Jarvis Landry watched with a smile as girls from six high schools ran routes, caught footballs and envisioned themselves making the same plays as the five-time Pro Bowler.
Landry, an eight-year veteran whose leadership has made countless differences in the Browns locker room and Cleveland community, was giving the girls an unforgettable opportunity to take an even bigger step toward a career in football. He represented the Browns during the Girls High School Flag Football Jamboree on Tuesday at Jerome T. Osborne Sr. Stadium at Mentor High School and offered coaching instruction and took pictures and selfies.
Participants in the jamboree featured student athletes from Kirtland High School, Lake Catholic High School, Mentor High School, Nordonia High School, Perry High School and Strongsville High School.
"I'm happy to be here for the opportunity to continue to be here for the growth of our sport," Landry said. "Barriers are coming down every day in different parts of life and sports, and this is that introduction for women being able to play the sport."
Landry was partially inspired to take an active role in expanding football further beyond male borders because of his daughter, Joy, who's 4 years old. He said he'll encourage her to play football and any other sports and activities that she takes interest in as she grows up.
But Landry also wants to give that message to other women who are already dedicated to the sport. That's why he was holding a coaching whiteboard and offering instruction to the girls in their warmups before the teams competed in 7-on-7 games.
"I always tell my daughter that whatever you want to be, whatever you want to do, we're going to be the best at it," he said. "If that's football, if that's basketball, baseball, piano, swimming — whatever, we're going to be the best at it. That's the same message to these ladies tonight."
Landry was joined by Browns Chief of Staff Callie Brownson and scouting assistant Riley Hecklinski, two women who are role models to other women looking to find a career path to the NFL. Brownson and Hecklinski both spoke to the girls during a Q&A period after the games and told them about the importance of perseverance and not letting the male-dominated history of football get in the way of them pursuing their dreams in the sport.
"I was them at one point — loving football, but not really having the opportunity to play," Brownson said. "To be able to see them come out here and love what they're doing, learning the game and having a ton of fun with it, it's inspiring. It's inspiring to see the younger generation really, metaphorically speaking, take the ball and run with it."
"The biggest thing is you're giving the sport visibility, and not only visibility from the NFL and college football, but you're seeing women play this and high school girls play this," Hecklinski said. "So you're also going to see middle school girls play this and elementary school girls play this, and they're going to think, 'OK, I can see that and I can play football.' It's not just a barrier anymore, and the barrier can be completely broken because they see these girls here and they're breaking it."
Landry's participation and the organization of the event is part of the Browns' push toward making flag football a fully sanctioned varsity sport available to female student athletes through the OHSAA. In partnership with the Browns, Northeast Ohio Flag launched the first-ever All Girls High School Division in the state of Ohio. Girls flag football is gaining popularity in high schools and colleges throughout the country, and women's flag football is officially a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) varsity sport, thanks to a two-year partnership between the NAIA, the National Football League (NFL) and Reigning Champs Sports (RCX).
University Hospitals, the official healthcare partner of the Cleveland Browns and an avid supporter of Browns Youth Football programming, was also active throughout the event. In addition to having a certified athletic trainer and other assets onsite, University Hospitals used the event to raise awareness about the importance of cancer screenings, given October is when the NFL holds its Crucial Catch: Intercept Cancer initiative.