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Falcons address social justice issues, anthem demonstrations

The team has delivered a message and a plan of action to meet the moment.

Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons have released a video and an article that details exactly where the organization stands on the issues that drive the hotly-debated National Anthem demonstrations.

Interviews with team owner Arthur Blank, head coach Dan Quinn and various players show a two-pronged approach to addressing the movement that NFL free agent QB Colin Kaepernick started when he first knelt during the anthem to comment on issues of systemic oppression and police brutality.

The video gives both sides of the conversation. On one side, you see an organization that wants to be out front and open about taking on the issues in the conversation.

Blank detailed the team’s process of gathering a panel of twelve players, and learning from them about what the organization needed to do to address the moment at hand.

“They have made it clear to us issues such as bail-bond reform, and social justice and community involvement, law enforcement accountability; just a variety of issues are very, very important to them,” Blank says in the clip.

“For the team, it was about bringing up issues that need attention, and they do need attention,” Quinn said. “These activities were player-led. They hand-picked the issues they felt needed the most attention, and understanding. What I saw from all of this — empathy; as a coach, as a man and as a teammate, and that is really powerful.”

The video shows players participating in things such as ride-alongs with Atlanta police officers, community building projects and meetings at a local Boys and Girls Club chapter that help build youth and police relationships. These ideas build on the theme the team wants to implement: “Protest to Progress.”

The lightning rod of the conversation comes in when Blank delivers his thoughts on the actual act of demonstrating during the anthem.

The league has implemented a new policy that will penalize a team that does any sort of protests during the playing of the anthem itself, though teams and players will have the option to stay in the dressing room during the song if they so wish. This has sparked fervor from both sides of the aisle; some feeling like it’s far too harsh, others feeling like it’s not enough.

To Blank, you’ve got the right to say what you feel.

“Players have that First Amendment right; we all have that First Amendment right to speak out and speak up on things as we see them, but we’ve asked them to, ‘Let’s convert that from protest to progress,” Blank says. “That’s where we really want to measure ourselves. They’ve brought attention to issues that are legitimate.”

Though, the message winds up at a delicate compromise, as the team does make a firm statement of where it stands with the actual act of a demonstration.

“We want to honor the American flag, we want our players to stand, we want them to be at attention, we want their hand over their heart,” Blank states. “We expect all of those things because all of our military people, they deserve that for the commitments that they’ve made to the service of this country.

“We want to be able to focus on these issues, and we’re all working together in that regard. And, if we turn this into a political kind of football, if you will, it’s not healthy, because that becomes a real distraction to the work that we’re trying to do together.”

Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, one of the two Falcons players who knelt last season during the anthem, showed light on where the player mindset might be on this process.

“A lot of people can say something,” Jarrett says. “It [doesn’t] matter until you do something, and it’s important to be willing and able to go out and walk the walk, instead of just talk the talk. You can’t sit there and complain about something, and you’re not willing to put work in. So, it’s important for players to be ahead of that, and be the ones pushing that and putting that work in.”

It’s a message of unity in divisive times, and shows the team taking an active role in the Atlanta community to build bridges that so desperately need repair.

Teams all across the league are finding ways to address this in statements big and small. You’ve seen the Falcons approach go into effect in Miami, where players like Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas went into the community and worked to build relationships between the community and Broward County’s police department. Eagles players like Chris Long and Malcolm Jenkins have been active as well, Long donating his 2017 salary to charitable causes, Jenkins taking an active role in discussing issues on Capitol Hill.

The team is taking the strides to address the concerns at the inception of the conversation, if not fully coming through with unequivocal support of an anthem demonstration in the face of pressure from the right and from President Trump’s controversial comments about Kaepernick and about players who choose to kneel.

Always keep in mind, the Atlanta Falcons are a business, and their top motivation will always be to keep as many fans happy as humanly possible. Sometimes, this happens in uniformly accepted ways, like lowering concession prices. Sometimes, it means trying to find the middle ground on one of the decade’s most prolific debates. For the anthem demonstrations, that’s where the Falcons have come.

They’ll address and help in the problems at hand, but they’ll also want you to stand.

If you want something firmer in either direction, you’re not going to get it. Right or wrong, that’s just the card the organization is going to play. It makes the most people happy, and actually does try to address some of the issues the original Kaepernick demonstration brought attention to.

But, their stance also adds from the idea that anthem protests are not appropriate in a time that calls for respecting the military and all public servants. So, don’t expect to see any Falcons kneeling this upcoming season. It is clear the organization has its stance on the demonstrations themselves. Though, they’re not going to stand pat on the root of the issues, either, and have taken steps to address them.

Call it caring, corporate compromise.