Darnold? The greatest quarterback that’s ever existed? The winner of 8 Super Bowls? He could have been on the Browns?”

“Yes, Baker. That Sam Darnold. He could have been one of us. But you know how that goes.”

The best and worst thing about the NFL Draft is that no one knows what will become of these players. Everyone’s opinion seems based on an expert’s assessment. Fans will talk of a player’s size, their strengths and weaknesses, as if they did more than just listen to a podcast, read a column, or watch a television segment in which an expert gave their evaluations. Those same evaluations that fans then, either consciously or not, pass off as their own.

But for all their knowledge, there are times when the experts miss on their evaluations. This is not a criticism but rather a statement that injuries, opportunities, or even getting drafted by a team like the Browns, can alter a player’s potential. Conversely, there may be a team that drafts a player—that no one expects anything from—who could become great. Perhaps even their savior.

Adding to the lack of immediate clarity, it’s also completely within the reason that a team may select a player and their fan base all agree that he was the correct choice, only to find out years later, the pick was entirely wrong. This is the maddening uncertainty of the entire process. But also, because no one knows what will become of each player, it keeps hope alive.

In some odd, round-about way, there are moments when it feels like the Browns fans are better able to understand the absurdity of it all. The NFL Draft is a traveling, fantasy world that sells the future for ignoring the present. Unlike others, the Cleveland Browns’ fan base seems to have their expectations grounded in the simple understanding that the brightest of hopes can turn to the darkest of failures. To lose, often in a gut-wrenching way, forces one to reflect on how much and why they invest in a team doing well. And yet, before we can consider them more enlightened than other fans, they—for a variety of reasons—are also the ones that despite knowing the likelihood that this will not end well, continue cheering for a team that’s continuously and historically, brought them more grief than joy.

 

 

 

The Importance Of Boxing Gyms In Latinx Communities

Originally published on BESE.com


Around 4:30 in the afternoon, they arrive. The youngest about 8, the oldest looks like he’s in his early 20s. Some come alone, straight from school. A few parents drop off their kids while two fathers accompany theirs. Every person who steps into the building—an old converted mechanic shop with lettering of what it once was still visible under a coat of white paint—shakes hands with those already there. It’s a small gesture, but it sets a discipline.

They tie their shoes as those who ran yesterday say so with relief. Those who’ll run today say it with dread, especially since it’s surprisingly cold and rainy for a late April afternoon in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. Some wrap their hands and put on boxing gloves, others reach for the jump rope. A loud, piercing bell signals another 3-minute round. With that bell the young boxers inside Vivero Boxing Gym train, each following a different order of a schedule written in black marker on a plain white sheet of paper that’s taped to the inside of one of the garage doors. Gene Vivero, the gym’s owner, watches.

Vivero bought the building and opened the gym 25 years ago. For 35 years he worked for Dallas Power and Light, beginning as a cable splicer, working inside manholes before retiring as a Field Construction Coordinator. There’s a picture of Vivero as a construction worker, wearing a hard hat and smiling. It’s almost lost among the various other pictures and posters of boxers. A former amateur boxer, Vivero opens the gym 6 times a week including weekends. He picked the Oak Cliff neighborhood largely for its affordability and because as a predominately Latinx area of Dallas—there’s 3 boxing gyms within a 1-mile radius—this is the type of place where boxing thrives.

“[Boxing gyms] kind of helps keep [kids] off the street,” says Vivero. “But personally, I like to tell them…You better find you something to do because this is a tough way to make money…you don’t want to bank on this. Because one injury and you’re out. One knockout and you’re out. I mean, that’s it. It’s over.”

Boxing is indeed a rough way to earn a living. For all those who train in gyms across the country, only a small percentage will turn pro. An even fewer percentage will make a living just from boxing. An even fewer, a small fraction of a percentage, will reach fame, glory, and fortune. And yet, despite the odds, world champions began in Vivero Boxing Gym. At an amateur level, the gym has also produced several national champions and even trained a few Olympians.

Across the United States, especially the southwest, gyms like Vivero’s are largely within Latinx communities. These are real, old school boxing gyms. The type where ring ropes get wrapped in duct tape. Where dried blood and sweat stain mirrors and walls. When it’s hot out, these gyms feel as if they’re boiling. When it’s cold out, the heating system can’t keep them from feeling frozen.

Beyond just teaching boxing, some of these gyms are community centers. They’ll offer tutoring, music, and English classes. Others help the parents of these young boxers study for their citizenship tests. Through it all, boxing remains the hub around which these activities revolve within these communities that get left behind. But, for better or worse, that is changing.

In recent years, like many other once-ignored areas, Oak Cliff has undergone a transformation. “They are building these houses, you know, they are remodeling,” Vivero explains how he’s seen the community slowly change since he’s owned the gym. This change has affected the area’s demographics as more “business people,” as Vivero calls them, move in.

Asked if he worries the increasing property taxes will eventually, like many other gyms, force him to either close or move, Vivero defiantly says, “They can move me out if they pay me enough. I’ll build [a boxing gym] down the street, you know. I mean…that’s the reason I came over here.”

By here, Vivero means Oak Cliff. And Oak Cliff is like many Latinx communities that, today, exists throughout the country. They may get altered and maybe even forced to move elsewhere. If they do, boxing gyms will also make that migration and remain pivotal to the communities. And when they do, people like Vivero will continue teaching the sport.

