Dee and Jimmy Haslam (8.16.20)

Dee and Jimmy Haslam:

Opening statement:  

Dee Haslam: “Hi, everybody. It is good to see you. Really excited to see you, even from a distance today [at practice] it was good to see you. I hope your families are safe and that you guys are doing OK. We are really excited to be back in the building obviously. It is great to be out there with the players and be involved. I can tell you this, and you probably could sense it, too, we really missed the fans. It has made a big difference not having them out there with us. Just really strange and miss our fans so much. I am sure the players do, too. That has been something that has been very different. We have done everything we can to make sure that our players are safe. We have put in all the COVID protocols that the (NFL) Players Association and the NFL planned and approved, which has been outstanding. Our team and our facilities people have done an amazing job with our building. It has been completely transformed to make sure that our players are socially distanced, can be in a safe space and of course, they always have their masks on – everybody in the building, unless they are playing on the field. Big shout out to (Senior Vice President of Player Health and Development) Joe Sheehan, (Head Team Physician and University Hospitals) Dr. James Voos and University Hospitals for helping us be successful with this plan. I feel really good about it, and I think the players feel very safe. It created a really good environment to be successful.”


Jimmy Haslam: “It was good to see you all, although at a distance, on Friday and today. It is eerily quiet out there as you all observed. Dee is right, we miss the fans. Normally, we would have had three or four thousand people out there today. I think players, coaches – I can’t speak for you all – but certainly ownership missed having our great fans out there and giving them the opportunity to see our guys up close. I would echo what Dee said, I think our staff at the Browns but really a shout out to the NFL, the Players Association, which of course (C) JC (Tretter) is heading up, have done a tremendous job of putting what I would say is the best possible protocol to keep everybody safe and healthy out there. Obviously, really pleased with the job (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew (Berry) did in the offseason in terms of free agents he added and the draft. It is good to meet and see those guys up close. I think (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) has put together a great staff and is off to a good start, although I think we all understand we have a long way to go and we have just had two real practices so far and go into pads Monday so we will learn more there.”


On if the Browns have finalized plans related to potentially having fans at FirstEnergy Stadium this season:  

Jimmy Haslam: “There has been a task force of Ohio State, pro baseball [teams] – I don’t know if pro basketball is involved – and pro football [teams] that have been working closely with the governor’s office for the last 8-10 weeks. We have also been working closely with the City of Cleveland. I think both of those have gone well. We have put a lot of time, effort and resources into ensuring that if we did have ‘20 percent fans’ it could be a safe experience. We feel good about that opportunity. Obviously, the final decision is up to the governor, but we are ready and excited to go, and I think the City of Cleveland feels the same way.”


Dee Haslam: “We have put in just as much time into the facility, the energy we have put in there, we have also put that energy into – no pun intended – making sure FirstEnergy Stadium is as safe as it can be and all the safety protocols are in place.”


On if there is a deadline for making a decision on if fans or how many fans can attend games at FirstEnergy Stadium this season: 

Jimmy Haslam: “I think in the world we live in, we are big planners, but that is not realistic today. We have a great plan in place. It will be up to the governor of the state of Ohio to bless or not bless that. We have actually taken them through that, and we will just have to see how that goes. I would not want to speculate that it needs to be a week or two weeks ahead of time. I think you will hear us say this a lot today, everybody has to remain fluid and flexible in everything we do. I think we have all learned to do that over the last four or five months.”


On Browns players, including QB Baker Mayfield, who have said they will kneel for the national anthem and if they are prepared to deal with whatever fallout may follow:

Jimmy Haslam: “One of the great things about this country, one of the many great things, is the ability to have freedom of speech and being able to express yourself so we are going support our players. At the same time, I think all too much attention is called to whether somebody kneels or stands or what their statement is and not nearly enough attention is called to what they do afterward. Dee and I can issue some great statement, but what you all really ought to look at is what ourselves, our coaches and our players are doing the rest of the week, if you will, to make this country a better place to live, work and raise a family.”


On if the Browns are prepared to deal with any fallout or negative responses to players or the team kneeling for the national anthem:

Jimmy Haslam: “We are [prepared]. I think one of the unfortunate things in the country today is that there is not enough thoughtful dialogue like, ‘Baker, tell me why you think it is important.’ Or if so-and-so is not kneeling, ‘Tell me why you are not kneeling.’ There is just all of this condemnation from one side versus the other, rather than everybody trying to understand, ‘Well, why is that important to you, Baker? You are a thoughtful young man. You understand the ramifications.’ We are going to be fully supportive of our players, no matter what they decide to do. We just ask that as a country we have a lot more thoughtful dialogue.”


Dee Haslam: “I think you said it really perfectly. It is listening to each other and learning from each other. I know Andrew Berry launched the #BeTheSolution campaign, and the biggest part of that was to listen and learn – listen to each other instead of just throwing somebody under the bus for not wanting to believe the way you want to. That is what makes our country great is we can be different, have different beliefs and be respectful about that. Somewhere along the line, we completely lost that respect, and the civil discourse, [the respect] is gone. Hopefully, we can get that back, and maybe we can be an example of that.”


