The Cleveland Browns took a much-needed step forward in Week 2 with their primetime win over the rival Cincinnati Bengals. One of the underrated reasons for that big win came up front, where Chris Hubbard stepped in for injured All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin and kept Baker Mayfield upright in an offensive showcase for Kevin Stefanski's club.
Conklin is back at practice and should return to the lineup for the Browns' matchup with Washington Football Team on Sunday, but Hubbard's role has always extended beyond the field in Cleveland. Ever since joining the Browns in 2018 following a five-year stint with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, the big man has served as a community ambassador of sorts, most notably advocating for mental health awareness.
In an exclusive discussion with CBS Sports this week, Hubbard opened up on his latest off-field efforts, the Browns' cultural turnaround, Mayfield's leadership growth, Cleveland's plan for national anthem demonstrations and local social justice work, and more:
You've really prioritized mental health in the community. Why has that been such a strong focus for you?
Hubbard: A lot of people don't understand the importance of helping communities in that way. For me, like, we never had anybody come back to my hometown and actually take a stand and give back in that way, so that's what I want to do. Don't take your mental health and life for granted. You have to go and seek that kind of help. You need that support around you. I know, for me, I did counseling. I still do counseling to this day. And that's with the big man upstairs, too -- God is another counselor in my life.
Being vulnerable and seeking out counseling might seem counter-cultural in the NFL, where toughness is valued and star players are put on a pedestal. Is that culture starting to change?
Hubbard: I think we are starting to loosen up that conversation. I have conversations with my teammates, just letting 'em know how important it is for you to be able to speak up and talk to somebody about what's frustrating you -- to get those things out in the air. The NFL has done a good job supporting that. I know the Browns, we have people we're able to reach right here at our facility. If we need 'em that day, we can get 'em. If we can't, we can go on Zoom. That's actually how I was able to meet my counselor, who I see nearly every week. You need that support, you know. This is a high-level game that can be stressful, and then you've got family and all the other stuff outside it.
You've also focused on how these issues specifically affect the Black community. Can you touch on that?
Hubbard: Where I'm from, I was taught, 'You be a man of your word, you keep going no matter what the circumstances may be.' We were always taught to be quiet and put your feelings on the back burner. I had guys in my life say, 'That's weak,' when you would speak up, but that's a stigma.
And obviously this season, in particular, there's been a lot more conversation about the Black community, the issues it's facing. As a Black man, what's this year been like -- your emotions, your thoughts, not only on what's happened in the world but how the NFL has responded?
Hubbard: I'm a part of our social justice committee here on our team, and we do a great job of holding those conversations about what went on with George Floyd and with other incidents. It's tough, because me having a son, I'm trying to teach him those things and tell him about his skin and how you might be treated differently because of it. You have to constantly worry about being pulled over. Like, for me, I have tinted windows, and I have to make sure all my windows are down when the police pull me over. It's tough, man, and we really do have those conversations with Baker, Odell (Beckham Jr.) -- man, we all are in that same committee and trying to educate ourselves.
Still, we see push-back from fans who say stuff like, 'I just want to watch football.' What's your response to that sentiment?
Hubbard: During our game Thursday -- and it hurt me, man, because it makes you feel like things are never gonna change -- we (the Browns and Bengals) all stood united when we did the national anthem, and you hear booing in the crowd. We're just doing it to show we are standing together -- Black, white, we're all in this together. But it's like, when you hear something like that -- well, dang, what is it gonna take for people to realize what's important? For us to stop playing football? Because we can do that. We don't have to give ya'll sports and entertainment just so you can sit back at home and have a beer and play fantasy football. That really hurts my heart, man, to see people not take it as seriously. Without us, there would be no sports at all. They should really consider us as humans first, rather than robots.
Beyond on-field demonstrations of unity, what are some action steps the Browns' social justice committee has laid out for this season?
Hubbard: We actually had a meeting this week with the attorney general just to get more insight on what they're looking for, what they're doing behind the bars, to convict people. We're also looking at what they're doing for training. Like, with police, they're often coming in young and then they have all this power. But if they're not trained a certain way, man, they can just come in and doggone lose their mind when they're in certain situations. As a Black man, I'm looking out for my life by looking into these things.
And how has the team, as a whole, responded to these initiatives?
Hubbard: Coach Stefanski did a great job bringing us together. Our quote for this year is, 'Be the solution.' We're trying to figure out how we're gonna change the community right here in Cleveland and nearby. We want to go into these communities and show our faces and let them know we stand with them. Another thing we're trying to do is have a building for kids who don't have Internet -- a big hot-spot for kids down there in East Cleveland to have Internet and iPads, just to continue their learning.
Speaking of East Cleveland, you're partnered with 4MyCity and a bunch of other nonprofits to deliver food there starting this week. How does that tie into social justice efforts?
I feel like East Cleveland is overlooked. A lot of people are scared to go down there, but that's the kind of area where I grew up. That's nothing for me to show face and show my support down there. We want to get good food everywhere. And it's not, like, your regular food, either. This is from, like, great field and farms where you get Grade-A eggs, milk, whatever it may be. We're gonna do this every month in East Cleveland, 40,000 pounds of food each month.
On the field, the Browns are coming off a big win over the Bengals. What's the vibe of the team right now, and how has it evolved -- not only over the past few years but just this season as well?
Hubbard: We are stuck together like glue, man. This team has been through a lot of changes, but we're making sure we're doing the right things -- making the habit of watching more film, asking more questions, staying late to get more reps -- some of which didn't happen in years past. Baker's taken his leadership role seriously. He was pissed off after that Ravens game. He came in one day and told us, 'This is unacceptable.' He said we should focus on ourselves and that nobody should beat us. It's important to have those guys. Even Myles (Garrett) did the same thing, being that vocal leader. We're just focused on us. When you think about everybody outside of this bubble right here, you get lost.