Falcons educate community on voting rights

There has never been a “Get Out The Vote” campaign quite like this one.

“In your lifetime, have you ever heard this many people talking about voting?” Falcons part-owner Warrick Dunn asked. “Things have changed.”

When Dunn played, the NFL steered clear of social action and failed to pick up the call of former quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2017 to fight against systemic racism and social injustice.

But the NFL reversed course this summer amid the protest over the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and the subsequent worldwide protests. One of the programs to come out of the call to action by several of the league’s top players has been “NFL Votes,” a non-partisan initiative.

With early voting set to start Monday in Georgia, the Falcons through their social-justice committee and the league-wide initiative have been virtually out in the community educating voters.

The Falcons have meet with high school students from McNair High and Central Gwinnett High, encouraging them to work at the polls and register to vote.

“I’m a 25-year-old man, but before this year I really didn’t know, I really didn’t understand the process for voting and the things you have to do to get registered and actually be able to vote,” Falcons defensive end Charles Harris told the Central Gwinnett Knights. “That’s something that was humbling for myself.”

The league has taken several social-action measures during the 2020 season, including the playing of “Lift Ever Voice and Sing” by Alicia Keys at early season games. The song is widely considered the Black national anthem.

The “NFL Votes” initiative is intended to support and encourage the voting and civic-engagement efforts of NFL fans, players, club and league personnel and NFL Legends up to the Nov. 3 election.

The initiative provides a platform to focus on three key components of the electoral process: voter education, voter registration and voter activation.

On the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on Aug. 6, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, noted that the legislation ensured all Americans the right to vote and prohibited discrimination in voting based on race or color.

“Through meeting with players and legends to better understand causes and issues they are passionate about, we found a consensus around the importance of voting,” Goodell said. “That’s why we’re putting the power of our platform behind NFL Votes, aiming to inspire and encourage people to get educated about the voting process, to get registered to vote, and to ultimately exercise their right to vote.”

Dunn, is the Southeast regional coordinator of the NFL Legends program, and has been reaching out to NFL alumni to also get involved.

“From a league perspective, their approach overall is that they are supporting their players,” Dunn said. “They understand what the players want to do for the communities that they live in. They are all about creating ways to educate people on voting. I think that’s important to make sure, first and foremost, that they are registered.”

The NFL has been running commercials, featuring a several players, including Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson, of Gainesville, during the games to encourage viewers to register and learn more about the voting process.

“All of the teams are pushing that,” Dunn said. “We’ve had a lot of video calls discussing voter registration, some of the issues and the history of Voting Rights Act. It’s been a lot of education on our part of understanding the beginning and where we are at now.”

Falcons defensive end Steven Means and linebacker LaRoy Reynolds recently met with the football team from McNair High School.

Harris, center Alex Mack and free safety Ricardo Allen were on the virtual call with the Central Gwinnett Knights.

“It’s a great way to get everyone involved in what’s going on in the world,” Mack said. “Having you work the polls. Having you vote yourselves really makes people count your vote. Count who you are and what you believe in and what your thoughts are. The government is going to care about what you say.”

The players appeared attentive and receptive to the message.

“Getting involved is really powerful,” Mack said. "It’s a great way to effect change. The other thing that is really important is that voting is a habit. If you work at the polls and if you vote, it’s going to be easier the next time.

“By removing that mystique, by getting involved in voting, by doing all of those things, you are more likely to for the rest of your lives do your civic duty, be involved and really make a change.”

Allen encouraged the players to work the polls, too.

“With you all being leaders in the community and being the people that you are, that everybody looks up to, this could be something that could help and spread like a wild fire throughout your community and that you have the love and respect for the family that you’re serving,” Allen said. “The key is that you have a chance to have an impact on their lives.”

The NFL alumni have been receptive.

“We’ve been educating guys on this, but also trying to get more guys involved," Dunn said. "Let guys get out and let their voice be heard on different issues. The issue now is to make sure that everyone is registered and able to vote.

“We’re trying to push a lot during this small window, but I would tell you early voting is probably the key for communities that are struggling. You want your voice to be heard. Early voting starts Oct. 12 in Georgia."

Getting the youth to work the polls was an idea to replace some the senior citizens, who may not be able to work the polls.

“The pandemic is going to limit how people can move, senior citizens and those things,” Dunn said. “I think early voting is the key.”

AJC correspondent Jason H. Butt contributed to this article.H

Falcons' next four games

Panthers at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11

Falcons at Vikings at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18

Lions at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday Oct. 25

Falcons at Panthers at 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29

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