On having to quickly adjust to many COVID-19 protocols and confidence about playing a full NFL season:

Dee Haslam: “I think COVID has been hard on everyone. There is not anyone who has not had to work almost harder than you ever have before. It has taken a lot of energy to maneuver through this. Our organization is not any different from what you guys have had to live through this. It has been something we have never experienced before. I do not think what we are doing is unique. I think what we are doing is unique in that our protocols are just so scrutinized, and we are so careful. It is so important that each one of our players takes the responsibility to stay safe because it is all about the team and how we keep the entire team safe and together. It goes back to a lot of individual responsibility. Individual responsibility in this country and for our fans to stay safe is wear a mask and social distance. It is everyone’s responsibility. We do feel a lot of pressure, but we also need everybody else to help out or we can’t do it.”


Jimmy Haslam: “That is well said. We all know somebody who has been affected by COVID-19, right? Whether you know somebody who is sick or who has died – I know we had two people at Pilot die, and that is gut wrenching. Whether it is that, whether it is businesses that have gone out of business or whether it is kids that can’t play youth sports or kids that can’t go to school, we all have been impacted. At the same time, I think we have all learned that maybe how we did things all along, there were some things we could do differently or better. I know we have learned to do things more efficiently, I think, in all of our organizations. Hats off to Andrew and Kevin with how quickly they have adapted. If you think about it, we left our building on March 12, we had our draft and everything worked great. There were about 10 or 15 of us on the phone virtually, and who knows whether it was going to be a great draft or not, but we will not use COVID-19 [as an excuse] because it was not. Kevin has done a magnificent job in leading these virtual calls, having guys organized and watching guys work out virtually. Again, it is not perfect, but you learn and adapt. All 32 teams are having to do the same thing so we do not have and advantage over Baltimore, Pittsburgh does not have an advantage over us and the same [for all 32 teams]. It has not been fun. It has been challenging, but we are excited now to be on the field. None of us know if there is going to be a full season, but we are going to do everything we can to get a season in but do so in a safe manner.”


On what Berry and Stefanski showed during a challenging offseason that stood out being their first time in their respective roles:

Jimmy Haslam: “First of all, they are both like really calm, really calm. Their EKGs are just like that (makes level/steady motion, laughter). Second of all, they are really organized, really organized. They are good at processing. They are both smart. Dee can chime in here. What I appreciate the most is neither of them use COVID as an excuse. Kevin can easily do that, right? First-year head coach, new staff, new offense, new defense, etc., and he has not used it as an excuse. Those are the things that they have showed us. As Dee mentioned when she started, it is exciting now to have everybody back in the building. There are a few of the coaches that we had never met and a lot of the new players we had not met. Just good to have everybody back together, all being in a socially distant manner.”


On Mayfield and expectations for Mayfield going forward:

Jimmy Haslam: “We all have had the opportunity to talk to Baker live and to Kevin. I think you see physically, he came back in great shape. We have not known him long enough to say it is the best shape of his life, but he came back in great shape. I think he has taken a really good leadership role. We appreciated what he said [on Friday] about owning up to last year he was not himself. I think he is going to put that behind him. We are really excited. He had a really good practice today. We are really excited to see what he can do both in terms of being the quarterback but also being one of the leaders of the team.”


On WR Odell Beckham Jr. seeming to be more settled and at home in Cleveland:

Jimmy Haslam: “I will let Dee address that. She an Odell are close.”


Dee Haslam: “I had a great conversation with him today. Excited to be back in his house, and that has made a big difference to him. We did an exercise with the team Friday night – the four H’s, which is your history, heartbreak, heroes and hopes. Odell texted me and told me that he really related to a lot of the stuff. We had a great conversation about that. I just feels like he is just so much more comfortable here, and he said that. He says ‘I am in my home. I am more comfortable.’ I think it was a transition, but I think he is doing really well and love the fact that he is talking about how happy he is to be here and how comfortable he is. I think it is a great improvement so we are really excited that he feels that way.”


Jimmy Haslam: “He is healthy, too. Knock on wood. He is healthy.”


Dee Haslam: “That has made a big difference, too, is he is healthy this year and is confident.”


On developing contingency plans and conversations about bringing people to Downtown Cleveland to help business that have been impacted economically by COVID-19:

Jimmy Haslam: “Listen, we all understand that health and safety come first. I just think as a country, as a state and as a city – we say the same things back in Tennessee – this is what we are trying to do in the NFL. As I said, none of us know if this is going to work, but we are going to give it our best try and do so in a safe manor. We need to have a ‘Hey, how can we make this work [approach]? Is there a way to make this work?’ We get it that not having 65,000 people down there eight games is a major blow a lot of people that work at the stadium and all the businesses around there. Dee and I had dinner with another couple last night, and his office is downtown. He just talked about how there is nobody down there. The sooner we can safely get people back to work, the better off we are going to do. We are going to do everything we can at the Browns and would encourage other businesses to do the same. At the same time, at the end of the day, it is not our call about how many fans we have in the stands on Sunday or if we have fans in the stands. We want it to happen for our players and for those fans.”


