Press Conference

Kevin Stefanski: 'My big note to our players is that I got their back'

On how he is feeling since he has ties to Minnesota and his relationship with Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff and their collaboration on social justice issues:

"First, I will start with we are in Week 7 of our offseason program so the players to their credit and to the coaches to their credit, we are working. All the while, like the rest of the word, we have been spending a lot of time talking about social justice. Certainly, my big message to our guys has been to get in the arena. We are all about action. 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. You mentioned J.B., and we want to be a strong part of this community. We want to be a strong part of positive change, and I realize that from my platform that I have here, I am able to affect change. Something that (former NFL WR) Anquan Boldin said in a meeting a couple of days ago that we were in, 'Attach your name.' That is something that I take seriously. While I am attaching my name and I am leading a football team, I want these guys to know the impact that they can have. Some of the things that I have read or I have watched, some of the messages out there have been so enlightening – whether it is (Dolphins Head Coach) Brian Flores, (former NFL LB) Emmanuel Acho, (Colts Head Coach) Frank Reich, (49ers DB) Richard Sherman, (ESPN NBA analyst) Jalen Rose, (Warriors Head Coach) Steve Kerr or the (Patriots DBs Devin and Jason) McCourty twins – just different ways people have expressed this message, I think has been incredible and the dialogue is great. Now J.B., our team and our players, we are going to work towards some action items to make sure that we leave a positive impact out of all of this."

On his reaction to the NFL acknowledging that it had not done enough and didn't listen to players the way it should have:

"I am just so keen on dialogue with our players and listening. My big note to our players is that I have their back, and that is not just lip service. I am standing right there beside them. They have my support, and I promise you one thing, we will just continue to listen to each other from a place of mutual respect."

On his position on players engaging in social justice efforts and players potentially kneeling during the National Anthem:

"My position is I want to make sure I support our players. First things first, I want to make sure I sit down with them and talk. We have started the process in that dialogue, but I can't speak necessarily to the future in that regard. I can just promise you this, we will spend as much time as needed to make sure that we are all on the same page and we are a united front from a player, staff, you name it [standpoint]. 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. We want to make sure that that we are constantly, constantly looking at this in ways that we can do better. I really would love to first sit down with our social justice committee, sit down with our captains and sit down with the leaders of this football team before we talk about things in the future."

On his reaction to watching everything that has occurred related to George Floyd, given his time in Minnesota:

"I spent a lot of time there and had three kids born there so that state and that city is in my heart, and it was sad. It was heartbreaking. It was frustrating. It was maddening. It was all of those things. My reaction was just like the rest of the country. I know this, there are some special people there and there are some special people in this city, and I think we are all going to work together and unite to make sure that that we are in a better place through all this. Not to mention, it is Wednesday, and yesterday was the funeral for George Floyd so that was a solemn day. We canceled our meetings and we canceled our workouts yesterday so that we could give that day its proper due. We really can never lose sight of that."

The Browns' roster as of June 10, 2020.

On joint practices being canceled by the NFL and if the team can get all of the necessary work done to prepare for the season during training camp, given the team can't meet in person now and other COVID-19 protocols that will be in place prior to the season:

"Obviously, disappointed we are not going to be able to have joint practices with Green Bay leading up to our preseason game. I think it is always valuable to work against a different team, a different-colored jersey at that point of camp. I think it is helpful to go against a different scheme. That defensive scheme is different than our defensive scheme that we will be facing in camp so there is some value. In terms of the protocols, whatever the rules are, we will play by the rules. We are like every other team. We are all in the same boat. I think the message has always been and will continue to be we just have to find a way. To our players' credit, the way they are learning on these Zoom calls, to our coaches' credit, the way they are teaching, the workouts that the players are doing and some of them are in their garages that have been retrofitted as gyms, they are just finding a way. I think it is a great message that the players are living out live in living color here because that is a message we talk about during the week leading up to a game. We are aware of the rules and we will play by the rules, just like the other 31 clubs."

On if communication with players has changed much since he returned to the facility:

"Nothing has changed from a standpoint of how we are reaching our players and teaching the systems, if you will. What we did with this building being open, we have made it optional for our coaches who are in town that want to come in to work from their office like me. It is amazing, all of the guys who have kids rushed into the office – shocking (laughter). The guys who are getting their work done in their own home office are the guys who are out of town. We did not feel the need to mandate that they be here while the players are not here so we are continuing on our Zoom curriculum."

On his statement that he wants the team to be unified on social justice topics and in the event Browns players decide they want to kneel during the National Anthem, will he want it to be something they do together as a team or if he will leave the decision to individual players:

"That is a good question, and the honest answer is I do not know. I want to make sure when we get together… That is one of many issues we need to talk about in this movement, if you will. That is something that I promise you we will spend as much time as necessary as an organization listening to each other, understanding each other and then we will make a decision together. I hesitate to say because I want to make sure that I am sitting with our guys on things like that."

On if the conversations on social justice topics may continue into the fall when the team takes the field:

"Yeah, my message to our players right away… We have spent every meeting addressing this. I have a team meeting at one o'clock. We are going to continue to talk about it. We brought in some guest speakers to talk about it. One Zoom meeting is not going to solve this in any way, shape or form, but I think unified action over the course of time can make a positive impact. PJB (Senior Vice President of Communications Peter John-Baptiste), myself and this organization, we are trying so hard to give our players resources to get in the arena and act because dialogue is great and listening is outstanding – that is part of the healing process – but now is the time to make sure that we are making positive change in our communities."

