Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who recently marched in an Atlanta-area peaceful protest against racial injustice, said he intends to fully support his players if they decide to protest in any manner during the NFL season.
When asked specifically if he would kneel with his players during the national anthem, Quinn responded: "If and when the players choose to protest -- and I would say in whatever way they choose -- then, hell yeah, I'll support them. And I'll be with them, in whatever they choose to do.''
The Falcons showed unity in 2017 when they locked arms during the national anthem after President Donald Trump lashed out at NFL players for following former player Colin Kaepernick's lead in kneeling to protest social injustice. At the time, Trump said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired! He's fired!''
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said last week the team hasn't discussed kneeling, but a handful of players around the league, including Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson and Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield, have announced intentions to kneel this season. Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills has continued to kneel since 2016.
Ryan, who recently donated $500,000 to a fundraiser he started to generate $2 million for the black community in Atlanta, was asked for his thoughts on kneeling. His awareness of racial injustice was heightened after George Floyd, who was black, died when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, kneeled on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes, killing him. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder.
"Again, if things are done peacefully, I think that's important,'' Ryan told ESPN in regard to protesting. "As far as kneeling, I think it's a conversation to have within teams. I'm supportive of doing things together and being united. I think unity not only within our team, but amongst our community, throughout the country. If we can all strive towards being a little more united, I think that would be a really good thing.''
Protests continue in Atlanta after another black man, Rayshard Brooks, was shot in the back and killed by Atlanta police officers late last week.
In 2018, the NFL considered disciplining players for kneeling, but the league switched gears. Under the current anthem policy, the NFL states: The anthem will continue to be played before every game, and all player and non-player personnel on the field at that time are expected to stand during the presentation of the flag and performance of the anthem. Personnel who do not wish to do so can choose to remain in the locker room.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently released a video in response to a message from a group of players in which he stated: ''We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.''
As for the Falcons, Quinn said the team has continued to have discussions about racial injustice with the help of guest speakers, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce. Quinn commended the work of the team's social justice committee and addressed where he believes tangible changes can be made toward equality, starting with himself in his daily interaction with players and coaches.
"For me, being a part of our social justice committee over the last couple years, it's been like a game-changer in my life,'' Quinn said. "Having the opportunity to go to the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and spend time with [EJI founder] Bryan Stevenson, having [police] ride-alongs, having the opportunity to go to the At-Promise center ... spending time in our community has been a total game-changer for me.
"What, maybe at one time, you think, 'OK, that's offensive.' You know what's offensive? Racism. Those are things that I wanted to show just saying, 'Hey, I support you,' sounded kind of hollow. So I wanted to make sure support felt stronger. I just wanted to make sure I could make my impact for the team and for the players and for the community.''
In other news, Quinn addressed concerns about the coronavirus in relation to his team, saying the Falcons would consider training camp practices at Mercedes-Benz Stadium rather than the home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia, as a means to create more space. Quinn said although no players have the virus that he is aware of, the team still is taking extra precautions.
The team is discussing a plan that would involve testing players three times a week and making tests available to family members as well.
Quinn noted that because of the NFL policy currently in place, the Falcons would have to hold any team meeting outside based on social distancing.
The Falcons' veterans concluded the virtual offseason program last Thursday while the rookies finish this Thursday.