Arthur Blank, Falcons to have open discussion on race, protests

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who spoke passionately about the anthem protests before his team’s game in Detroit, said he hopes to move the conversation forward “from protest to progress.” (AP photo)

Arthur Blank is white, wealthy and powerful. So he can’t begin to relate to many of the issues that led Colin Kaepernick to drop to one knee during the national anthem last year, nor the hurt and anger felt by African-American athletes across the U.S. when our elected president called anybody who would protest “SOBs.”

But the Falcons’ owner understands the reason for the protests and knows the issues aren’t quickly going away. That’s why he and the team are pushing to move this “from protest to progress” and plans an open discussion with players, coaches, team officials and an outside facilitator early next week on race relations and related matters that have led to this point.

Blank acknowledges his skin tone makes it difficult to put himself in the shoes of African-Americans accustomed to forms of racism including, but not limited to, abuses by law enforcement and the justice system. But neither was Blank’s upbringing in a bubble.

He came from a middle-class background and lived in a one-bedroom apartment until he was married. His grandparents immigrated from Europe.

“I lived in a diverse community: Queens, New York, and I went to public schools my whole life,” he said. “But having said that, I’m white, I’m not African-American, so I don’t share that history organically. But in terms of my values and principles I do, and I think you know that.”

The Falcons plan to bring in Andrew Mac Intosh, a facilitator from RISE, which stands for Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality.” The organization was started in 2015 by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Ross, like Blank, is a white Jewish man in his late 70s. But he’s a native of Detroit, where he witnessed racism up close.

Mac Intosh is RISE’s national director of leadership and education programs. RISE’s board of directors includes commissioners from every pro sports league and the top executive from organizations of significance.

The advisory board includes Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli, who is one of the organization’s most active individuals and has long been moved by various social causes.

Before change can happen, there needs to be an understanding of what happened Sunday. Taking a knee during the national anthem does not solve any problems. It meant only to start a dialogue, just as when American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a black-power salute on the medals stand in the 1968 Olympics.

What better platform for moving this forward than sports? Sports bring people together from all races, religions, ages, socio-economic classes, nationalities and political alliances. As Ross is quoted on the RISE website, “The sports community is uniquely positioned and empowered to break down barriers, and provides us with a vast platform in which to begin open conversations, impact youth and be an effective catalyst for social progress.”

Falcons defensive linemen Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett didn’t drop to a knee as they locked arms with teammates before last week’s game in Detroit because they hate America or the flag. They did so because they love this country and the inflammatory speech uttered from Donald Trump in Alabama hurt them, angered them.

The NFL is a league that for far too long has been driven by only thing: revenue streams. It needs to be a catalyst for change for something other than their collective wallet.

Blank wants to open a dialogue. Mac Intosh will facilitate a conversation, likely on Monday, which is the start of the Falcons’ bye week. It’s hoped players will speak openly about complicated issues and offer possible solutions. They could range from meeting with people in the community to law enforcement, but nobody knows for certain yet.

“The purpose of any protest, whether you believe it or not, is to make change,” Blank said. “So we want to listen to them. What I’d like to see coming out of it is to first see what the other person is saying, as opposed to imposing your feelings on them. I can’t speak for 2,000 players in the NFL. But I doubt there’s any that really feel over the long term that being disrespectful to the national anthem or the flag is the right way to make progress. But they want to be heard, and it’s our responsibility to listen and respond as best we can.”

Blank said he is “disturbed” by the backlash against last week’s protests and believes they stem from “a lack of communication and a lack of understanding where somebody is coming from.”

“It’s not fabric they’re fighting for, it’s the values behind the flag,” he said. “That’s what makes America great.”

I asked Blank if he believed the Falcons or the NFL in general would have been so sensitive to pushing for change had Trump not attacked the league in his speech.

“I think the players’ feelings are very important, but obviously that (speech) struck a chord with a lot of them,” he said. “It went to 400 (players kneeling) from maybe four. It struck a raw nerve with a lot of people, black and white. I think an equal number of white people were offended — people, not football fans, but people in that community.”

