CLEVELAND -- Following their morning meetings and workouts at the team’s Berea training facility on Tuesday, several Cleveland Browns players visited with patients at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation.
“We’ve got such a good group of guys that look forward to going out in the community,” said Renee Harvey, vice president of community outreach for the Browns. “It’s really a part of who they are, and we’re so proud they’re a part of this team and community.”
Dr. Thomas Frazier, the director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism said, “It means a ton to our patients. Our patients really look forward to be out and live life more actively, so having the Browns come here gives them a window into that. It allows them to feel like they’re able to be athletes themselves and interact with these tremendous athletes. It’s really lifting their spirits. It’s fantastic when you get to see them light up this much. It really allows everyone to push through, even if it’s a difficult time.”
They played “Just Dance” on a Nintendo Wii system and air hockey, and shot basketballs at an indoor hoop. They also joined some of the children in a couple rounds of the card game, “Uno.”
“For them to give their time in the offseason during a time they are preparing for the upcoming season, and getting acclimated to a new coaching staff, it speaks to who they are as individuals,” Harvey said. “This is so much a part of who they are. Just as football is important to them, this is really meaningful to them as well. When they come out here, they forget about everything else that’s going on, and they dedicate this time to the kids they are visiting. They thoroughly enjoy themselves and to see them completely focus on the kids is amazing.”
The visit was especially personal for Hardesty and Hughes.
Hardesty’s younger sister was diagnosed with cancer when she was six years old, and now, at 17, is doing well. He remembered how her spirits were lifted by visitors to the hospital.
“I just want to come out and hopefully, I can brighten someone’s day,” Hardesty said. “(My sister) was in the hospital, similar to this, so I know sometimes how the feeling can be. I’m out here playing football, something I wanted to do since I was younger, and it’s crazy how much of an effect it has on other people. It’s real humbling for me to come out and do things like this.”
Hughes was inspired to start the Hughes Nation Foundation to help special-needs children, like his former neighbor, Percy. Hughes used to spend afternoons playing basketball and football with Percy while growing up in Columbus.
“If you can show up somewhere, just be present and put a smile on a child’s face, it means everything,” Hughes said. “I love coming out and doing things like this. Whenever I could, I would go over and spend time with my neighbor. He loved sports, so just to be in a situation where I can help people like Percy, that’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.”