Reporters’ notebook: Arthur Smith passionate about STEM

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith leaves after speaking during the NFC head coaches availability at the NFL football meetings, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith leaves after speaking during the NFC head coaches availability at the NFL football meetings, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The following, a new weekly feature of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, allows our reporters to open their notebooks and provide even more information from our local teams that we cover daily. We think you’ll find in informative, insightful and fun.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith was asked about charities and causes that he’s most passionate about while at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix this week.

“Is this like a human-interest story,” Smith asked the reporter.

He was told that the story was on sports philanthropy.

“There is a lot of stuff I do,” Smith said. “Everybody has got their own flavor. Kind of what I tell our team, whatever your passion is, some people are more public with it than others. There are a lot of things I believe in. Youth sports and the opportunities that provides. There are things that we’ve leaned into in the city of Atlanta. I’ve got my own style, just like some of the players. They have their own charities. Some guys are more public than others. I’m a pretty private person. There are a lot of things that I’m very passionate about. A lot of it stems from programs that I think really help in this country and it’s not just sports.”

Smith didn’t get into specifics and don’t expect him to post anything on social media. However, he is passionate about science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM – programs and education in general.

“Sometimes, in our platforms, because we are football and you go into these places and people want to hear these football stories, but percentages of them really making as a professional athlete is very small,” Smith said. “You want to provide people examples and appreciate whether they getting to engineering or get into math. We need that in this country. I think a lot of that is leaning into over avenues to provide hope, education. Especially, there is not a lot of hope there. Those are some of the things I’m very passionate about.”

Blank a proponent of diversity, equity and inclusion

Some states, like Georgia, Florida and Texas, are pushing back on diversity, equity and inclusion measures that the NFL has embraced.

“I think it’s unhealthy for the country,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. “It’s unhealthy for the 330 million people who live in America. DEI covers all of us. Whether your white, or Black or Hispanic or whatever you may be. I’d be very much opposed to any cutting back.”

The NFL is going to require all 32 teams to have a DEI executive.

“The DEI efforts on behalf of the NFL are important because it’s our business, our industry,” Blank said. “But you know it’s a growing need in America. … Today the popular expression is DEIB, B being belonging. The notion of pluralism and acceptance of everybody based who there are, what they can. Should be the highest priority for our nation. Certainly, in terms of job placement and job opportunities and things of that nature.”

In Georgia, some Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), introduced SB 261, pushing back against efforts to make diversity, equity and inclusion a part of public education and hiring.

“I would not politically or socially be in favor of that,” said Blank about the general movement.

Braves payroll notes

* The Braves, who open this season with a franchise-high $199 million payroll, already have $122 million committed to their 2024 payroll, a result of their numerous extensions. They hold club options on starting pitcher Charlie Morton, outfielder Eddie Rosario and relievers Collin McHugh and Kirby Yates.

* Braves President and CEO Derek Schiller agreed with the notion of his franchise being a trend-setting organization, from the willingness to sign younger players to long-term deals to The Battery Atlanta and Truist Park.

“Over the past five or six years, we’ve had well over 150 sports teams from all across the world – not just here domestically – but internationally, as well, come study this (The Battery and Truist Park),” he told the AJC.

*More Schiller on The Battery’s and Truist Park’s success: “When we first opened, it had never been done before at this scale. There were bits and pieces of this that were maybe tested in combination with other sports venues, but nobody had ever taken on this large of an endeavor where they curate the experience outside of their sports venue the way that we did. We’ve learned a lot in the past seven years. But I think for the most part, we’ve made a lot of good choices, and the result of that is the experience for a fan coming here. Whether they’re coming for a Braves game or they’re coming on an average weeknight where there’s not a game, it’s really good.

“And we’re trying to continue making that even better. Make The Battery even better with the offerings we have here. Make the ballpark even better with some of the improvements we make every year. And obviously hopefully the team will improve each year, too.”

Men in black

Hawks coach Quin Snyder has found a variety of ways to put his influence on the culture he’s trying to build since taking over in February. Though, the latest may have been inadvertent.