And then: “If it developed a higher sense of urgency, that’s a good thing. But I’m not prepared to give him credit for anything.”

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239 comments
TideDawg
TideDawg

I didn't watch an NFL game the entire weekend and won't watch tonight. I will not watch an NFL game for 30 days. I suggest that the NFL should have the protesting players stay in the locker room until after the Anthem. I guess that wouldn't work because they can't show how much they disrespect the Flag and Anthem from the locker room. It's a small one man protest on my part, but as a veteran I have to show my disgust with the NFL for allowing it, and the handful of players that are protesting.

Carole Mellin
Carole Mellin

I have taken an oath multiple times, as both a Navy veteran and a lawyer. At no time did I swear to protect and defend a flag, or a national anthem. But what I did swear to protect and defend was the Constitution, and the rights it guarantees to all Americans- even those fortunate enough to be highly paid professional athletes.

TideDawg
TideDawg

And, at any time did you show respect for the Flag or Anthem. This is not about you Carole(male, female, or transgender) this about respect for the fallen and maimed that is shown by millions of Americans not just at a game but any event where the Flag is displayed and the Anthem is played.  Have you ever been given a folded Flag for a loved one lost in war? Have you ever stood and honored a veteran when Taps is played at his funeral. I was surprised when you said you were a Navy veteran and then you added lawyer which explained your disrespect for what 95% of Americans believe in.

MMagee
MMagee

At 90, I thought this dialogue was over but I guess it has only just begun. #1 kneeling is not a  disrespectful act....we kneel in prayer. PLEASE  remember we are a diverse nation. and yes let us have more open and respectful discusion

TideDawg
TideDawg

@MMagee  it's disrespectful when it's intended to be disrespectful.

Mike Coleman
Mike Coleman

45 has done much to diss USA. He knows a dissenter when he sees one.

DrTruth
DrTruth

If you're referring to Colin Kaepernick as "a dissenter", he's a Communist.  His heroes are Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.  They were both well-known torturers, mass-murderers and human-rights abusers.  This is who your dissenter hero really is....

DrTruth
DrTruth

Just did a Google search and it seems there were empty seats all over NFL stadiums today, especially at the "standing room only" Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  Must mean there are a bunch of people other than NFL players pissed off, right?  You betcha....

Derrell Carnes
Derrell Carnes

I'm done with this crap ! Demo on your own time , don't disrespect the Country and our flag ! We have courts that take care of these issues. Go march , or whatever and most Americans are understanding ! This ? It's going to go against you all .......

pride
pride

I find the first sentence of your blog offensive.  I grew up wondering why half my people were executed while the world watched, why country clubs and businesses wouldn't hire Jews, why young Jews were murdered fighting for civil rights in the South. I am used to the continued hatred of my people and the lack of appreciation for all we have accomplished while being attacked for centuries but I can't stomach people like you with a public forum making believe it didn't happen and doesn't currently exist.

Thomas K. Shea
Thomas K. Shea

Wonder if that has anything to do with the new stadium being more then half empty ??

JOHNROFRANO
JOHNROFRANO

blank is pandering to the players because he is afraid of them.

bu22
bu22

You and Blank are 100% wrong.  You don't flash someone a middle finger (as kneeling during the anthem does) and expect to encourage dialogue.  They tune you out and you lose many sympathetic people.  Blank needs to have some empathy for his customers, not just his employees.  And the fact that many did it to protest Trump is injecting partisan politics into sports, which many use to get away from that sort of stuff.

Dennis Reiter
Dennis Reiter

There protest, it is not a problem with the cops, it a problem with the criminal. Tell your kids to stop being criminals, cops shoot criminals when needed

Big Wally
Big Wally

Stay in school, don't have kids out of wedlock, obey the law, get a job, get off drugs, you would be surprised how fast all this social injustice nonsense will go away.

