Browns GM Andrew Berry envisioned a progressive culture — that goal hasn’t changed

BEREA, Ohio — The first words that come to mind when you think of the Cleveland Browns might not be “diversity” or “inclusiveness” amid preparations for the 2022 season, offseason roster changes and suspension. of the new quarterback Deshaun. Watson. But through everything the Browns organization has experienced in the past two years, those two words have always been top of mind for general manager Andrew Berry, and that hasn’t changed.

Berry came to the Browns organization in 2020, the youngest general manager in NFL history at the age of 32, with an established philosophy throughout his path to the top job.

I feel very fortunate to have come to the NFL through three separate organizations that I would consider very progressive and inclusive, starting with Bill Polian in Indianapolis and coming here first with Sashi Brown, and then Philadelphia with Howie. Roseman,” Berry said. “Those three leaders really had a huge impact in terms of my professional experience, bringing in people with different backgrounds, different ideas and making sure everyone had a seat at the table.”

The young general manager had seen that the teams he worked for valued giving people opportunities they wouldn’t normally see and vowed to continue that job if he ever got the chance.

“That’s just a model that I saw throughout my career. And I always felt like it was good, not only because it was the right thing to do, but it helped make better decisions,” Berry said. “So it was something that I wanted to bring and emulate if I ever found myself in a leadership position or making decisions.”

And that he did. As general manager of the Browns, Berry had a job to do: build a winning football team. But he took care of something else.

“I hope that as long as I’m lucky enough to be in a leadership position, I can do more good than just trying to build a good football team. But I think that’s something that only time will tell and how long it lasts.” [the] impact it can be,” Berry said.

His first attempt at making a lasting impact came very early in his tenure as Browns general manager, in the wake of the George Floyd protests and social justice movement that swept the country in the summer of 2020. Conversations about race and equality not only reflected many of his players, but he reflected himself and his family.

That sparked an email that would become an initiative around which the organization rallied. Berry expressed his feelings on the matter and pledged to donate a large sum of money to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund if at least 50 Browns employees took action to learn about diversity and engage in social activism. The response was greater than he could have imagined.

“For me, it was one of those moments when [I] experienced something that was probably a little bigger than football. And for me it was just a way, an outlet, really, just to convey some of my beliefs on a personal level and my beliefs in terms of ways that we can use our platform to do some real good and real change.”

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After he reached his threshold of 50 employees by the end of the day, the importance of his request became clear and his initiative was made public. The Browns organization launched the Be The Solution campaign and in less than a month raised nearly $200,000 for more than a dozen charities.

Giving back to organizations was important to Berry, but creating lasting change in his own organization was the next big thing. After Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski discussed the change they wanted to instill in the organization, a scholarship was created to achieve a shared goal: the Bill Willis Coaching Scholarship, awarded to a rising minority coach with a focus on the offensive side of the ball.

“That was something that was really important at the time Kevin was hired, really for both of us. We really believe in having diverse perspectives, diverse staff, and specifically it was important for him to get more exposure from minority coaches to the offensive side of the ball,” Berry said. “We thought about it a lot. We created the scholarship. Ashton Grant was our first Bill Willis Scholar. Israel Woolfork is the second.”

The two coaches provided an opportunity that is sadly rare in the NFL. Learn and work at the highest level of the game, giving them a platform to launch careers and find success.

“We’ve seen those guys continue to grow in our organization. And we’re certainly hopeful that they’ll be here for a long time and then spread their wings. And who knows, 10 years from now we’ll be seeing them.” running their own NFL teams,” Berry said.

Berry knows it’s a possibility because she’s been able to help make that happen for staff outside the field, continuing the push for inclusion and opportunity for people of all backgrounds at her front office. From Glenn Cook, who is now assistant general manager under Berry, to former Browns vice president of football operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who was hired as Vikings general manager in January, a culture of promoting diversity has provided people real opportunities to prosper.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding, and honestly I’d say it’s probably one of the most rewarding parts of the job – having the opportunity to return the favor, if you will, because I had such great mentors that they didn’t judge me for my age and judge me for my idiosyncrasies, that gave me opportunities,” explained Berry. “Seeing Kwesi as starting here and moving forward. And hopefully we’ll see that with Glenn and Catherine [Raiche] also. It’s great. It’s pretty cool.”