Unlike any other sport, boxing is more than just the act itself. It’s an outlet for a variety of things—anger, hope, frustration, dreams, etc. And every day Vivero is there, he sits on an old leather barber’s chair, surrounded by filing cabinets that act as lockers, and watches. He’s a strict but caring man. Quiet for minutes at a time as if he is contemplating something, but always watching. Like every gym owner in these neighborhoods, Vivero nows who’s new, who’s coming in, who hasn’t been there in days, who’s gloves belong to who, and who will run that day. 

He sits until, with his authoritative voice, he suddenly breaks his silence. “Don’t cross your feet,” Vivero tells a boy. The boy, about 8, purposefully crosses his feet and says, “What? Like that?”

“Yea,” Vivero answers, “don’t do that.”

Conscious of his footwork, the boy returns to punching the heavy bag, grunting each time. He punches until the bell rings. Sweating and panting, he walks over and drinks from a water fountain that’s likely been there for a quarter-century. Another boy walks in from the rain, shakes hands with Vivero and then with the other boy, and then gets ready to train. Whether it’s in Oak Cliff or another Latinx community across the United States, boxing gyms like Vivero’s, provide a place to do more than just fight.

“There’s no answer”: A Browns Fan’s Agony

IMG_3437A friend of his, described Nolan Conn as “very sad”—at least within this context. But within the first 2 minutes of talking to Conn, he seemed more pessimistic, even apathetic, than sad. “I know, I know, I know, I’ve been dealing with this for a long time,” Conn answers my claim of pessimist. By this, he means being a fan of Cleveland sports. And being a fan—even if a sad, pessimist, or apathetic one—he traveled from Cleveland to Arlington, Texas. This is where I met him and his friends, in the NFL Draft where the Cleveland Browns picked twice within the first four selections—the first and fourth picks.

By any measure, the Browns are the worst team in the NFL. There’s a good argument they are the worse team across all major sport leagues. They didn’t win a single game in the 2017 season and only won once in 2016. In the past 3 seasons, they’ve played 48 games and only won 4. They lost 44 times. You need not be a football or even sports fan to understand the dreadfulness of that ratio.

But now, it’s late April, a few months from the 2018 season and the Browns have yet another chance to improve their team. Within the first 40 minutes of the draft, so long as they pick the right players, the Browns can drastically improve their future and along with it, the lives of their fans—especially if they pick a franchise quarterback.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really think it matters,” Conn answers when asked who he hopes the Browns pick. “Anybody that we pick is going to blow…we have no defined organization, meaning there’s no process in place. Whoever we take, it’s going to be dysfunctional. There’s no answer.”

The NFL Draft has become one of the most popular sporting events precisely because it gives the illusion that, unlike what Conn suggests, there is an answer. Whatever question a team and their fans may have, a potential answer is there. And yet, many supposed right players have turned out wrong. Again, seemingly no other organization has picked more wrong players than the Browns. Maybe it’s bad luck. Or, perhaps Conn is right, it’s an organizational problem.

IMG_3477At 7:07 pm, the large screen set up outside AT&T Stadium telecasting the draft, reads “Cleveland Browns On The Clock.” I’m not even a Browns fan and I can feel the anticipation. I look towards Conn and while his 2 friends look relaxed, he’s anxious. I was wrong about Conn, he’s far from apathetic. He continuously shifts his weight from one leg to the other. Every 30 seconds or so, he’ll look up at the screen to see how much time remains before the Browns make their first pick.

At 7:15, the screen says, “The Pick Is In.” Conn stands with his arms crossed. A minute later that pick is announced. “With the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft,” commissioner Roger Goodell says, “the Cleveland Browns select Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma.” The crowd groans. It sounds like a loud, “OHHHHHH!” Some laugh. No one cheers. Some fans look at each other in disbelief. “The Browns shit the bed again,” someone says loudly. Conn walks away from his friends.

Maybe I should have left him alone, with his thoughts. But I didn’t and instead I asked him about those thoughts. “I think they wasted a pick,” he answered bluntly. “I know I said, ‘it didn’t matter’ earlier, but Darnold was the pick.” Sam Darnold, whom Conn thinks was the right choice, went to the New York Jets, 2 picks later. If Darnold becomes great and Mayfield does not, Conn and many others can say they always knew.

At 7:34, the screen says again, “The Pick is In.” Since Conn mentioned there were no answers and whoever they chose would fail, I don’t know what reaction to expect. I don’t know if there’s a player that would make him smile or nod in approval. I’m not sure he knows either. Still, he remains anxious. He walks around, pulls his pants up—as if it’s an exercise to burn the excess energy. He interlocks his fingers behind his Browns cap, and waits for the commissioner to announce the Browns’s 4th pick.

“With the fourth pick in the 2018 NFL draft,” Goodell says, “the Cleveland Browns select Denzel Ward, defensive back, Ohio State.” The crowd, again, groans. Conn, eyes wide, smiles but not of satisfaction. He motions to his friends—a thumb point behind him and raised by his jaw—it’s time to go. Sensing his frustration, they don’t disagree. I move towards them. “Before you go, Denzel Ward?” I ask. Knowing what I meant by my poorly phrased question, only Conn answered. “That’s crazy,” he says while rapidly walking away.