Jay Richardson
Jay Richardson

White folks be like its Obama's fault. Lol\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602

Tim Hegwood
Tim Hegwood

Get this off facebook if you can't read it! I will not pay to read this liberal RAG

Ethel Evans
Ethel Evans

Of course not! He just got a big ol' stadium!!

Greg Chandler
Greg Chandler

But yet tax dollars help build that stadium where these useless athletes make millions upon millions off of people that idolize them for some reason...

ChessMaster
ChessMaster

If Mr. Blank wants to get his people together and discuss how to improve America and its race relations, I'm all for it. That has the possibility of being productive. I've never met a police officer who wanted confrontation. They are often called peace officers because that is their goal; to keep the peace.


Let's start with remembering that when an officer comes across a situation, they usually don't know what is happening. They can't instinctively know who are the good people and who are the bad. Their job is to secure life and property, and sometimes that means cuffing innocent people or even victims until they determine what's going on. It's not being racist. It's doing their job. 

Jacqueline Denise
Jacqueline Denise

Disclaimer: I don't know who the writer is, I just copied this post.. This writer nailed it: "What do you do when you stand before royalty? You kneel. What do you do when you go to the altar? You kneel. What do men do when they propose to the love of their life? They kneel. What do players do on the field when a comrade gets injured and cannot get up? They kneel. When you’re pleading with someone...when you are pleading for your very life...it takes you down to your knees...kneeling. Is that disrespectful?? Listen people. We kneel because we are literally pleading for our lives in front of the symbol of our country. How can you not SEE THAT?? We are kneeling, asking, pleading, to please stop the brutalization. We are kneeling, asking, pleading, to please stop killing us. Kneeling has never been a sign of disrespect nor will it ever be!! Kneeling is an action of humbleness. Kneeling is an action that shows unwavering respect. Kneeling is action of submission! Not disrespect. Period. When you see anyone kneel for anything it COMMANDS attention. And the first thing that you should be asking yourself when you see anyone kneel is...Why are they kneeling? What has caused this person, these people, to kneel in front of something so great? If you don’t care about their reason then you my friend are most likely the problem."... My take "it's hard to STUMBLE from your knees " #prayandtakeaction

Michial Carlton
Michial Carlton

The game tomorrow is sold out. I went down to buy the standing room only tickets it took an hour standing in line. The real Falcon fans know Mr.Blank and the Atlanta Falcons support the flag and our troops. Note if your going to boycott please boycott we are tried of hearing it, thanks.

Carole Mellin
Carole Mellin

I have taken an oath multiple times, as both a Navy veteran and a lawyer. At no time did I swear to protect and defend a flag, or a national anthem. But what I did swear to protect and defend was the Constitution, and the rights it guarantees to all Americans- even those fortunate enough to be highly paid professional athletes.

Mark A Morales
Mark A Morales

You cant have a discussion on race and only allow it to be one sided.

Jen Sieger Lawson
Jen Sieger Lawson

We dont need to open the discussions... it was fine until Obama kept bringing it back up and if you guys for a minute would educate yourselves on ALL of these politicians and understand the real motive for wanting to divide all of us including all your sheep... then you wouldnt give them the time of day...they arent smarter than you... they just know you are using your full brain power.

Mark Daverin
Mark Daverin

Tony Miller There will always be racism. Racism is needed by the left for votes. It was not this bad until Obama picked the scab. Think about that. America elected the first black man to the highest office and he cried racism at every opportunity. From where I stand, Obama's actions, his obvious hatred of Jews made black people think it's okay to show their racism. Obama's DOJ openly said they were not interested in prosecuting black crime. Add to the fact that Obama was on the wrong side of EVERY race issue that involved police. The Baltimore incident proved systemic racism against whites from the Mayor on down and that city has been controlled by Democrats for 60 years. Once you take a hard look where racism turns it's ugly head... not hard to figure who is pulling the strings to make racism seem like the most important issue in the country.

Diane Nestler Rainey
Diane Nestler Rainey

Have anything y'all want. As long as the NFL chooses to show their hate for America and our military.... they won't get a single solitary second of support from this America vets family

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

Way to not read the article or listen to what these people are actually saying. 

