The Browns will close their offices Friday in observance of Juneteenth.
Celebrated annually June 19, Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S.
More NFL teams and companies are recognizing the holiday this year, as the focus on racial injustice sharpens.
Protests have been held across the country for more than three weeks following the killing of George Floyd on May 25 when a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The shooting death of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta police officer Friday sparked further outrage and demonstrations.
Browns players have been vocal about the need for change, including quarterback Baker Mayfield, who wrote Saturday on social media that he will “absolutely” kneel this season during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial inequality.
“Everybody so upset about my comment doesn’t understand the reasoning behind kneeling in the first place … Nate (Boyer) and Kap (Colin Kaepernick) came to an agreement that kneeling was the most respectful way to support our military while also standing up for equality,” Mayfield wrote. “I have the utmost respect for our military, cops, and people that serve OUR country. It’s about equality and everybody being treated the same because we are all human. It’s been ignored for too long and that is my fault as well for not becoming more educated and staying silent.
“If I lose fans, that’s okay. I’ve always spoken my mind. And that’s from the heart.”
Receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry participated in a video of NFL stars demanding change from the league. It had an immediate impact, as Commissioner Roger Goodell posted a video the next day in which for the first time he encouraged peaceful protests from the players.
Browns and Columbus Crew owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam issued a statement June 1 along with Browns executive vice president JW Johnson and wife Whitney — the Haslams’ daughter — general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski, and Crew investor/operator Dr. Peter Edwards, GM Tim Bezbatchenko and coach Caleb Porter.
“With yet more tragic deaths, we, as a nation and as individuals, must truly create meaningful dialogue, have difficult conversation, demonstrate real empathy and take productive and non-violent action to address injustices,” the statement read. “We take great pride in our city and in our region and recognize the suffering in the African American community throughout the country. Although, we, like many others have worked to advocate for social justice, now more than ever, we must do even more to work collectively to end racism and bond together for justice and equality.”
Receiver Rashard Higgins has made a positive first impression on new pass game coordinator/receivers coach Chad O’Shea as he competes to be the team’s third wideout. Higgins signed a one-year, $910,000 contract as a free agent to return.
“What he has done is come in and embraced the new offense,” O’Shea said Wednesday on a Zoom conference call with reporters. “He has certainly worked very hard, and he knows that he has an opportunity. We brought him back because we believe he can help the team, and he understands that. That has been very clear.
“The biggest thing with him is physically he has been trying to put himself in a great position, and that starts with being as healthy as he possibly can, which is important for everybody. He has really embraced learning the offense, which is going to be really important for him, as it is for all of our guys in the room. I am really excited to have the opportunity to coach him.”
Higgins had four catches for 55 yards and a touchdown in 10 games last year.
O’Shea raved about the quality of the meetings during the entirely virtual offseason program, then stressed the importance of the rookie receivers immediately transferring the knowledge to the field. Sixth-round pick Donovan Peoples-Jones is the most noteworthy rookie wideout.
“There are going to be limited opportunities that you have to make the most of your opportunities with,” O’Shea said. “That is the biggest thing is there is going to be a small window, and they are going to have to nail it. If they are not prepared, they do not do their job in these virtual settings and they do not truly embrace what we are trying to do, it is going to be near impossible for them to have the opportunity to succeed.”
Mayfield has been a regular in the meetings of the other offensive position groups, inspiring O’Shea to echo previous praise from coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
“He is somebody that I obviously am very impressed with right now with his commitment and his work ethic,” O’Shea said. “He has had a lot of interaction and we have had a lot of interaction as a group together. I think that is very important for the position that I coach that we have a great relationship and we build trust with each other at the quarterback position.”
TOO SOON TO TELL
Browns center and NFL Players Association president JC Tretter isn’t ready to say whether training camp will start on time. It’s scheduled to open in late July.
“That’s a tough question,” he said Tuesday on “The Dan Patrick Show.” “It’s tough because you see how quickly things can change. It’s irresponsible to speak in any definites that far in advance.”
Tretter said the union is looking at things in two-week increments, repeating what he told local reporters last month.
Michele Green, president of the Professional Football Players Mothers Association, distributed a letter to media supporting their sons and vowing to work to eliminate police brutality.
“In the wake of the events over the past weeks, our hearts are extremely heavy,” Green wrote. “We, the Professional Football Players Mothers Association stand together with our sons that are current and retired NFL players, in support of the protests resulting from the cruel and senseless killings of African Americans. The ongoing deaths are a direct and deliberate result of the inhumane actions of law enforcement officers across the nation. This is unacceptable.
“The Professional Football Players Mothers Association is committed to finding opportunities that will turn this time of uncertainty into a time for positive change.”