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Browns cornerback Greg Newsome II is no rookie to giving back

‘I don’t want to be untouchable. I always want to show love in the Black community.’

Northwestern University cornerback Greg Newsome II made a bold statement with the red-stitched letters that adorned his tailored black suit jacket during his 2021 NFL draft party among family members and friends.

“Black Lives Matter” and “Say Their Names” were on the back. “Stop Asian Hate” filled the right sleeve, and “Women Can Ball Too” was on his left sleeve.

“Equality for everyone has always been huge for me,” said Newsome, selected that night in the first round by the Cleveland Browns. “So that was something I enjoyed putting together for sure.”

Draft night was not only the springboard to Newsome’s NFL career, but offered a platform he hopes to use to help bring attention to social justice and equality.

Newsome’s motivated by these issues because of what led to the police shooting deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and by some of his own life experiences involving his family and other loved ones.

“The slogans are some of the things I care about,” Newsome said. “I’m trying to create awareness about police brutality, equality for women and for the Asian community to not be marginalized as well.”

Newsome was raised on the South Side of Chicago and commuted an hour each way to Glenbard North High School, ranked higher academically than his neighborhood school.  

Newsome realized his school presented opportunities many of his peers couldn’t benefit from. So he promised himself that one day he’d get involved with the Black community financially and with his time to help others share in the benefits that helped him succeed. Currently, he plans to create a foundation geared toward uplifting the youth.

In September, Newsome got a glimpse of how his presence could make an impact when the Browns dedicated a new synthetic turf field and bleachers to one of the poorest Cleveland-area high schools, and he participated. Members of the community, including cheerleaders and the football team, attended.

The Cleveland Browns hosted a celebratory dedication ceremony at East Cleveland City Schools’ Shaw Stadium on Sept. 21. It marks the completion of the 10th high-quality synthetic turf field installed in Ohio during the past five years, courtesy of the Haslam and Johnson families and Browns Give Back.

“He talked about his high school memories and the importance of being a student-athlete, with emphasis on ‘student,’ ” said Shaw High School football coach Reggie Smith. “My guys were all locked in and really excited an NFL player was here. He said he was looking forward to coming back.”

Which Newsome plans to do. 

“I could see the excitement in their eyes when I was talking with them,” said Newsome, a starting right corner. “I don’t want to be untouchable. I always want to show love in the Black community and be someone the students can talk to.”

Newsome is the youngest in the family, with three older sisters who grew up in gymnastics. His sister Zakiya played basketball for Division III North Park University. He regularly attended all of his sisters’ sporting events and his love of women’s sports continued in college. He became a superfan of Northwestern’s women’s basketball team, and especially Wildcats guard Veronica Burton, his girlfriend. She’s thankful for how Newsome supports women’s sports.

“It means a lot to be able to talk with your boyfriend about those types of concerns,” said Burton, a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. “It meant a lot for him having ‘Women Can Ball Too’ and those other sayings on his jacket. I really appreciated it.”

Newsome was really bothered when he learned during the NCAA tournament last year that, while playing and working out in their respective bubbles, there was a stark difference in the amenities for the men’s and women’s teams.

The women’s weight room in San Antonio had a single small rack of dumbbells and the food was mediocre at best. The men, on the other hand, had state-of-the-art equipment and much better food in their Indianapolis operations.

“That just shows you what the NCAA thinks of women,” Newsome said. “Food is a necessity. And for you to feed one group steak and lobster and the other something that looks like jail food is horrible.”

The NCAA quickly made suitable changes for the women following many critical social media posts.

Perhaps another community was thankful for Newsome’s gesture during draft night. 

Last year, 279 hate crime incidents against individuals of Asian descent were reported, up from 158 in 2019.

Those statistics are alarming to Newsome. 

“Reading and seeing some of those attacks against Asians online are similar to how Black people are treated,” Newsome said. “There are people speaking out about Black injustice like a LeBron James, but you don’t really see someone of that magnitude speaking against injustice against Asians. So I try to incorporate that as well on my platform because all lives and all colors matter.”

Branson Wright is a filmmaker and freelance multimedia sports reporter.