In 2002, Atlanta sports would change forever. Arthur Blank purchased the Atlanta Falcons franchise in the National Football League from owner Taylor Smith, the son of team founder Rankin M. Smith Sr. From the point on, Blank purchased the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League in 2004 and founded an expansion Major League Soccer franchise named Atlanta United FC, which began playing in 2017. It’s safe to say Blank is committed to the city of Atlanta.
He’s been one of the NFL’s best owners, and that’s why I was excited to read his newest memoir Good Company, which I was fortunate enough to get an early copy of. The memoirs provide Blank’s thoughts on moments in Atlanta sports history that haven’t really been public knowledge until now.
With his purchase of the Falcons nearly complete in 2002, Blank joined the team when they traveled to take on the then St. Louis Rams. Instead of sitting in the section reserved for staff, Blank made his way to the rear of the plane to be around the players.
“As you know, I’m going to be the new team owner,” Blank writes in his book. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and coach you or start drawing up plays. But I need to know, what can I do for you? What do you need?”
Blank, whose past business experience includes co-founding The Home Depot, had the foresight to go to the source on how to turn things around in Atlanta. Blank goes into detail that the players wanted a full stadium to play for, something that wasn’t the case in the post-Super Bowl years before he took over. He shares a memory of New England Patriots’ team owner Robert Kraft, who attended a Patriots game in Atlanta and had his back to the game. He heard a loud cheer, thinking the Falcons had scored but it turns out it was a Patriots interception. It was a very pro-Patriots crowd inside the Georgia Dome. The culture needed a change.
“At The Home Depot, that meant listening to associates who worked on the store floors, and to our customers,” Blank wrote. “At the Falcons, it means listening to the players, the fans, the coaches, and the staff.”
One of the darkest days in Falcons history was the summer of 2007. Michael Vick had been an icon for the city and gave Falcons fans something to get excited about. Vick pled guilty for his involvement in a dog fighting ring and would spend 21 months in a federal prison, however, and the season went sideways from there. Vick and Blank were incredibly close, with Blank recalling some criticizing him for being “too close.” Blank recalls the moment he received details on Vick’s illegal activity.
“As I read the stories, I felt sick to my stomach. An animal lover and devoted dog owner, I was appalled by the descriptions of the cruelty that had been uncovered,” Blank wrote. “Michael’s fingerprints were on everything, even down to the abhorrent act of executing dogs that did not perform. As the plane began its decent toward Atlanta and the inevitable hordes of waiting press, I sat in a state of stunned disbelief.”
Blank details how he felt almost like a father figure to Vick, having him over to his house all the time. The portion on Vick is honestly tough to get through. As a fan going through the confusion I felt seeing our best player arrested and charged for what he did, it was hard for me to imagine how the owner would have felt given that relationship. Blank writes that he’s a strong believer in redemption and in 2017, long after Vick had served his time and retired from the NFL, Vick returned to Atlanta as a guest and honoree.
“When I see progress made—whether on a societal level or on an individual level—it’s more important to acknowledge and support that progress than to keep punishing the original ill,” Blank wrote.
Blank on the sidelines
Most team owners in the NFL wander down to the sidelines during games. Blank isn’t most team owners. It’s commonplace to see Blank standing on the sidelines towards the end of Falcons games. He writes that the reason he does this, is he believes it’s important for players to know he stands with them, win or lose.
“When the game goes into crunch time, I’m not going to be up in my suite hobnobbing with VIPs,” Blank writes. “I don’t care if it’s freezing cold or a scorching summer day, I’m going to be down here with you.”
To be honest, the part I—and probably many of you—are most interested in is Super Bowl LI. The Falcons were dominant in 2016, and eventually made it to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. It’s a day that most of us remember and will never forget. Blank joins us in our confusion.
“To this day I can’t reasonably explain how we went from 28-3 to a tied-up game headed for the first overtime in Super Bowl history, even though I stood as close as one can get to the action and watched it with my own eyes,” Blank wrote.
He goes into fully describing his thoughts of watching the New England Patriots celebrating, making his way to the locker room and realizing it was up to him to keep everyone together. He reminded everyone that all of their associates and fans were feeling the same dismay and sadness.
“I’m going to remember all of that and hold my head up when I leave this room,” Blank told them. “And I expect you to do the same.”
When I started reading Mr. Blank’s memoir Good Company, I couldn’t put it down. The book provides readers with not only memories from his past, but insight into his business expertise and his secrets to having an enjoyable life. One thing I noticed as I read every story, was that I was picking up on Blank’s core values. As I flipped pages, I began noticing that I could tell how Blank would react to certain situations he was facing. The way he views giving back to the communities he lives and works in seems very heartfelt.
It was announced on June 24 that Blank’s personal proceeds from Good Company will go to The National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Blank is also making an initial contribution of $300,000. As someone who has grown up a Falcons fan, and only really known Mr. Blank as the team owner, getting this first-hand insight into his life and how he’s navigated scenarios that weren’t always favorable was fascinating.
Good Company will be available Sept. 15 wherever books are sold and can be pre-ordered now by clicking here.