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Matt Ryan talks social justice, crowd noise, and 2020 season in far-ranging media session

The Falcons QB held forth on many, many topics during his first media session since the end of the 2019 season.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a while since Matt Ryan sat in for a media session, so it was not surprising that he had a lot to say. Ryan, who started a GoFundMe for the Black community in Atlanta recently with $500,000 of his own money and a goal of $2 million overall, spoke a lot about his intent with that fund and the generosity he’s seen from those contributing so far, but he also touched on what lies ahead for this Falcons football team.

Rather than subject you to my ramblings on the overall theme behind what Ryan said, let’s just get right into his comments. I’ve broken them out by topic for ease of navigation, because sometimes I like to make your lives easier.

On social justice and his fundraiser

Ryan spoke about the donations he’s received to this point, which last I checked totaled almost $1.2 million, and how much he appreciates the donations. Fans have been donating, players and coaches and have been donating, and yes, some trollish fans of other teams have been dropping in anywhere from $28 to $283. Hey, it’s for a good cause.

We’re not yet clear on where this money is going, but Ryan has pledged to work with Black community leaders to figure out the best uses for it. This is a man figuring out the best way forward but doing so in a way that he hopes will make a genuine difference, which makes this a nice contrast to the many statements followed by silence we’ve seen from other players, teams, and organizations outside of sports. It sounds like he’s been having conversations to better understand what his teammates have endured, which is critically important to understanding the scope of the problem.

Ryan made it clear that even if he’s figuring things out, he’s not done speaking up or raising money. Like many of us, he’s become aware that silence is useless in the face of the issues impacting Black Americans, including the racism and police brutality that have sparked protests across the country.

Ryan was also asked about both Colin Kaepernick, who has been shut out of the league since 2016 for kneeling to protest injustice, and whether kneeling during the national anthem is something that’s likely to happen again in 2020. He offered words of support for Kaepernick’s overdue return to the league but was much more vague on the topic of kneeling, saying he hasn’t discussed it with specific players, does expect to see it in the NFL, and offering nothing concrete about whether the Falcons will consider doing so, either individually or as a team. You’ll recall they weren’t one of the teams with a lot of participation in that regard back in 2016 and 2017.

On teammates and the season ahead

Ryan’s most exciting praise was for Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst. He noted that Ridley is looking great this offseason as he prepares for this 3rd NFL season (and potential 3rd year jump), which is music to our ears. With Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper gone, Ridley’s likely to take an even larger role in 2020.

Ryan also sounds legitimately excited to work with Hurst, a player he called one of the most athletic tight ends he’s worked with and a potential mismatch for defenses. Dirk Koetter is a big fan of airing things out, and if Hurst isn’t quite the player Hooper was but is a bigger problem down the field, that could be a lot of fun for Koetter, Ryan, and those of us watching from home.

Ryan did note that the team was behind in terms of where it would normally be on units working together, including the full offense and defense, or really anything resembling them. The good news, if you can call it that, is that every other NFL team appears to be in the same boat.

On pumping in crowd noise

Let’s end this on a lighter note. Ryan was asked to comment on what it might be like to play in front an empty stadium, which unfortunately is a real possibility, as well as what it would be like to play in that environment with crowd noise pumped in.

As you might expect from someone who was a part of the Falcons when they were nailed for doing just that several years back, Ryan has jokes.