Last season, Colin Kaepernick’s movement to silently protest social and racial injustice spread across the league, and created a national dialogue. Things peaked early last season, Kaepernick has yet to play in the league since the furor arose, and yet everything had mostly died down until the NFL dug it back up last week.
Regardless of where you stand on the protests Kaepernick helped to create, which became in the national media coverage as much about the national anthem as the injustices the players were first focused on, we can likely agree that there are indeed issues to be tackled in our society. Tthe Atlanta Falcons took the initiative to embrace initiatives inspired by Kapernick’s message. D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution covered plans by the team and players to try and make a positive change in the upcoming season, not on an individual basis or on the football field, but out in the community the team is already very active in.
The article is an interesting read, with Ledbetter talking to head coach Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, and a few players about positive things they are doing in the offseason. The team hasn’t set a policy when it comes to the anthem just yet, but plan to do so as a team, and would prefer to talk about the good already being done.
“Last November we decided that we’d form a committee and really try to take head-on some of the issues,” Quinn said. “That’s really where our focus has been over the last seven weeks. We’ve performed an offseason program that has kind of done different projects along the way.
“We’ll give you an update on that in a couple of weeks. We are real proud of the work that the guys have been a part of over these last seven weeks. We have two more things that we are doing.”
Quinn was short on the details, but said the work revolved around law enforcement and teenagers.
The Atlanta Falcons, and players, have been a part in countless charities for as long as I can remember, and it sounds like Kaepernick’s message and the resulting media firestorm have pushed them even further in improving the community. It is impressive that Quinn has been able to tune out the negative storylines, put forward by those either ignorant of the original message or actively choosing to ignore them, and turn it into both team-building exercises and an opportunity to make a positive impact on society.
“Let people see that we are just not faces behind the helmet, that we are people that actually care,” Manuel said about the team’s community involvement.
There have been a few times I have been worried if Quinn is the guy for the job. Those moments have been brief, and I think we see more proof he’s one of the better coaches in the league, and we see it much more often. This is a perfect example of Quinn leading his team, instead of ordering the players to fall in line. There will be many different approaches to protests this coming season, with the way the NFL has chosen to handle them, but the opportunity to do good off the field exists outside of that. Atlanta, to their credit, is embracing that opportunity.
As with nearly every job out there, Quinn is managing a large group of adults, and in this case, they’re adults with a long history of giving back. Few can succeed long-term with a hard-line stance with people that can find a job elsewhere, contract or no, and regardless of what the team does when the anthem starts playing this year, they appear to be pushing hard for a better way forward in Georgia and beyond. Only the best can turn a complicated issue into an even stronger team, and Quinn, Manuel and this team have proven again and again that they are among the best this league has to offer.