For the past two weeks, Kevin Stefanski has made his football-related roles secondary tasks as coach of the Browns.
Stefanski has spent most of his first offseason with the Browns conducting virtual meetings, building a playbook and settling into his new Cleveland home. Some of those activities, however, have been paused as protests against police brutality and racism continue across the country after George Floyd died May 25 in Minneapolis police custody.
Even though they're not together in Cleveland, the Browns have still taken action to spark change and urge players to make a difference. Guest speakers have been invited to speak in team meetings, and Stefanski has encouraged players to participate in peaceful protests and donate to charities supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
"My big message to our guys has been to get in the arena," Stefanski said Wednesday in a Zoom call with local reporters. "We are all about action, and I think we have some amazing people — both on the team and in this building — that have really provided some great resources to our players so they can become part of the action. We want to be a strong part of this community. We want to be a strong part of positive change, and I realize from my platform that I am able to affect change."
Stefanski marched in a peaceful protest with his mom and two sons last weekend in Avon and has invited several guest speakers to deliver powerful messages in team meetings. He cancelled all team activities Tuesday, the day of funeral services for Floyd, and has provided the team with podcasts and reading material about social justice.
Stefanski wants players to feel comfortable taking action, and he doesn't want those feelings to change when football activities resume in Berea. To keep that focus upright, Stefanski hopes to create a leadership committee with players who can continue to lead the Browns through meetings about social justice and establish positive change in Cleveland communities.
"We want to make sure that we are constantly staying in the dialogue on these issues because it is not something that is just going to go away," Stefanski said. "We want to make sure that we are constantly looking at this in ways that we can do better."
Change requires unity, and Stefanski is taking that stance to both community and team levels. He, along with several other Browns players, joined The Players Coalition on Wednesday in signing a letter to the United States Congress supporting a bill that would end qualified immunity, which makes it difficult to sue police officers for brutality.
The letter was signed by more than 1,400 other current and former players, coaches, general managers and staff members from the NFL, NBA and MLB. Prominent names include Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton and NBA coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr.
"We have to do better, and most of us believe that there has to be reforms of some sort," Stefanski said. "I thought this was something that is important for our support moving forward. We are trying so hard to give our players resources to get in the arena and act, because dialogue is great. Listening is outstanding. That is part of the healing process. But now is the time to make sure we are making positive change in our communities."
Support from professional sports teams and leagues will continue to be important in the pursuit of equality for African-Americans. Stefanski wants the Browns to be a leader in social justice, and he's ready to support players eager to use their platform and inspire change.
"One Zoom meeting is not going to solve this is in any way, shape or form, but I think unified action over the course of time can make a positive impact," Stefanski said. "My big note to our players is that I got their back. That is not just lip service – I am standing right there beside them. They have my support, and I promise you that we will continue to listen to each other from a place of mutual respect."