Freddie Kitchens says team’s unity will help DE Chris Smith during difficult time

Wednesday’s tragic news of the death of Petara Cordero, the girlfriend of Browns defensive end Chris Smith, left the entire organization in mourning. 

The Browns’ locker room will get through the difficult time together, head coach Freddie Kitchens said Thursday morning, because they _are _together, which is needed now more than ever.

“We try to build a culture around here where we hold each other accountable,” Kitchens said. “When you do that, you have to start caring about people. This goes beyond football. This was a 26-year-old young lady at the highlight of her life. Chris is a good dude. She was a good girl. We just want to support them any way that we can.”

The car accident that claimed the life of Cordero happened in the early hours of Wednesday, and the news had spread around the Browns’ facility before noon. It was a painful reminder that while the NFL is a high-pressure league, there are more important things in life than football.

“This is life, all right? We like to say different things about life and it really doesn’t matter but once it starts affecting you, it gets serious,” Kitchens said. “And that’s the way we should approach every area. That’s what we try to instill in these guys, so when you’ve got a bunch of guys who are close and are continuing to move in the same direction, it affects everybody because you end up caring about the person. A funny thing happens when you start playing this game of football. You just think you’re playing, you’re coaching. Everything is fine until life hits. And then when life hits, it’s kind of a reality check.”

… “Chris is on my mind right now. His family is on my mind, her family is on my mind. The four-week-old baby is on my mind. It’s a difficult time, but we’re going to get through it. There’s never going to be an excuse. We’re going to get through it. I promise you that, but we’re going to get through it together. And Chris is included in that, his family is included in that.”

Smith, who has been with the team since he signed as a free agent in March of 2018, is well-liked in Cleveland. His jovial personality endears himself to teammates and those who cover the team alike, and he’s never been afraid to break out his signature belly rub celebration.

He and Cordero had just welcomed their first child, Haven Harris Smith, in August, making Wednesday’s news that much more difficult to bear.

“The way we try to approach things is like I said, we want to become close,” Kitchens said. “I tell these guys all the time, this thing, this football season is about the journey. So you want to be around guys that want to be on the journey with you. To do that, you have to care about each other. If you want to get the most out of your team, you have to start, at some point, caring about each other. And when you do that, that builds relationships. And Chris is one of those guys. His smile is infectious. His personality is infectious. He’s just overall well-liked and of course everybody in that locker room is hurting for him.”

As is the case with anything in life, the clock keeps ticking and the calendar continues to move, meaning Smith, his family and Cordero’s family will be forced to adjust to their new, painful reality. Kitchens expressed the importance of Smith’s teammates in the grieving and healing process, and added none of it has to do with Smith being on the field. It’s about the brotherhood that Smith and his teammates have already established.

“I know this: When you go through bad things in life, you want people around you that care about you and that care about you for the right reasons,” Kitchens said. “And that has nothing to do with playing the five technique. It has nothing to do with taking on a tight end. It has to do with wanting your best interests in mind and getting you better from a personal standpoint. If nothing else, it puts things in perspective from the standpoint of in this thing called life, what’s important to you? Well, Chris is important to us. Chris is important to this locker room. And everything he’s going through, we feel.”

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