Last season was arguably one of the most challenging years for Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, as the Falcons finished 7-9 for a second consecutive year and a lingering decision on possibly relieving both his head coach and general manager hovered over most of the 2019 regular season. The decision was ultimately made to retain both head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and the team now finds itself in an unforeseen offseason in which almost everything has gone virtual by necessity.
One of the most important events in football, the NFL Draft, will be strictly virtual this year as coaches and general managers around the league will forego discussing and making picks in person, and instead communicate strictly from their respective homes. Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank recently spoke with the NFL Network about the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft and how the team is preparing for it.
“Well we spent a good day yesterday – myself and two of my sons on the call as well, with our coach and with our general manager, Dan and Thomas, with our scouting department, with Rich McKay. We went through, we spent 4 ½ hours looking at a screen, going through Zoom conference,” Blank told Andrew Siciliano of the NFL Network. “I think we’re very well positioned in this draft. I was very excited; I think our technology team did a wonderful job and I think our coaches and scouting department did a great job in trying to spool together all this information and trying to bring it together in a way that we normally do. I was really impressed with the work they had done. Obviously since the combine, we’ve had limited contact with the players with some of the interviews and the personal workouts and what have you. But I think they’ve done a great job considering all of the limitations.”
The entire country, not just the world of sports, is dealing with the effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic.The NFL is fortunate in that, aside from player meeting and the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft, players and staff have had no real need to meet in person. The looming question though is whether there will be football in full stadiums this season, and how COVID-19 might impact the regular season.
“I think that we will. That’s my personal view – I’m not a physician, I’m not a scientist and what have you, but I read and follow everything else,” Blank said. “I know that it’s important, regardless of the sport, sports are important for lots of people, for lots of reasons; not just the economics of it but bringing people together. A sense of community, sense of togetherness, and a sense of purpose that they’re joining together with. So, I think there will be football. Whether or not all of the games will be played with fans in the stands, I’m not sure. I know the league would certainly prefer to do that – so will every virtual sport throughout the world. Whether or not that will be possible and provide a safe environment for our fans, players, coaches, staff, etc. is still a question mark. You can debate what has to happen first, there certainly needs to be a lot more testing in my view, then where we are today – in terms of capability. The concern fans have about their own safety, we have to be able to relieve that and create a safe environment for them. I think there’s ways to do that, we’re not at that point now, but I think that’s where we are headed. Whether we’ll get there for the first game of the year, I don’t know. I think the league would like to do that, certainly. I think in the case of the NFL; you know so much of the product is absorbed by television, media and different formats, that even if we had to play some games without fans in the stands – it’s not preferable, it’s not what our fans want. It’s not what our players want. It’s not what anybody wants, but we could do it. I think so much focus is on the field itself, and on the game itself, that I think it would still be very acceptable and enough that it won’t be a great distraction for our fans.”
One could argue that Arthur Blank is one of the most generous owners in all of football. In 2016 Blank donated $100,000 to the Gleason Initiative. In 2017 Blank matched donations made by Falcons fans to Houston area hurricane relief efforts. And in the present, Blank, through his family foundation, continued his charitable contributions by funding $5.4 million in relief efforts in Georgia and Montana.
“A lot of what we do, day in and day out, throughout our family of businesses; fans, guests, customers our guests ranches, and of course the Falcons and our Atlanta United team – is to be of service to other people,” Blank said. “It’s important to step up and do as much as we can. It’s a unique opportunity for us to do that. I would encourage every single American to find a way that they can give back. Whether it be in their own household, neighbors, extended community, extended family – whatever way that they can. It doesn’t have to be just financial, there’s lots of opportunities out there to be connected to other people, in a healthy way and in a safe way. And to feel that healing, healing will come to all of us the more we do for others, the more we’ll heal ourselves and get through this together.”
As mentioned above, Arthur Blank is one of the most generous team owners you can find in the NFL, there’s no denying that. Whether we have full stadiums or not, it’s a relief to see Blank mention the importance of having the fans who attend games feeling safe. We have the 2020 NFL Draft coming up, and although it will be different this year, it’ll be a welcome distraction for the time being.