CLEVELAND — The Browns players had company when they ran out of the tunnel for the season opener Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns were joined by Cleveland Police officers, first responders and members of the military in a show of solidarity.
After taking the field to applause, they stood on the sideline for the national anthem. Many of the officers and military saluted, some players put their hand over their heart and others linked arms.
Owner Jimmy Haslam stood at midfield at attention with his hand over his heart. Wife and co-owner Dee Haslam linked arms with tight end Seth DeValve and a police officer.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said after Cleveland’s 21-18 loss at FirstEnergy Stadium. “I think doing that shows the unity that this team is trying to promote between our football team and first responders, military, police and hopefully show a positive effort to move forward and to try to make America a better place for everybody.”
Players and members of the organization met with Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams, who participated Sunday, and other officers during the week to discuss a way to come together. Police union chief Steve Loomis had said police and other first responders would boycott participating in the scheduled flag ceremony after 12 players knelt in prayer during the anthem before a preseason game. Loomis changed his stance after the meeting.
The players knelt days after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., where neo-Nazis clashed with opposition groups, and said they were praying for racial equality.
Many fans expressed their displeasure to the organization, and a VFW post in Strongsville said it would stop showing Browns games. The Browns’ was the largest protest by an NFL team since former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began not standing for the anthem last season.
Hall of Famer and team adviser Jim Brown talked to the players after the anthem protest and encouraged them to find more appropriate ways to effect change in the community.
“It was huge,” coach Hue Jackson said of the pregame festivities Sunday. “We all are in this together, and that is what it is all about. I think whatever has gone on in the past, we let all of that go.
“I really appreciate our organization reaching out and them reaching back out to us and us being united towards doing things better. We love our police department and our military and everything they do for us, and we respect what they do. I think we showed that today, and I think that we showed that we are all together in this.”
A video was played on the giant scoreboards featuring rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, cornerback Jamar Taylor and tight end Randall Telfer among others discussing the importance of unity.
“We talk about protest to do this and protest to do that,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “What we kind of did before the game of everybody coming together is the point we’re trying to make — equality for everyone, everyone being in it together and pointing to the issues and saying if we work together we can fix those things
“That’s what our message was about and the actions that we did. So hopefully good can come from it and other people can see it and see what is trying to come across.”
McCourty thought the involvement of the Haslams was critical.
“That’s incredible,” he said. “When your owner shows just that they’re willing to get involved, it means a lot to us. And I know it means a lot to the fans.”