Tim C8532
Tim C8532

@Big Wally @FineousMcDirtyBird  They are wrong about what? That racism still exists? That's why they are protesting. Critics of the NFL players, astonishingly, despite mountains of evidence, continue to deny its existence.

Big Wally
Big Wally

@Tim C8532 @Big Wally @FineousMcDirtyBird You mean like when the Seattle football player whined about racial profiling in his recent brush with the law and after a thorough investigation, the police were found to have done nothing wrong.  It's not racism, it's not wanting to take action for one's actions.  It's called accountability.

WhyorWhyNot
WhyorWhyNot

Arthur, if you're going to have this discussion, here's something to consider. In looking at the game book for the Green Bay game a couple of weeks ago. I noticed something. This is not an accusation, just an observation.


You had the Falcons organization broken into four groups. First the players; about 75% black. Then the coaches; about 50% black. Next the operations staff; about 25% black. Finally, the executives; not a single minority in the group, all white. This is from memory, so i apologize if the numbers are off, but this is the impression I had sitting in the stadium. 

Mary
Mary

Yeah Arthur, you need to fire one of your white executives and replace him with a black one, geez.

Tim C8532
Tim C8532

@Mary  I think whyorwhynot's point was that Arthur should start this discussion with his own organization.

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

Yay! Let's put thousands of people out of work because you can't understand different ideas! That's what I call MAGA!

Ray Quest
Ray Quest

it simple ask your self why every action a black man takes is 1st deem criminal or wrong only then will you begin to understand our protest

Big Wally
Big Wally

Maybe you don't understand that blacks commit an inordinate amount of crimes in the country.

Michael Sheppard
Michael Sheppard

Things to discuss about race : Black people need to quit committing 85% of all racist violent crime and calling whites racist while they do it. Thats it

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

The stats you speak of don't exist, but I'll bite. Where did you learn of this disproportionate volume of black committed hate crime?

Big Wally
Big Wally

@FineousMcDirtyBird Here's a stat, 72% of births are out of wedlock for blacks, which is far more than any other race.  That leads to all sorts of problems.  You can't blame that on social injustice lies.

Susan Wright
Susan Wright

You sound crazy ..when a black person kills someone they go to jail..when a cop kills a black person..he gets aquitted..even if the black person isn't guilty.. when white people kill someone they kill a lot of ppl at one time..think about..

Michael Sheppard
Michael Sheppard

When a cop kills a white person, which happens twice is often, exactly the same thing happens as when a black person is shot by cop. Quit being ducking racist

Michael Sheppard
Michael Sheppard

Black people commit over 70% of all mass shootings as well.

Susan Wright
Susan Wright

Michael Sheppard..no you quit being racist..lying about it too..black people commit most one on one black crimes...whites shoot up clubs...schools.. theaters.. churches and their jobs..not one person..but a lot of ppl..

Michael Sheppard
Michael Sheppard

Unless you're saying facts are racist themselves. Which wouldn't suprise me with your 65iq

Michael Sheppard
Michael Sheppard

If 4 people are shot its a mass shooting. Happens weekly in Chicago

Michael Sheppard
Michael Sheppard

Also, a black man shot up a church of white people just last week

Linda Roman
Linda Roman

You sound Silly much white on killings you much don't watch lD on tv they take out the whole family. Please stop with the lies.

Susan Wright
Susan Wright

Michael Sheppard..what I stated are facts also..that shooting last week is a first.. I speak on what I know..with the way you're speaking..yes .. I believe your iq..is 65..you sit on this internet read what others say..take it to heart..and repeat what you hear..boi..go play with someone else..you're hilarious..

DrTruth
DrTruth

Susan Wright...Do you read what you post?  You actually believe that blacks only shoot people one on one and that the black guy that shot up the church last week was the "first time" a black person has shot more than one person at a time?  And you also believe "when white people kill someone they kill a lot of ppl at one time"?

Just wow.  Ignorance is bliss I suppose....I'm embarrassed for you.