Falcons form player committee to address social issues, making progress in community

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Atlanta Falcons players have formed a committee to address social injustice and promote change in the community.

The 15-member committee -- which includes players such as Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Mohamed Sanu, Ricardo Allen, Adrian Clayborn, Justin Hardy and Andre Roberts -- held its first meeting Monday. The entire list of committee members was not immediately available.

"We talked about, first of all, what we’re going to do, how we’re going to attack, what is our goal, really,’’ Allen said. "Our first goal is to show that we’re not attacking the flag. We want to be really clear that we have over-the-top respect for veterans.

"But we are attacking social injustice. That is our only concern: social injustice."

The committee met for an hour after Monday’s practice. Allen, one of the team's leaders, said the discussion was not focused on President Donald Trump -- although Trump’s comment that owners should "Get that son of a b---- off the field right now ... he’s fired," in reaction to players demonstrating during the national anthem, served as a rallying point around the league. In fact, Falcons defensive linemen Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe took a knee before the Detroit game in reaction to Trump’s harsh comments.

"He is a big problem because he is the one that brought it to light more," Allen said of Trump. "Social injustice has been around for so long. And all Trump did was speed it up to show everybody that it’s really worldwide. It’s just that nobody with such political power has ever come out and said that. It was different. All he did was bring to light that there actually is racism in this world and that we are looked at as a piece of property. That’s all said with them 'son of a b----.’ It’s like saying, 'Shut up. You don’t really have no spot to talk. Just play football.'"

Trump said his issue is not about race. Most players who have demonstrated are black. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first to sit, and then kneel, during the anthem to protest racial injustice.

Clayborn said the Falcons' committee hopes to foster more conversation about combatting social injustice and move beyond "fueling the fire of Donald Trump."

"We talked about strategies just to get into the community, to bring people together, to decrease police brutality, and to create social justice," Clayborn said. "We’ve got some things in the works, and I’m excited about that. And that’s what should be talked about more often."

Said Freeman, "We’re trying to figure out a way to make a difference in the community – all communities – and just be an impact on all society and the youth. We understand that people come from different backgrounds. What we’re trying to do is just make sure the word gets out, and try to use this platform we’ve got to become better role models."

The player committee formed after the Falcons, including team owner Arthur Blank, held a meeting during their bye week this month with a member of the Ross Initiative in Sports For Equality (RISE) to discuss social issues.

Although the committee’s goal, as reiterated by Allen, Clayborn and Freeman, is to attack social injustice, the anthem and President Trump continue to be a significant part of the discussion, with Trump remaining vocal on the issue and the NFL addressing the anthem protest regularly. Vice President Mike Pence left Sunday’s 49ers-Colts game in Indianapolis after players demonstrated during the national anthem. And now there is the talk of NFL owners voting to make it mandatory for players to stand during the national anthem, although the NFL dismissed such talk late Wednesday afternoon through a joint statement with the NFLPA.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Gerald McCoy told ESPN’s Adam Schefter there might be an "uproar" if NFL owners vote to force players to stand during the anthem.

"It could be, most certainly," Clayborn said. "We’re all strong-willed men, alpha males. And if you try to take away our constitutional rights, there would be an uproar. I think it would be stupid if they try. It’s just going to cause more friction. It’s going to cause players to turn against their owners, and owners against their players, just because some of them want to appease their friend Donald Trump.

"I’m ready to talk about what we’re doing in the community and what we’re doing to try and bring communities together. And that’s where it should be. It shouldn’t be about trying to divide the country."

Allen said his goal is for the committee to have weekly discussions about the issues at hand.