Considering how many Black NFL players take the field, it’s reasonable to assume the NFL would embrace diversity and social equality. But this isn’t often the case. The NFL has faced tough questions about how the organization deals with social justice. Many point out that while the league says it advocates for diversity, the lack of Black coaches and staff tells a different story.
Even people in the NFL, like Steelers’ coach, Mike Tomlin, have complained about how the league handles diversity. The 2020 protests prompted the NFL to change some of their ways, including altering its Rooney Rules, but several people feel it’s simply not enough.
One team, the Atlanta Falcons’ has gone above and beyond to make social justice a top priority. The entire organization has adopted an attitude that if the world is going to change, it should start in the Falcons’ own locker room. Many feel that the franchise’s approach to an NFL boycott should be the new standard all teams practice.
The Falcons’ create a social justice committee
In 2017, the Atlanta Falcons decided they wanted to become a better organization when it came to social justice. To make that happen, they created a social justice committee. The committee enables the team to take the field while other teams have boycotted games.
The team created the social justice committee to encourage awareness about civil rights. The committee also helped strengthen the team’s bond with the city of Atlanta. Committee members are actively involved in several programs that include youth activities, police ride-alongs, and the Falcons’ Rise Up and Vote program. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said in an interview on Atlanta’s news page:
“Certainly, coming from my end of things, how as a white coach can I become a better ally? Because the stories that you have heard bothered you so much to say, ‘Hey man, I support you’ just wasn’t enough.’ So, learning about experiences that have taken place, hearing about those, those really bothered me deep down. I just wanted to get to this space to say, ‘Hey, just saying I support you just isn’t enough.’ That, to me, was saying, ‘What does that look like? What does an ally look like in this space?’ Because I wanted to have a bigger role.”
The Falcons’ honor civil rights leaders
The Falcons’ organization believes that honoring civil rights leaders is an important component for improving the future. In the Falcons game against the Seahawks, both teams wore armbands honoring the life of late Congressman John Lewis. Each band featured Lewis’ initials and each team logo. Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen told NBC Sports:
“We know that John Lewis, was a big part of [the Voting Rights Act] and a big reason why that is a part of the world today. To be able to tie that in with our team and be able to do it with such a great man as John Lewis, someone that I’ve been blessed enough to go down and do the Selma walk with myself. I was all in for it with him.”
On October 24, MSN Sports reported that the team appointed civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. as its honorary team captain.
The Rise Up and Vote program
Atlanta Falcons’ fans must have noticed that the uniforms have been tweaked. According to WSB-TV, the uniforms are the visual representation of the team’s Rise Up motto. The slogan and uniforms are just small representations of the latest project the team’s social justice committee has taken on.
The Rise Up and Vote program’s goal is to help people realize the importance of voting for democracy. The team isn’t simply focused on people who are currently eligible to vote. Nor are they concentrating on the 2020 election. The team proved that they want everyone to participate in all future elections.
Several team members recently participated in a Zoom meeting with Booker T. Washington High School students. While football was discussed during the ZOOM meeting, the bulk of the conversation revolved around voting. Not only did the team discuss the ballot and the importance of voting, but they also encouraged the youth to volunteer at the polls.
“The youth come in numbers,” Falcon’s safety Ricardo Allen told the students during the ZOOM meeting covered by the New York Times. “If you listen to the old hands who have been fighting for this forever, one of the best things they said you can do is to pass it down to the youth to get them fighting, too.”
The great thing about the Falcons handling the NFL’s social justice issues is that everyone within the organization seems encouraged. It will be interesting to see if other pro-sports teams decide to follow in the Falcons’ footsteps.