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Berry mentioned Raiche, highlighting another area where he has worked to create inclusivity. The Browns have some of the highest-ranking women at their positions in the NFL. As assistant general manager and vice president of football operations, Raiche is the highest-ranked executive in the NFL. Wide receivers chief of staff and assistant coach Callie Brownson was the first woman to coach a position group in a regular-season game. Player personnel coordinator Megan Rock is Berry’s right-hand man during the draft and free agency. The organization has been a cornerstone for hiring women.

“It’s very interesting because I think the NFL as a whole is making really significant progress there, and that’s a good thing. But at the same time, I don’t know of any other industry where that needs to be or really is a story because there’s there. a lot of talented people who can work in an NFL front office or on an NFL coaching staff,” Berry said. “And it’s no different than gamers, I don’t know why you would want to limit the option of finding really good people.”

The Browns have found those good people and worked to foster those opportunities, something Berry hopes will be the start of something league-wide.

“Look, the NFL hasn’t come to an end yet, but I’m thankful that maybe gender bias is starting to erode in the fabric of the NFL,” Berry said. “I think for women specifically in the organization, whether it’s a different demographic or a different experience or a different way of thinking in these different groups, we appeal to them because we want our blind spots covered. We want different perspectives.” And that’s a big part of it for us.”

But on the issue of women in the organization, one point had to be addressed. Quarterback Deshaun Watson, whom the Browns traded in March, probably has a lot of people reading cultural immersion questioning everything up to this point. With the sexual misconduct allegations against Watson known at the time the Browns pushed so hard for him, it’s impossible not to ask.

“Now, people will look at this and say, well, this is the culture you created, but where does this fit in? With everything that’s going on, where does the culture stand in terms of diversity and inclusion and those conversations?”

Berry responded similarly to how she did when asked about the women involved in the talks leading up to the Watson trade, but shed more light on how women’s voices were, and continue to be, valued in the acquisition. of the controversial field marshal.

“Regardless of how the team performs on the field or what decisions we make on the roster, specifically for the trade, as I mentioned at the time, it’s not just about bringing different perspectives to the table when it’s convenient or a low-key decision. leverage or transaction, but certainly something that’s important in the sense that you want to get as many informed perspectives in the room as possible,” Berry said. “We didn’t operate any differently in that circumstance. So there really was both a professional and a personal perspective before the trade. And that’s one way we’ll continue to operate going forward.”

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Those conversations are ongoing with the organization in terms of allowing all employees – women, minorities, people from different backgrounds – to continue to voice their opinions, raise concerns, and allow them to feel included, heard, and valued.

Berry, answering the next question measured and confident but still personable, knows full well that the things that have transpired this offseason have caused some fans to question the efforts that the organization, and himself, have put forth.

[Can the fans] observe your growth and continue to feel confident that you are doing something good here?

“I think the journey of every leader, every decision maker, none of them are linear. There are going to be things that people will agree with that people won’t think are necessarily the right decision,” Berry said. “But at the same time, as we look at a longer time horizon, at the end of the day we’re going to make the decisions that we think are best for the organization. And a big part of that is certainly how it represents the organization to the fan base and community.

He hopes that despite it all, with an overview of things that have been going on well beyond the last five months, those fans will be able to carry on, or come back to see the work done and, in turn, be proud of the team. that animate for each week.

“I think our hope and our vision for this is, as we continue to make decisions, as we continue to bring people in, and as people continue to have daily exposure to our guys, in the long run, they’ll feel good about the team we have to represent the community,” Berry said.

For more on this personal interview with General Manager Andrew Berry, watch News 5 on the Browns’ postgame show on Saturday night, right after the final preseason game against the Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Camryn Justice is a reporter for News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijusticia.

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