For months, the Browns have gone virtual in every way possible to avoid any additional risk posed by COVID-19. Even during the throes of the season, Cleveland's players and coaches retreat to their residences, look into their digital device of choice and try their best to accomplish what's on the agenda.
It hasn't been easy and it hasn't been much fun. It's just what the team — just like millions over others around the world — have had to do.
Now, think how it must feel for those without the same kind of resources as an NFL franchise — those who can't afford the kind of technology required to go through something as simple and necessary as a day in the classroom. That realization hit home with Browns players, including members of the team's social justice leadership committee, who have used their elevated platform to help make a difference in their community.
On Tuesday, Browns players engaged in a virtual listen and learn discussion with East Cleveland City Schools students and educators o directly hear about their successes, their challenges and other important educational and leadership topics.
"A lot of times, we do not understand the basic needs and necessities that people on a day-to-day basis do not have access to," Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi said. "A lot of times, we feel like everybody has access to a computer, a laptop and internet access, but that is not always the case, seeing the numbers and seeing how staggering the divide was in certain homes that had no internet connectivity at all and no access.
"Due to the fact that everything is moving virtual, people can't be in school physically and everything is online. If you have no internet or bad internet, it makes the learning process so much more difficult for these kids. That is a disadvantage that is unfair to them."
Through the "Stay in the Game! Keep Learning, Every Day" Network, the Browns on Friday announced the distribution of $350,000 to East Cleveland City Schools to address educational needs related to the digital divide as part of the NFL's Inspire Change grant program. They shared the news Friday with representatives and students from East Cleveland City Schools during a team meeting.
"We firmly believe that education is the key to success for Northeast Ohio and all of our shared communities," said Dee and Jimmy Haslam. "Our family and the Browns remain dedicated to providing educational resources and opportunities to schools and students, and we greatly appreciate our players' and coaches' significant contributions to this collective effort that will benefit East Cleveland City Schools. Every child deserves equal access to a high-quality education, and we all must continue to unite together and address any and all existing barriers, including those related to the digital divide."
East Cleveland City Schools, one of the 16 "Stay in the Game" partner school districts that encompass more than 110,000 students across Ohio, will receive $350,000 from player, coach and team contributions to provide families, students and educators with the tools, training and equipment necessary to enhance their educational efforts, which are even more paramount now due to remote learning needs as a result of COVID-19 protocols.
"I feel overwhelmed that the Browns are leveling the playing field of education," said Marc Antony Johnson, a student at Kirk Middle School. "My friends and schoolmates sometimes feel that because of where we are from and how limited our resources are, that we don't' matter. The Browns caring enough to help us goes a long way to make us feel like a whole student!"
The Cleveland Browns are dedicated to improving the quality of education for students in Ohio by making investments that ensure kids are engaged and present every day so they can succeed, highlighted by the "Stay in the Game! Keep Learning, Every Day" Network.
"With the additional chrome books, we can ensure accessibility of all students during this difficult time and provide everyone with reliable access to the curriculum," said Amanda Stanoszek, a teacher at Shaw High School. "The hotspots and internet access are an investment in our students and our community that will make a tremendous difference. Thanks to the Cleveland Browns for all they have done! We are EC!"
The "Stay in the Game!" Network is a statewide initiative designed to promote the importance of school attendance and put an end to chronic absenteeism. The team engages local school districts and promotes quality education by using attendance data and feedback from families to build a school-going culture, uncover and reduce common barriers to attendance and support engagement opportunities for students to thrive.
The Browns are highlighting the "Stay in the Game!" Network's commitment to promoting equal educational opportunities for all students and school districts, as well as combatting chronic absenteeism, throughout Sunday's home game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Select Browns players will wear "Stay in the Game!" t-shirts during pregame warmups to show their support and further bring light to the significantly negative impact of chronic absenteeism for educators, families and students.
"Education is paramount. It is the cornerstone and the foundation of a lot of things. In my family personally, education was always a foundation," Ogunjobi said. "For a lot of things in life, you want that education so you can open doors just to have those conversations and to be able to articulate yourself and move in a certain way. When kids do not have that, it puts them at a disadvantage because it is a different time. Being able for them to get this education and this information in such a new day and age when everything is so technological, it is important for us to bridge the gap, get internet connectivity to these kids and these families – not just for kids, it is for the parents. So many more doors are open when you are connected."
Fans are encouraged to support the "Stay in the Game!" initiative and its efforts to address the digital divide by donating gently used desktop computers, laptops, monitors and other computer accessories to be refurbished and redistributed by PCs for People to low-income families.
Browns players are hoping fans follow their lead in helping bridge the digital gap.
"To see everybody come together, donate and really just put action behind their words is extremely heartwarming," Ogunjobi said. "We just never know what somebody can need. We never know that this one thing may change somebody's life forever. To be able to help in any capacity is extremely important. For us to be able to raise this money and be able to make such a large donation to such a really good cause is extremely amazing."
All school faculty, students and family members are encouraged to take the "Stay in the Game!" attendance pledge at Get2School.org, which also hosts exclusive Cleveland Browns learning content and various educational resources throughout the year.