Atlanta Falcons owner says players must stand for anthem and makes them ride with police to see what they go through

Two Atlanta Falcons players kneel in protest


The Atlanta Falcons organization apparently wants everyone to know that it’s time to move on from protest to progress. And Falcons owner Arthur Blanks is also making his expectations for the upcoming season clear in a new video promoting the team’s 8-week effort to address social justice issues.

According to, various players hosted or attended events to discuss solutions to the identified problems. These events reportedly ranged from ride-alongs with Atlanta Police Department officers to visiting local youth centers for conversations about social justice.

In a video released on Monday, Arthur Blank spoke about listening to player concerns about social justice issues, prison reform and tense relationships with law enforcement.

“This is not about players. It’s not about owners. It’s not about the NFL. It’s about the issues,” Blank said. “I’ve spent a great deal of time listening to our players. We’ve got about a dozen players who serve on a committee, if you will, that speak for all of the players – the entire team. And they have made it clear to us issues such as bail-bond reform, social justice and community involvement, law enforcement accountability, just a variety of issues that are very important to them.”

And Blank is making it clear that he’s committed to following the new NFL rules for conduct during the National Anthem.

“Players have that First Amendment right, we all have that First Amendment right to speak out and speak up on things as we see them,” Blank said in the video. “But we’ve asked them to, let’s convert that from protest to progress and that’s what I really want to measure ourselves. There’s more attention to issues that are legitimate and we want to honor the American flag, we want players to stand, we want them to be at attention, we want their hand over their heart, we expect all those things because all of our military people they deserve that because of the commitments they’re made to service in this country.

“We want to be able to focus on these issues and we’re all working together in that regard and if we turn this into a political kind of football, if you will, it’s not healthy because that becomes a real distraction to the work we’re trying to do.”

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Falcons coach Dan Quinn and 17 players reportedly spent time on ride-alongs with the Atlanta police over the past three months.

“You won’t understand until you’re in a certain situation,” Falcons running back Devonta Freeman said. “Those guys go through a lot as policemen and I respect it because it’s hard. You can sometimes misjudge.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that players Mohamed Sanu Jr., Brian Poole and Grady Jarrett also spent time with children from Atlanta area schools and the Boys and Girls Club to help facilitate conversation with police officers.

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After Donald Trump said the NFL should “fire or suspend” players who protest during the national anthem, two Atlanta Falcons players knelt for the national anthem last September. Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe were the first Falcons players to kneel during the anthem.

Strange times: As Anthem played, Jarrett/Poe took knee, prompting one fan not far from Falcons bench to yell, “Stand up or move to Canada.”

— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) September 24, 2017

Here’s a list of the Atlanta Falcons 8-week event lineup:

April 16: Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation speaker series

The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Speaker Series program featured leaders from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonprofit organization that works to combat hatred and discrimination of all kinds. The program featured George Selim, ADL’s senior vice president of programs, Jonathan Broder, contributing writer for Newsweek, and Christian Piccolini, a former white supremacist who now works closely with the ADL to combat hate groups.

April-May: Atlanta Police Department ride-alongs

Falcons players experienced the community through the lens of an Atlanta police officer by taking a ride through the city with the Atlanta Police Department. Several players also participated in a training simulator to learn firsthand what it takes to protect and serve. Through open dialogue and candid conversation, APD officers had the opportunity to provide insight into a side of their jobs rarely seen by the public. These ride-along events were held on a series of dates throughout the spring.

May 2:  Thomasville Heights Boys & Girls Club visit

As part of an ongoing police-teen mentoring program, Falcons players and Atlanta police officers joined 18 Thomasville Heights teens for a conversation about social justice. The conversation was centered around violence in their community and examined the messages students received through social media, music, movies and television shows.

May 11: Habitat for Humanity build with Atlanta police officers

Falcons players and police officers worked together on a Habitat for Humanity build that provided a new home to a family on Atlanta’s Westside.

May 14: Private dinner with Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson

In response to Falcons players wanting to dig deeper into social justice issues tied to institutional racism, players had a private dinner with Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. The EJI’s racial justice program explores the legacy of slavery, racial terrorism, segregation and contemporary issues of mass incarceration, excessive punishment and police violence.

May 23: Visit to the Atlanta Police Department’s At-Promise Youth Center

Falcons players joined by Atlanta police officers and youth in a conversation about the relationships between community and the police, and ways to build stronger bonds. The At-Promise Center is the cornerstone of the Atlanta Police Foundation’s youth crime reduction initiative, serving up to 150 youth each year with specialized programming for children and young adults, ages 12 to 24, who reside on Atlanta’s Westside.

June 5: High school football leadership day

The program paired up six rising seniors from each of two Atlanta high school football squads – Booker T. Washington High School and Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School – for a day-long immersion into the Atlanta Falcons culture. With a Falcons player assigned to mentor each student pairing, the high school players joined in the full day of practice, from locker room to team meetings to the practice field. The experience will help transfer the Falcons culture and values into the locker rooms of these two schools. These young student athletes are our connection to the future of positive activism. This mentorship will be invaluable in helping develop diverse leaders.

June 7: ‘Monsters and Men’ private movie screening

Falcons players viewed a sneak preview for a new movie with a fall release date, “Monsters and Men.” After capturing an illegal act of police violence on his cell phone, a Brooklyn street hustler sets off a series of events that alter the lives of a local police officer and a star high school athlete.