Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer 79d

Owner Arthur Blank stands arm-in-arm with Falcons during anthem



DETROIT -- Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank stood on the sideline with arms locked along with wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman during Sunday's national anthem.

The entire Falcons team locked arms during the anthem, with defensive linemen Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe the only two players to take a knee. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn put his hand on Poe's shoulder, as Poe was on a knee.

Blank said he stood on the sideline not only to show support for the players and coaches, but also to back his public statement denouncing President Donald Trump's criticism of players protesting during the anthem.

"It's unfortunate the president chose to go in that direction and speak out the way he has," Blank said prior to Sunday's Lions-Falcons game. "Love conquers all, and this kind of divisiveness and falling out conquers nothing; satisfies nothing."

In speaking about his players, Blank said he is "certainly supportive of their right to express freedom of speech." Jarrett and Poe were the first Falcons to demonstrate in such a manner. Coach Dan Quinn said no players approached him about demonstrating as of Sunday morning.

"The people that fought for this country going back several hundred years primarily weren't fighting for geography, they were fighting for a way of life, principles and values," Blank said. "And part of that's reflected in freedom of speech and having the ability to speak up and speak out on issues and bring them to public awareness. And then opening up thoughtful and positive discussions that are based on inclusiveness, not based on divisiveness.

"Divisiveness is never going to solve anything in a positive way. It never has in history. This country was built on a different set of principles."

Blank, multiple times, expressed support for his players and players around the NFL.

"I think our players, they love this country," Blank said. "They not only play this game, but they work their fannies off personally and financially in giving back in a whole variety of ways to our communities throughout the National Football League. In times of natural disasters, they're often first to step up and do very significant things. I mean, they do day in and day out. And I see it every day in our players."

Select Falcons players typically go out into the community on Tuesdays, visiting hospitals, nursing homes and schools. Last week was the "Hometown Huddle," where every member of the organization was out in the community doing some type of charity work.

In terms of the players expressing themselves, Blank emphasized how that shouldn't be a problem.

"The issues that they point to are, I mean, they're legitimate issues," Blank said. "And they need to be talked about. And we need to make progress as a country moving forward. You don't do it by creating walls; building walls never creates better listening and better responses, connections."

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