Browns general manager Andrew Berry challenges the team, social justice fanatics after George Floyd’s murder

They put flowers to cry and remember.

The same day the world paid its last respects to George Floyd, more than a dozen members of the Cleveland Browns office gathered to reflect on another life tragically interrupted by the police.

Tamir Rice’s life.

The group, which included head coach Kevin Stefanski, general manager Andrew Berry, and executive vice president JW Johnson, spent nearly an hour on June 9 visiting the Cleveland park where Rice, 12, was shot dead in November. 2014. And while they were standing together that Tuesday morning, they remembered where they were the moment they heard that a young black man, who had been throwing snowballs and playing with a toy shotgun, was shot deadly by the police within seconds of a squad arriving on the scene.

Five and a half years later, the same types of killings are occurring across the United States.

Five and a half years later, the same inequalities still exist as being black in the United States.

And in the wake of the recent murder of Floyd by the Minneapolis police, Berry challenged the Browns’ organization.

Berry, the youngest GM in the NFL at 33, sat at his computer the night of June 4, writing down his thoughts to the best of his ability. He looked at everything he had seen around the world.

Images of death. Feelings of despair. Destruction of property. Loss of innocence.

But the more Berry wrote, the more he erased. The words had to be correct. The message had to be clear.

In a few hours, Berry had woven almost 800 words of heartfelt emotion, an unfiltered vision of being the father of two young black children. A challenge too.

He pledged to donate $ 8,460 to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, in honor of Floyd and other recent victims of racial violence, including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and David McAtee, if at least 50 Browns employees would do one of three. stuff :

  • Spend at least 8 minutes and 46 seconds (the amount of time initially reported by a Minneapolis cop with his knee on Floyd’s neck) on one of the educational tools (such as movies, documentaries, podcasts) listed at the bottom of the email, and send a brief written or video reflection on what they learned or will do in the future.

  • Sign up for a social activism initiative.

  • Donate to a cause of social activism.

It was Berry’s call to action. But he made it clear to members of the organization that the moment was not about him. It was an opportunity to learn, grow and be agents of change in the community and the world in general.

At the bottom, he signed the memo: “Yours in Empathy, AB”.

The next morning, it was mailed to all non-player employees. The response was immediate.

“We got over 50 the first day,” Berry, one of the NFL’s two black general managers, said in a recent phone interview with ESPN. “That was the most moving thing: how quickly and aggressively the people we work with on a daily basis got involved in this matter.”

In a few days, approximately 70 participants had collectively raised more than $ 160,000 and counting, a figure that included donations from Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, who pledged to match all employee contributions. As of Monday of this week, the organization had raised $ 185,522.74 for 14 different charities. Berry has launched the same challenge to fans, past and present players, media and sponsors through the Browns’ #BeTheSolution campaign.

His hope is that 8,460 people will visit the Browns’ website to access the same educational resources and charity information included in the email that Berry sent to team employees, and then share a reflective video on what they learned from topic and how they will be more involved in social activism.

Although this is Berry’s first year as general manager of the Browns, the organization is no stranger to charitable work. In recent years, players and members of the organization have participated in a six-hour tour of the Ohio Criminal Justice System’s Listen & Learn, attended bond hearings, and visited inmates at the Cuyahoga County Jail. The Cleveland Browns Foundation launched a state initiative to improve school attendance. The organization donated $ 75,000 to the Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute as part of its commitment to social justice. And the Haslams organized a series of summits involving local players and law enforcement officers and government officials.

Although the organization has done a lot, it is determined to do more.

The players were given the day off on June 9, but Stefanski directed them to do something good in the community to honor Floyd, whose private funeral was held the same day in Houston. Meanwhile, Stefanski, Berry, and other front desk employees visited the site where Rice was killed.

Almost six years ago, former Browns catcher Andrew Hawkins wore a “Justice for Tamir Rice” jersey during the warm-ups before Cleveland’s December 2014 game against the Bengals. At the time, he explained to reporters, “My wearing the shirt was not a stance against all police or all police departments. My wearing the shirt was a stance against the wrong people who were doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. for innocent people. “

Now, more NFL players than ever talk about police brutality, systemic racism, and social injustice after the Minneapolis police assassination of Floyd fueled global protests.

Berry said he couldn’t bear to watch the video showing the last few minutes of Floyd’s life.

“Honestly … I couldn’t. I can’t see everything,” he said. “When I watch the video, I think of my two black children. I think of my brother. I think of my college roommates. People like that, who could be him … It just resonates too personally.”

Fear. Impotence. Anger.

“Probably any black man in America can see himself in that situation,” said Berry. “But I think it’s more the thinking of the people you love and you can’t necessarily control where they are at all times. You can’t protect them. I won’t be able to protect my two young children for life. And I’m sure they are the same feelings that my dad had for me and my brother. “

As one of only two black GMs in the NFL, Berry understands the power and importance of his platform. But his status within the league is not what prompted him to send the email to Browns employees, he said.

“It is more than I want to see tangible and meaningful action around this cause because I think it is the right thing to do,” he said. “What struck me is that we have had several of these types of incidents throughout our history, and certainly in recent history.

“And I think the emotion, the passion, the things that people feel now, at some point, the emotion is going to decrease a little bit. At least nationally. And the important part is being able to channel that energy into something that is productive. ” and actionable so that all these tragedies do not happen in vain. “

“… the things that people are feeling now, at some point, the emotion will diminish a little … And the important part is to be able to channel that energy into something that is productive and actionable so that all of this tragedy does not they happen in vain. ”

Browns GM Andrew Berry

Berry credited Stefanski and the veteran players for participating and encouraging dialogue about recent events during team meetings. But Berry did not see the same level of collective commitment on the commercial side of the building.

Then he started to think about it. He then shared his idea for the email challenge with the property, Stefanski, Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, Senior Vice President of Communications Peter John-Baptiste and several trusted colleagues. On the morning of June 5, Berry’s email went out.

The GM recorded his video message for the Browns community. He said he is not concerned about receiving criticism from fans who are frustrated by social justice issues seeping into the sports domain.

“There are some things that are bigger than football. And I think this is one of those things,” said Berry. “For me, this is not a political problem. It is a human problem. Eradicating racial injustice is something everyone should be behind.”