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Falcons’ social-justice program is positioned for growth

Falcons coach Dan Quinn walks past the Brotherhood motto at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Falcons coach Dan Quinn walks past the Brotherhood motto at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

In the wake of the Colin Kaepernick protests of 2016, the Falcons started a social-justice program.

Over the past two seasons, they have been in the community doing work based on their discussions in the locker room and team meetings.

So, it was no surprise when Falcons coach Dan Quinn, his wife, Stacey, and assistant coaches Bernie Parmalee and Doug Mallory walked up in between a few cars in the West Paces Ferry Commons parking lot at the start of the “Buckhead4BlackLives” march Sunday for a protest march to the Governor’s Mansion.

“When some tough-pain moments happen, what do you have opportunity for? Growth,” Quinn said.

Amid the global protests after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, the Falcons’ already encompassing social-justice program is set for expansion.

Last season, the Falcons visited a DeKalb Youth Detention Center, Atlanta Detention Center, Habitat for Humanity build, three police ride-alongs and other projects.

They met with two leadership groups from high schools, the Forever Family group, a metro re-entry facility, and the Thomasville Boys and Girls club.

The Falcons also did walk-throughs of the Atlanta police department and the Promise Center.

There also was a viewing of the movie “Just Mercy.”

“You’ve heard me talk about the locker room,” Quinn said. “For players, that’s what we all missed. Especially, those that have left the game. Yeah, the locker room is a special place. But I also recognize that not everybody has the same experience when they leave the locker room, and I hate that. That’s not OK.”

In Quinn’s utopia, the real world would mirror the diversity and harmony of the locker room.

He was pleased that the NFL admitted to being wrong for not following Kaepernick’s lead in 2016. The league can learn a few things from the Falcons’ already thriving social-justice program.

“I know our job as leaders is to help the people that we are with, do it better,” Quinn said. “Let’s be accountable to that.”

Falcons president Rich McKay, who is chair of the league’s powerful competition committee, believes social-justice programs are necessary.

“We have to listen and respond to all of the issues that are out there that involve racial inequality, involve social injustices, all of the topics, police brutality, whatever the topics be, hopefully as a league we’ll be able to play a part in those discussions and trying to move toward some actual tangible solutions,” McKay said.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has stepped forward to help.

“It’s taken some time, but people are becoming more active in terms of their response to it,” Ryan said. “(Kaepernick’s) protest is being heard at this point. I might have taken too long.”

Ryan is raising money to help “Advancing the Lives” – ATL – of the Black Community” with $500,000 of his own money. He hopes to raise $2 million.

“That’s more of where my mindset has gone to,” Ryan said. “To not just to sit on the sideline and silently have people’s backs. I think the time has come where silence isn’t good enough.”

While the Falcons have done work in the community over the past two seasons, most of the players locked arms on the sideline during the national anthem during the 2017 season.

Defensive tackles Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe kneeled in Detroit the day after President Donald Trump called NFL players an expletive for kneeling.

With the NFL now siding with Kaepernick, the Falcons know there will be players around the league who will elect to kneel during the national anthem.

But what about the Falcons?

“That discussion part hasn’t come up in terms of my talks with the players at this point,” Ryan said. “I expect to see that for sure in different ways throughout the season. But most of our discussions have been about what is going on right now and talking about the images, the protests, the police brutality … those really have been the discussions that I’ve had with teammates and from listening in the team meetings.”

Quinn likely will let the players decide in unison, as he did in 2017.

“As we get closer to the season and that opportunity (to kneel) is going to come up, I think it’s got to be (held) within our team, having that discussion and creating an open forum for the teammates to talk about what that means to them and how they are going to act,” Ryan said.

Ryan knows where he wants to do most of social-justice work.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn and wife, Stacey (to his right), take part in a protest in Buckhead on Sunday, June 7, 2020.  D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)
Falcons coach Dan Quinn and wife, Stacey (to his right), take part in a protest in Buckhead on Sunday, June 7, 2020. D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)

“One of the things that keeps coming up in discussions with teammates, with friends is police brutality,” Ryan said. “Certainly, looking into ways that you can address that and having discussions with people that know more about that than I do. But that’s one of the things that continues to resurface in conversations. That’s definitely one of the consistencies of where people would like change.”

He’s been driven by the current events to make a change.

“That George Floyd video was incredibly tough to watch,” Ryan said. “I mean, it’s watching that, the number of different things that have come up, having talks with guys about this for the better part of 10 years, friends and teammates, I think it’s just a culmination of all of it.”

Members of the Falcons’ social-justice committee last season included safety Ricardo Allen, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, defensive end Steven Means, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and guard Wes Schweitzer.

Sanu was traded during the season to New England and Campbell (Arizona) and Schweitzer (Washington) left during free agency.

Player representative/long snapper Josh Harris was added to the committee this offseason.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank has encouraged the players to get involved in the community.

“It's important because we don't live in a country that's perfect, we live in a great country, the greatest in the world, but we have issues here,” Blank said. “The way to address them is to bring attention to them, which the players have helped us do. I'm proud of the NFL, the NFLPA, the Players’ Coalition, and most importantly that our own players are heavily involved in working on issues that they think are important.”

Video: Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan talks about social action, and discusses his new teammates too. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter.

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