In 11 months in Northeast Ohio, Cleveland Browns defensive back Joe Haden has made a reputation as a thief on the field and the exact opposite off of it.
And with a random act of kindness made three weeks ago, he has set up a group of Canton-area kids for what they hope will be a memorable summer.
It was the last day of March when Mike Clapper, coach of a team 12-year-old baseball players in Plain Township, just outside of Canton, received word from a league official that the previous year’s sponsor had pulled out. Clapper was at work the next day on the computer when he decided he would go for a long shot, signing onto Twitter and sending a tweet to three different Browns players asking if they would be interested in sponsoring his team.
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“I just figured I’d take a stab in the dark,” Clapper said. “It wouldn’t hurt to ask, but in no way did I expect to get any response.”
A few minutes later, Clapper received a direct message from Haden’s popular Twitter account @JoeHaden23. It was Haden, asking for details on the sponsorship and how he could get the $325 to the coach.
“Well, at least I thought it was Joe,” Clapper said. “With Twitter, you don’t know if it’s actually somebody. And then I looked at the calendar and saw it was April 1st, and I really thought it might be somebody joking with me.”
Haden then called Clapper, not only alleviating his fears but allowing him to move forward with the deal. He reported back to league officials that his team had a sponsor via the Cleveland Browns and would be changing its team name to “Haden Nation.”
“Once the word got out, other people around our league said things to me like, ‘Aren’t you catching on? It has to be an April Fool’s joke,’ ” Clapper said. “But I talked to Sean (Cabble, Haden’s business manager) through the next week, and I kept kind of hoping. We met up and Sean gave me the money.”
Haden, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, had a stellar rookie season, with six interceptions. He has gained a reputation around Cleveland as one the most active athletes in the community. After celebrating his 22nd birthday last week, he hosted a charity bowling tournament.
“Giving the money to the baseball team (is) the least I could do,” Haden said. “I’m really fortunate to have grown up watching my father help people when he could. And now that I’m in the position to do the same, I’m always looking to do the same. It’s fun. I have a new favorite baseball team.”
Haden has fun with his off-field ventures, too. He showed up at a handful of Cavaliers games late in their recently completed season in full uniform, including a Baron Davis beard for one game.
“Completely dressed,” Haden said. “I had the (Anderson Varejao) wig, the jersey, the shorts and the high socks one night, and I went with the Baron beard the other one. The fans love it, and I love them for the way support us. I’m just having fun with it all.”
He’s promised to do the same at an Indians game later this summer. Depending on the NFL’s work stoppage, he might be picking up another baseball uniform for a trip to Stark County.
“I do tend to go all-in with things,” Haden joked.
Though it was too late to change the team’s jerseys or colors for this year, Cabble and Clapper have worked on “Haden Nation” T-shirts for the players’ parents and siblings to wear during the games. And when Clapper got the team’s hats earlier this week, he made sure there was an extra for the sponsor.
“The word is out, so everybody we play is going to bring us their best game,” Clapper said. “Wearing the Haden name is going to bring the extra pressure. These guys are young, and they’re going to have to handle it.”
That’s one of the lessons Clapper hopes his players will learn from this experience. The others come from a guy who was in position to help going out of his way to do so.
“He had no connection at all to us, no obligation to do this,” Clapper said. “That’s what sticks out most to me. I know a lot of pro athletes do great things in their hometowns or where they went to college. But for Joe to come here and, in addition to what he’s done in Cleveland, follow and support a team that’s an hour from Cleveland, that’s going to stick with all of us.
“We just want him to know, whether we ever see him again or whether it ever happens again, how much we appreciate it.”
Haden said he’s “been spending a lot of time with family” while NFL offseason activity is on hold. Now, he has a new family of sorts.
“I told them I was going to make it to some games,” Haden said. “Depending on what happens, I might even it make it to a couple practices. I’m going to jump right in.”