Police, military to join Browns in show of unity


BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns will join with police and other public safety officials to make a statement about unity before Sunday’s opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Players, city officials and team executives confirmed this week that the Browns will be joined by Cleveland police officers, firefighters, EMTs and members of the U.S. armed forces as they run onto the field before the game.

Additionally, the organization will show a video before the national anthem aiming to express solidarity with the community and stress the importance of diversity and equality.

The public safety officials will also stand with the players for the anthem. Players said they asked the Haslam family, the team’s owners, to stand with them as well.

Players have also talked recently about developing a sort of “neighborhood plan” to create dialogue within communities and to help them. They’ve inquired about going on ride-alongs with the police, and they hope to host town halls with police officers to discuss relations between the police and the community. They are also discussing other ways they can be active in the community with the police.

“We all have one job, and the main job is to treat others as you want to be treated and make sure you [embrace] each other in the right way,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said this week.

The decisions were made at the players’ suggestion and after discussions with the Cleveland Police Department.

“It means that people are willing to sit down and work together to come up with actual solutions rather than just talking about what’s wrong and who’s at fault,” Police Chief Calvin Williams said. “That’s what the Browns have come to the table and said: ‘We want to be able to talk to folks and start a dialogue.’

“Which is kind of what … if you want to call it a protest or what their prayer was about — to start a dialogue, to start to talk about some of these issues and try to come up with solutions.”

Discussions about the pregame began eight days ago, when seven players joined owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam and other members of the front office for a frank discussion about why some players had decided to kneel in prayer during the national anthem before the team’s second preseason game, and why they had linked arms while standing before the following games.

Players present were linebackers Kirksey and Jamie Collins, tight ends Seth DeValve and Randall Telfer, defensive backs Ibraheim Campbell and Jamar Taylor, and receiver Ricardo Louis. All seven are between 23 and 27 years old.

The Haslams, joined by Player Development Director Ron Brewer, said they wanted to understand the players’ message and to see whether and how the organization could support and amplify that message.

From that hourlong discussion came the goal of channeling concerns into action. As a result, the team hopes to make Sunday’s pregame about unity.

Williams and other members of the Cleveland Police Department met with players Thursday afternoon to share ideas and discuss plans. During the meeting, Telfer talked of seeing people in town wearing T-shirts that read “Cleveland against the world.” Telfer said he wanted that image to come across Sunday — the notion of Cleveland standing together to face issues related to race and equality.

“We want to unify and not create a disconnect between us and our fans or anyone else watching the games,” Telfer said. “We don’t mean any disrespect toward the flag, the national anthem, law enforcement or any civil servant. We have a clear vision of what we hope this nation and this community can be like. Those are the steps we’re taking.”

“The players led this,” Williams said. “They were the ones saying, ‘We want to get out in the community to start talking about this.'”

The Browns’ efforts are, in part, a response to a recent series of racially charged events throughout the country and the league. This week, Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett accused Las Vegas police of using excessive force against him. White supremacist rallies engulfed Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. And former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned after kneeling in protest last season during the national anthem.

Browns players took a knee as a group in their Aug. 21 preseason game against the Giants and said they did so to pray for the country. No one complained about the reaction they received, but some said they recognized that the kneeling overshadowed the message they were trying to convey.

“Until we start talking about race and equality and building up neighborhoods and working together, we’re not going to be able to solve the problem,” Dee Haslam said. “They want to go out and talk about it, and they want to do it with the police force.”

“We understand that [police] are here to protect and serve,” Telfer said. “That’s what we’ll focus on. They’re humans too, and people too. The humanity aspect is what we need to get back to.”

Sunday’s actions come against the backdrop of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president Steve Loomis telling cleveland.com that members would not hold the flag on Sunday, despite Williams saying that the police have had “a great relationship with the Browns since I’ve been a police officer.”

The Browns typically have an oversized flag that is usually held by fans and civil servants. On Sunday, members of the military nonprofit United Service Organizations will hold it.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding as to what the players were really trying to accomplish with the prayer that they did,” Williams said. “And the response by some folks in law enforcement was kind of over-the-top also.”

Loomis released a statement after news broke of the Browns’ actions, saying, “We have accepted their invitation and the Chief’s office is detailing 20 members to participate in this event. Once again Cleveland has risen above the fray and has demonstrated that respectful communication is the key to solving any problem. We can always accomplish much more good by standing, communicating and working together than we ever will by standing apart.”

Dee Haslam said the team believes in standing for the flag and being patriotic, “but we also know that we’ve got to have actions in our community, and that’s what we’re so proud of for the players,” she said. “They were saying, ‘Let’s get out in the community and actually do something and not just talk about it. Let’s stand together during the anthem in brotherhood, and then we’re going to do something in our communities.'”

Browns Hall of Famer Jim Brown had also urged players in a team meeting to take positive steps and to talk with the team’s ownership, because Brown felt they would be supportive.

“Of course they have our support in this,” Haslam said. “These are the kind of discussions that need to be happening all over America. You talk about what’s the solution and get involved in your communities. That is what makes a difference.”

“I don’t want to just be the type of person to talk about it,” Kirksey said. “It’s got to be more about actions, and us going out there and showing people we are really serious about it.”

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