Earlier in the year, the Hawks coaching staff wore quarter zip jackets in red, white, peach and black. As of late, they’ve emerged from the locker rooms in a new uniform of sorts that matches Snyder’s energy.

While a number of coaches in the NBA may rotate team colored quarter zip jacket, Snyder not so much. Fans will more than likely see Snyder patrolling the sidelines in a black long sleeve shirt paired with black pants and pair of Vans.

But Snyder’s choice in fashion comes less from him trying to make a statement and more on convenience.

“I’m living in a hotel, and it’s hard for me to get my clothes cleaned,” Snyder said. “I drink a lot of coffee, so when I spill you can’t tell. And the guys in the staff are amenable enough that they’re understanding of that and they work with me.”

Quiet down!

Georgia Tech coach Brent Key’s emotional plea Wednesday that “something’s got to change” after the tragic shooting deaths this week at a Nashville school revealed a different side of the Yellow Jackets chief, a man with a 4-year-old daughter and a retired-schoolteacher mother heartbroken over the senseless pattern of children killed while at school by gun violence. Key was brought to tears as he urged action.

“As long as people sit up there and bicker and argue, more and more kids are going to die,” Key said. “Because it hasn’t changed. Something’s got to change. Everybody, please do something.”

But, following his statement after his team’s spring practice workout, it didn’t take long for the more familiar Key to return. As he updated media about his team from a viewing platform inside the team’s indoor practice facility, players, coaches and visitors milled about on the field, creating a distracting background noise. As he spoke about the team’s return to practice from spring break, Key paused and stepped away from the podium and looked down to the field before resuming his answer. He tried to continue speaking before he could not tolerate it any longer.

Key screamed “QUIET DOWN!!!” in the voice that any visitor to Tech practices could recognize, a command that was quickly obeyed, before offering a lower-volume, “Thank you!”

Key then returned his attention to the media and smiled, quite pleased.

“Dang, it really worked,” he said, shrugging and raising his eyebrows. “Wow, surprised me.”

Getting a new roommate

Nazir Stackhouse has heard the rumors about Jalen Carter, his former teammate and roommate, possibly dropping in the draft. He’s heard it, but he can’t imagine it happening.

“I’m biased, but at the same time, any team that passes on Jalen, he’s just going to prove them wrong,” said Stackhouse, who roomed with Carter in a campus dorm the past two years. “Wherever he goes, he’s just going to go out there and be Jalen Carter like he was at the University of Georgia. If he goes to the Seattle Seahawks – that’s the talk of the town right now – he’s going to create a big impact on the Seahawks. If he were to go to the Bears, he’s going to make a big impact on the Bears. So, if they pass up Jalen, I wouldn’t say he’ll have a chip on his shoulder – because he’s one of those guys that doesn’t get bothered, that just goes out and plays anyway – but he always has a really good way of showing that he’s him.”

Speaking of roommates, Stackhouse revealed that he has new one. Freshman Jordan Hall, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound early enrollee from Jacksonville, Florida, who otherwise still would be in high school, moved in with the fourth-year senior in January.

“A very funny guy, a character. I like him,” Stackhouse said with a grin.

Here, Stackhouse cleared his throat and looked down, feigning embarrassment.

“And, yes, I still live in the dorms,” he said, drawing laughter from reporters.

Georgia’s upperclassmen typically move out of the dorms and into apartments or condominiums after their first or second year. But they always have the option of remaining in campus dormitories, the costs of which are covered by their football scholarships.

But with the junior Carter now moved on to the NFL, Stackhouse had a vacancy.

So far, Stackhouse has no complaints.

“He’s not a loud guy,” Stackhouse said. “He’s louder than Jalen Carter. But we’re always talking whenever (Hall’s) around, he’s never in my way. I have, like, a JBL speaker and he asks me if he can use it all the time. I give it to him, stuff like that. It’s a freshman thing.”

Staff writers D. Orlando Ledbetter, Lauren Williams, Ken Sugiura, Chip Towers and Gabriel Burns contributed to this article.