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Falcons’ Deion Jones felt Drew Brees’ apology rang hollow

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones addresses recent social unrest nationwide and what NFL players can do improve racial relations. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, a native of New Orleans, felt Saints quarterbacks Drew Brees’ apology for insensitive comments about the nationwide social- and racial-justice protests rang hollow.

Brees told Yahoo Finance that he would never support NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. Then he back-tracked the next day with an apology.

“It was shocking, but that was just – how can I say it – just people not knowing,” Jones said Thursday in a virtual conference call with the Atlanta media. “He hasn’t walked in our shoes. But you would think he would have empathy from being in the locker room. But he still leaves and doesn’t have the same problems. It’s just going to start with people’s willingness to listen and learn about our position and (be) willing to change it, taking action.”

Brees comments were stunning given that 81.8% (18 of 22) of the starters in the Saints’ divisional round playoff loss to the Vikings on Jan. 5 were players of color, including a Nigerian-Canadian.

“I appreciate the apology,” Jones said. “I feel like apologies at this time are not enough. If you don’t know what to say, you shouldn’t have said anything at all. You kind of see someone’s true beliefs and how he really feels when he said it. It’s time for action. Apologies, we appreciate it, but now we need action. How much do you really care?”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms addressed Jones and the rest of the team recently. Falcons coach Dan Quinn asked her to give the team one or two things the team could do the help the city heal after the protest of police brutality in the wake of the murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick.

“We’ve got to be able to speak hope to people right now,” Bottoms said. “We’ve got to give people a belief that there is something better on the other side of all of this while recognizing their anger.”

In the wake of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem and President Donald Trump calling players an expletive for kneeling, the Falcons started a 15-person social-justice committee in 2017.

“We’ve been doing a good job of trying to figure out our way as the Falcons, as the Brotherhood,” Jones said. “DQ has been on top it. We’ve been having open conversations with (owner) Mr. (Arthur) Blank behind us. We have the (mayor) behind us. We are still searching and hunting for a way for us, as a whole, to make an impact … also guys looking for their own personal ways to help. … We are coming up with a plan and we are trying to make this be the first step.”

Jones has been watching the protests with great interests.

“My biggest thing is, that’s some people’s way of showing their frustration,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, I mean right now, it’s (important) not to say anything out of context, or say anything that doesn’t need to be said at this time, if you get what I’m staying.”

Jones believes the protests need to turn into action. He’d like to see the protesters bring the same enthusiasm on election day.

“What we really need is action,” Jones said. “Guys that are behind us. Guys that are willing to take action. Guys that want to speak up about it. ... You have to be pushing forward and not just willing to sit back. That’s how I feel.”

The team’s social-justice committee is diverse.

“It starts with people’s willingness to learn and listen about what it’s like to be a black man in America,” Jones said. “Also, just taking action and voting. Making sure that we are holding people accountable and making sure that we are seeing the changes that we need.”

The committee recognizes the importance of having white allies. A player of Brees’ stature could be helpful if educated on the issues.

“The biggest thing is the willingness to learn and educate themselves on systematic racism and the things that have been going on in America,” Jones said. “Once they learn, once they hear our side and or willing to listen and do their own research, that’s the start of change right there … (and then) getting in the voting booths.”

Jones is still processing what he can do to help personally.

“I’m really just seeing where I can help out in any way,” Jones said. “Doing my own mental process, seeing where I can make a change. Where can I affect change? I mean it’s hard, but these are the conversations that we (must) have with ourselves. It’s been fun. I haven’t come up with a plan yet, but I’m definitely thinking about it. I’m trying to support everyone and lift their spirits up as we go through this.”

Falcons coaches are set to return to the building by Monday. Quinn returns Friday.

Jones looks forward to returning and believes that sports can help the nation heal.

“I feel like sports always come in at the right time,” Jones said. “You still can’t forget what the whole thing is about. Even though we have sports to bring us together, we still can’t forget. We still have to take action toward what the final goal is, and that’s human rights for everybody.”

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