The Atlanta Falcons Focus on Community

Rob Carr

Community service is a big priority for the Atlanta Falcons, and we could all use some uplifting news today.

It's not easy to even focus on writing about the Falcons this morning. I'm a runner. While 26.2 is not my distance, the Boston Marathon is the penultimate achievement for an amateur runner. I have friends who spent years trying to qualify. Because I'm a runner, I have a unique understanding of what that finish line represents. It's the culmination of months of difficult training. You're exhausted, you're in pain, and that finish line represents rest and relief. My husband and children have been waiting for me at the finish line of every race I've run. I believe that's the reason this is hitting me so very hard. I have no words for what happened yesterday.

While that tragedy was unfolding, Atlanta's quarterback, Matt Ryan--a Boston College graduate--was hosting a celebrity golf tournament to raise money and awareness for children with cancer. This is an annual event for Ryan, who has partnered with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta to benefit their Aflac Cancer Center.

It's no secret that the Falcons are a very community-focused organization. Owner Arthur Blank has made community service a priority at every level of the organization, and it's something that Falcons players embrace. Many players, while participating in team service opportunities enthusiastically, also operate their own non-profit foundations to benefit people in need in various ways.

Wide receiver Roddy White's Keep the Faith Foundation provides post-secondary scholarships for worthy students, facilitates a mentorship program partnering college student mentors with middle school students, and focuses on benefiting youth by increasing participation in sports and fitness activities.

Wide receiver Harry Douglas, and his brother, Sacramento Kings guard Toney Douglas, work to benefit underprivileged families through their foundation, the Douglas Brothers Foundation. Each year, they host a Holiday Treat Festival in December, offering free haircuts, health screenings, a meal, and gifts for the children who attended. In 2012, they had 1,200 children attend with 1,000 on the waiting list for the event.

Cornerback Asante Samuel seeks to provide some stability for single mothers and their children as well as honor his mother's memory through the Asante Samuel Foundation, which provides homes for low-income single mothers.

One reason that running back Steven Jackson and defensive end Osi Umenyiora are such logical fits for the Falcons is that they are both very community-minded as well. The Steven Jackson Foundation has a primary focus on promoting strong educational values among youth, and Umenyiora's Strike for a Cure Foundation seeks to inspire hope and provide financial resources in the efforts to find cures for HIV/AIDS as well as Alzheimer's disease.

Several Falcons players--fullback Bradie Ewing, defensive end Cliff Matthews, cornerback Dominique Franks, offensive linemen Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes, and more--all visited the Mellow Mushroom in Gainesville, GA last week to serve as celebrity waiters to benefit the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children, which provides care to children who are victims of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse and neglect.

During the season, Falcons players visit schools to introduce elementary and middle school students to the NFL's First Down for Fitness program, and also to perpetuate their own Read with a Falcon program. They encourage recycling with their Green Team program. They get fans involved with their FalCan Food Drive and their Toys for Tots collections. They put smiles on kids' faces when tight end Tony Gonzalez hosts the annual "Shop with a Jock" event during the holiday season.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the Falcons and their efforts in the community. It's an expectation Blank has created for his players, and it's one they generally live up to with enthusiasm. Blank, of course, sets a wonderful example through his Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, which provides grants and support for efforts benefiting education, children's health initiatives, and much more.

After seeing what unfolded yesterday in Boston, a lot of the things we care about and focus on can feel trivial. Caring so much about the Falcons, and their wins and losses, and their potential for the coming season can seem so unimportant. In the grand scheme, this is a game that we follow. But, what these players are doing off the field is not trivial at all. I say regularly that the Falcons make it so easy to be a fan of this team, and their efforts to benefit others, and the sincerity with which they approach it, is a big part of that.

It's easy to question your faith in humanity after events like yesterday's, especially when each one feels like it's coming right on the heels of the last one. Aren't we still reeling from Newtown, Connecticut? Have we recovered--can we recover--from the mass shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, or the one at the movie theater in Colorado last July? Sometimes it feels like we, as a nation, are in a perpetual state of mourning, from one unthinkable, senseless tragedy to the next, and the time that elapses between each one doesn't matter, because these are not things that you get over. They just aren't.

Yes, we have many reasons to question our faith in humanity of late. But, the Falcons and their efforts to benefit others through charity and community service remind us that there are so many good, generous, kind and compassionate people in this world, and some of them are a part of the Falcons organization. Their selfless efforts off the field give us, as fans, legitimate reasons to be genuinely proud of this Atlanta Falcons team.

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