Still in the middle of the final phase of their offeason program, the Atlanta Falcons have not addressed the elephant in the locker room.
However, they acknowledge that the issue of National Football League’s national anthem policy, which requires all league and team personnel to stand, is on the team’s agenda.
The team’s options include stand, kneel and get the franchise fined or stay in the tunnel during the playing of the anthem. Whatever the Falcons decide, they plan to do it together, per head coach Dan Quinn requiring unity.
The Falcons, who are working on a social action project with law enforcement and teens, on all but one occasion stood last year and most of the players locked arms.
» More: Read the new policy
Former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick starting kneeling during the 2016 exhibition season to protest police brutality and social and racial injustices. He started a national movement that included players around the league.
After opting out of his contract to become a free agent, Kaepernick was not signed and a remains out of the league.
Only two Falcons players knelt during the national anthem last season and did so in response to President Donald Trump calling NFL players “sons of bitches” during a rally in Huntsville, Ala., last September. Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett took a knee in Detroit in response to the president’s comments.
Quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Tevin Coleman and left tackle Jake Matthews spoke this week after an OTA session and said the Falcons have not yet discussed the matter as a team.
“That’s something we’ll get to,” Ryan said. “I think the focus for everybody, to be frank with you, has been on the practices and the OTAs.”
The Falcons have tried to be progressive on social and racial issues.
After playing Buffalo last season, the Falcons had an open team discussion on possibly bridging the divide between racial and social injustice. They also discussed how some in the public believe that kneeling during the national anthem is an affront to the nation’s flag and its military.
“We are a team and we want to do everything as a team,” Coleman said. “We have to go out there and fight for each other. That just brings a lot of relationship together with the players.”
The team, along with owner Arthur Blank, met with an expert, Andrew MacIntosh, national director of leadership and education programs for the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE).
“One thing Dan does such a good job with, and really the leadership of our team does such a good job with, is being open and communicating when you have situations come up like this,” Ryan said. “When you have people with different opinions. Airing those and getting those out and connecting as a team and doing things unified as a team is most important to us. I’m sure we’ll get to that at some point.”
The Falcons have taken action to address some of the issues that Kaepernick protested.
“Last November we decided that we’d form a committee and really try to take head-on some of the issues,” Quinn said. “That’s really where our focus has been over the last seven weeks. We’ve performed an offseason program that has kind of done different projects along the way.
“We’ll give you an update on that in a couple of weeks. We are real proud of the work that the guys have been a part of over these last seven weeks. We have two more things that we are doing.”
Quinn was short on the details, but said the work revolved around law enforcement and teenagers.
“More than anything, for us, we knew we wanted to take on the issues and take on some action,” Quinn said. “That part has been real rewarding and we’re real proud of the guys with the work they’ve put in to try to make a difference.
“Taking on some of the issues. We know some aren’t going to be solved overnight. We can make some small changes, then that’s our part, especially in our community here in Atlanta.”
The Falcons don’t believe standing for the anthem will be an issue.
“We have done a good job here from Blank and (president) Rich McKay all the way down to the Dan and the players,” defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “We have a lot of social injustice things that we are doing around the city.”
Instead of protesting, the Falcons appear to have accepted Kaepernick’s call to action.
“Let people see that we are just not faces behind the helmet, that we are people that actually care,” Manuel said about the team’s community involvement.
Players have been challenged to get involved in social and racial injustice issues.
“What are you doing differently to make a change?” Manuel said. “What are you doing during your down time when you have four months off? What are you doing?”
But now that the league had made standing a policy that calls for teams to be fined for violation, this issue will not likely be that simple.
The NFL Players Association was not consulted and believes the policy is being unilaterally imposed. The NFL and the NFLPA were working together on social issues before the new standard.
The Falcons believe sports can help bring people and communities together, while the flag issues has distorted the message of the protest that had nothing to do with the military.
“Really, we just try to emulate what we are here as team,” Matthews said. “In that locker room, it doesn’t matter what you look like. We’re all brothers with a common goal and purpose.
“There is no ill-intentions or any hate in there at all. We just try to (simulate) that and put that out in the community. That’s really it. If everybody had that mindset, it would be a better world.”
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