Dee Haslam: “I do think there are a lot of community leaders out there that understand that businesses downtown especially have to come back and get open, obviously with all of the safety protocols in place with Plexiglas and masks. I know that makes it harder to come back, but downtown is taking a significant blow, and every business that can get back and open safely would be really important to the future of downtown.”


On the status of FirstEnergy Stadium development discussions with the City of Cleveland and an update on major facility projects, including those in Columbus for Crew SC: 

Dee Haslam: “Jimmy took a tour of the stadium last week so I will let him speak about Columbus.”


Jimmy Haslam: “Thankfully, outside construction work has been able to go on so our Crew stadium in the Nationwide District of Columbus is on schedule. It will open in June. We will play our first game there in early July. Steel is starting to come out of the ground so that is actually really exciting. You can go online and look at it. We are really excited about that. We continue to make improvements at Berea to make it a better place, first of all for our players and everybody who works there, but over time for our staff and our fans. We are continuing to accumulate property there that will give us flexibility going forward to have all kinds of different options. It would be inappropriate to comment on that. I will let Dee comment on [First Energy] Stadium and what is going on there.”


Dee Haslam: “We are continually making improvements to Berea, and we will continue to do that. The downtown area and the downtown stadium are so important for the City of [Cleveland]. We have some time there to think through that, and right now during COVID, I think everything has been kind of put on hold. There is just not a lot of conversation really to talk about. Right now, what we are talking about is how we get fans in the stadium and how we open downtown. That is our focus right now.”


On if expectations for the team need to be tempered due to changes to the offseason, training camp and preseason due to COVID-19: 

Jimmy Haslam: “We have learned we have the world’s greatest fans. I do not know that they will temper their expectations. I am sure you all are the same way because most of your friends and associates know what you do for a living, and I imagine you get the question every day, ‘Are they going to play?’ That is the same question Dee and I get. Let’s hope we play, No. 1. I think we probably all of us, including ownership, learned a lesson last year about tempering expectations. I do not think we managed that as well as we should have. I think you have to be realistic. This team has not been to the playoffs since 2002, and we are in a tough division. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are arguably two of the best teams and best franchises. I think you have to be realistic there. We are still a young team. On the other hand, we feel really good about Andrew and Kevin, our coaching staff, our personnel group and the talent that we have been able to assemble. We are excited going into the year but realistic.”


On DE Myles Garrett’s contract extension and confidence Garret will perform at a high level after returning from suspension: 

Jimmy Haslam: “We spent a lot of time talking about Myles and his situation – a lot of time – because that is a huge contract. I think most of you all know Myles, and Myles did something that was unbelievably out of character unfortunately. He paid for it dearly, and we paid for it dearly. We know him and his family well. We know the kind of person and the kind of man he is, and at the same time, we know the kind of player he is. We spent a lot of time thinking about it, but we are excited that he is going to be a Cleveland Brown for a long, long time. I think he will be back on the field in a few days, and it will be good to have No. 95 out there because he makes a hell of a difference when he is out there.”


On having alignment and everyone working together in the front office with Berry and Stefanski: 

Jimmy Haslam: “It is a lot more fun. I think you have – (Chief Strategy Officer) Paul DePodesta goes in that group, too – three really smart, really capable individuals, low ego and who just want to win and want to do it in the right way. It was amazing for us to watch the whole draft process – like I said, time will tell in three, four or five years how well we did – and how well everybody worked together. We are excited about it. We have not played any games yet, but we are excited about the group we put together. Hopefully, they will be here for a long time.”


Dee Haslam: “It has been particularly important during this COVID season. They worked extremely well together to maneuver all the differences we have had to do this season.”


On optimism about the direction of the franchise and confidence that the Browns are ready to turn the corner and become a winning football team: 

Dee Haslam: “As I started out, we are really excited. We have talked about alignment among our leadership group, and we feel really excited about the players that we have on board. I think Jimmy said it earlier, we still have a young team, we have a lot to do and we are in a really tough division, but we are really excited about this year.”


Jimmy Haslam: “I think that is right. We talk at our business about RPRP – right people in the right place. It has been a long, hard road, but we really think we have that in coaching, personnel, Paul with his strategic role and in players, whether it be Baker or whomever it might have. We think we have the right people in the right place. It is never perfect in the NFL and things happen, but we are really excited to see what this team can do this year.”


Closing statement: 

Jimmy Haslam: “In closing, this is live and hopefully we have a reasonable number of our fans watching, but the last thing we would say is and we actually mean this really seriously is how important it is for everybody to wear a mask all the time, and I mean that. We obviously are not wearing them now because Dee and I are in our home sitting beside each other, but you all see us wear them at practice. I still go to visit (Pilot) stores once a week. Dee is out in public a lot, and we wear our masks. None of us want to shut the country down again, and there are three things we can do that will a difference: No. 1 wear a mask, No. 2 socially distance and No. 3 wash your hands. If everybody will do that, we have a chance at having an NFL season, a high school season and all of the other things we want to see happen. If we are not smart about it, then it will not happen. Please, please wear your mask. It is no fun – we get it – but please wear your mask.”


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