Falcons’ Steven Means lauded for on-field and community work

Falcons selected defensive end Steven Means on being team’s 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee.

Steven Means recently logged on to his computer for what he thought was a regular Zoom call to further the voting initiative he leads as a part of the Falcons’ social-justice committee. When Means logged on, he was told it wasn’t going to be that type of call, as safety Ricardo Allen took over speaking duties.

Allen started to praise Means for his work in the community. As a key member of the Falcons’ social-justice committee, Means has long focused on furthering relationships between police and Black communities. This year, Means has been at the forefront of a voter initiative, speaking to high school football teams to teach them the importance of voting once they turn 18 years old. Many of those kids, even those unable to vote because of their age, ended up volunteering at polling sites around metro Atlanta.

Given this commitment, Allen, with effusive praise, surprised Means by revealing he was named the Falcons’ nominee for the 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year. Means’ jaw dropped as his wife, Annette, who he later found out knew about the award for roughly three weeks, surprised him with the hardware.

“As (Allen’s) saying that he was able to hand down the award to me, I look over and she’s holding the award in her hands. It took everything out of me not to cry,” Means said. “I was going through a lot of emotions.”

Allen was the Falcons’ 2019 nominee for the Payton award.

After receiving the trophy, Means’ computer screen lit up with family members, one by one, turning their cameras on to reveal that they also were on the call to congratulate him. A tremendous honor, Means knows there’s still much more to do with his voting initiative.

Means is still looking to reach those who may otherwise be uninterested in voting to do so during the coming Senate runoff Jan. 5. He also wants to explain to young people the importance of voting in local elections.

Means is one of the more well-liked teammates in the Falcons’ locker room. A fifth-round selection in 2013 who spent his first two NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Means bounced from there to the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles before he joined the Falcons early in the 2018 season. By the end of the 2018 season, Means was receiving rotational playing time and was expected to have a bigger role in 2019. But that wouldn’t happen as he tore his Achilles during an offseason workout. He re-signed during the offseason and has been a mainstay in the defensive line’s rotation this season.

Over the past two weeks Means has had his best two games with the franchise. He recorded a sack and forced fumble in a 43-6 win over the Las Vegas Raiders and followed that with two sacks and a forced fumble in a 21-16 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The recent on-field results have brought a smile to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s face because of what he’s seen from Means on a daily basis.

“Steven Means is one of my favorite players I’ve ever coached,” Ulbrich said. “He’s probably one of the best humans I’ve ever met in my life. That is zero exaggeration. I’m just so happy for him that he’s finally starting to have some of the success of the work he’s put in. He’s a tireless worker with amazing energy and focus and passion for this game. Really all he needed was an opportunity, and people are starting to see all the work we see every day.”

Quarterback Matt Ryan joined the Falcons’ social-justice committee this year after stating his desire to become more involved following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly eight minutes. With the committee, Ryan has become closer with Means than in the previous two years.

In addition, because of COVID-19 protocols preventing the use of a locker room, Ryan and Means share an on-site dorm room normally used during training camp to change clothes in between workouts and practice.

Ryan said he has learned a lot from Means about cultural issues he previously was not aware of.

And as for Means’ recent upswing in production, that’s no surprise to Ryan, based on what he’s seen in the dorm room.

“I can tell you this, he has great work ethic,” Ryan said. “He’s always doing push-ups or lifting weights or doing crazy stuff like that at all times of the day. I’ve walked through the dorm before and seeing him do complete workouts in the dorms. He’s an animal, there’s no question about it. He likes to get after it when it comes to working out and making sure that he’s in the best shape possible.”

Means found out about being the team’s nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award the day after the Falcons beat the Raiders. Ten days later, Means seemed just as ecstatic about the honor from when he first found out.

“To get an on-the-field award is an accomplishment, but to get the Walter Payton Man of the Year award with the aesthetic it comes with, and the prestige it comes with, I was totally taken by surprise,” he said. “I couldn’t be more honored to accept this award and represent this organization.”

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