As players and coaches huddled on the practice fields after their walk-throughs Thursday in Berea, coach Kevin Stefanski wanted the players to make the decision: were the Browns going to practice?
The question needed to be asked as professional sports teams and leagues postponed workouts, games and more to draw attention to social justice issues and police brutality against Black Americans following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by police officers. The Browns have previously halted football activities this offseason to focus on creating dialogue and free conversation with team members, and Stefanski was open to doing it again.
Football was secondary. He wanted to do whatever made players most comfortable.
"I just felt it was important to let the players come together and have a voice," said Stefanski. "We started off involved, and then I just felt it was important to let the players come together and have a voice."
The Browns ultimately decided to cut their team practice in half. The first hour was spent on the field for workouts, and the final half was moved indoors, where the team could hold a conversation about what they can do toward furthering social justice issues in Northeast Ohio.
Stefanski, of course, was on board. He's always sided with players in discussions about improving the community. The Browns have a platform, and he's always encouraged players to use it.
"I am in the moment," he said, "and what this moment calls for is dialogue and unity. I think we are getting that in a bunch of ways from this football team. That is what I really appreciate about the guys we have."
The franchise as a whole has put those matters first this offseason.
In June, Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry made a video announcing the #BeTheSolution campaign, an initiative taken to encourage team employees and fans to sign up or donate toward social activism initiatives and reflect on what steps they can take to improve their community. The Browns have also had players participate in ride-alongs with police officers, engage in summits that brought citizens and city officials together for important dialogue and donate their time and money to local causes.
Stefanski wanted to continue that charitable, crucial culture no matter what day it was on the football calendar. During the virtual offseason, which included several team meetings about social justice issues and how players can take action, he established a social justice leadership committee of players who would help lead the charge. He said the committee has met three times since arriving back in Berea for training camp, and several of those players helped facilitate team discussions before and after Thursday's practice.
"There are a bunch of action items, so to speak, and things we are planning on doing with the NFL this season and things that we are doing in the community," Stefanski said. "We have had great assistance from our staff here at the Browns and explaining all of the resources that are available to the players. Just really getting their feel for what type of impact with which organizations they want to have an impact in the community."
The Browns also announced Thursday they're joining an alliance with the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers to develop a sustainable and direct strategy to address social injustice facing the city of Cleveland and all Northeast Ohio communities. The efforts will also focus on improving the relationship between law enforcement and its citizens, encouraging nonpartisan voting activities and increasing the opportunities for quality education for everyone.
"I think we all realized that all of us wanted to help make an impact," Stefanski said, "and we felt like we were stronger together."
Together. Unity. That's the basis of what Stefanski wants with his football team — no, with the whole Cleveland community — and the topic doesn't have to be about football.
By listening to his guys and shortening practice to leave time for a thoughtful discussion, Stefanski hopes to deepen that culture. Change can be made when professional athletes use their platform, and he believes the Browns made another step in that direction.
"We have had a really good day of dialogue, and I think it stems from a really good few months of dialogue," Stefanski said. "We want to figure out a way to help. We want to figure out a way to affect change. That, I think, is what you are seeing here today and you are going to continue to see in this building for as long as we are doing this."
Check out photos from the tenth day of Browns Camp