On if something in particular has stuck out from what guest speakers or players on the team have said during discussions on social justice and examples of how he plans to use his platform going forward:

"I do not want to get into specifics necessarily of what guys have shared, but it is exactly what you would anticipate. There has been some frustration among all of our guys, but I promise you this, there has been a very unified message from all of our guys that they want to be part of this change. Simple things like donating, a lot of us are in the position to donate so we gave them some resources and some places to go educate themselves on which charities maybe they should donate to. Gave them some reading materials and some listening material podcast wise in terms of educating because we talk so much about listening. We gave them some things that they can listen to. I encourage them to attend a peaceful protest or attend a rally. I went [to a protest] with PJB. I brought my two young boys. My mom is in town, and she came with me. My wife stayed back with my daughter, who is too young, but we went to a peaceful protest this past weekend. That was the first time I have ever been to one. It was empowering. You saw the passion. You saw the frustration. You saw the love. I think it was just a really enlightening moment for me, and I was able to share that with my boys at a young age. I think that is part of this is making sure that we are doing everything in our power to educate each other and especially the next generation."

On where he attended the peaceful protest and the nature of it, and who are some of the guest speakers that have or will speak to the team:

"I am so sensitive. I want to promote the message and I do not want to promote myself, but this is so important and I go back to Anquan Boldin, 'Attach your name.' I went to one in Avon, the protest that I was at this past weekend. Today, we have (former New York State Chief Deputy Attorney General) Alvin Bragg speaking to the team. He is someone that went to Harvard with (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul DePodesta. He is running for district attorney in Manhattan currently. He is in the social justice arena from a legal standpoint so he is going to share some things with the players today. Again, I say all that to say we are trying like crazy to educate our players, educate ourselves and do everything that we can – remotely for now – to give our guys some tools to make a positive change."

On the logistics of being back in the building and dealing with major back-to-back issues in the country with COVID-19 and social injustice:

"The building, I would say it is interesting. There are some street signs and one-way hallways, and you are wearing your mask everywhere and you maintain social distance. These are the protocols, and this is to stay safe and this is to make sure that we have a safe environment for our staff, for our entire building and for our players. This is what is required, and we are going to adhere to the protocols to the T. It is different, though, as you can imagine. When you are walking around the building and you are wearing those masks, you kind of have to stare at them real closely to see who that person is. It has been interesting. As it relates to the second part of the question, I am lucky that I have some really good people around me so I am fortunate that I can lean on people on staff, people in our front office and our players as we navigate some unique times."

On the recent Players Coalition letter and many Browns players being included in it, in addition to him:

"Credit to the Players Coalition, which is doing some amazing work in terms of educating our players and giving them resources. That was something that they brought to our attention last week. I did my homework. I did my research. Again, I go back to 'attach your name.' That is part of this is knowing that we have to do better, knowing that I would say most of us realize that there have to be reforms of some sort. I just felt like that this was something that was important to support moving forward."

On how close the Browns roster is to complete and how the virtual offseason impacts decisions about bringing in new players at this point of the year, given rosters are mostly set by this point in a typical offseason:

"I do not know. I will tell you (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew (Berry) and his staff every day, I am sure, are thinking about ways to improve the roster. Like you said, on June 10 in a typical year, your team is mostly set. I think that is probably a better question for Andrew and his crew, but I do not think it is news to say they are always looking for ways to improve our roster. I really like the guys we have. I am excited to work and really enjoy working with our guys virtually. I am excited to see them, to get on the practice field and do all of those things, but an NFL roster, week to week, year to year, month to month, as we know, is constantly evolving."

On his reference to a Browns leadership committee and how players were selected to be on it:

"I should say that is something I want to do. We are not there yet. When we get back in the building together – at least that is how we have done it in the past – we will make sure that we have a leadership committee. The good news is we have some guys who are leaders already right now, guys that I can pick up the phone – and I have – to call and get some feedback, I can ask them questions and they can ask me questions. I am comfortable from that standpoint. It is something when we get back together that we will certainly have committees that the rest of the team, should they need something, can go to those type of guys."

On if he is proud of how players like WRs Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., DE Myles Garrett and C JC Tretter have already spoken publicly about and taken action on social justice topics:

"No doubt. We have pointed those guys out in our meetings throughout this time. The Browns are an important part of this community. I have seen it firsthand. The impact our guys can have in the Cleveland community and really around the country is something that I know they are taking very seriously, and I commend them for their efforts."

On if the virtual offseason has allowed him to get to know the team more intimately in some ways, compared to how camaraderie would be built in normal circumstances:

"It has. I am just so sensitive to not just worrying about the Xs and Os right now. It is important. We are installing and teaching a new offensive system and a new defensive system so we have a curriculum to achieve that. Starting next week, we will be in review mode so we are out of install phase, but it is still a matter of with teaching, you can't just hit it once and it is done. We have to go back, review and build upon the foundation we have started to lay. All the while, we have to come together as a team. The challenge has been to come together while many miles apart. It is a challenge but not something that we can't do. We have tried a few different things. We have some unique people on this team, I will tell you. Again, anything to kind of get a laugh, keep this thing as loose and start to come together. That is going to be a challenge when we do physically come together, as well. It is something I am thinking very seriously about. As important as the Xs and Os are, we are working really hard on the team building aspect, as well."

On the leadership Berry continues to show, including through social justice efforts:

"Andrew has been outstanding. He is my neighbor right now, my temporary neighbor. I think the world of the guy. He is not afraid to lead from out front. He is not afraid to put others in the spotlight and get behind others. He has my full support. I know he has been supporting me. In moments like this, you get to see guys like Andrew step up, and he has certainly stepped up in this regard. I am really proud of him. I think he has done a great job, I think there is more to be done and I think you will continue to hear from Andrew on this topic."

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