The Falcons, like so many other teams around the league, participated in a pregame demonstration last Sunday in the wake of President Trump’s comments about NFL player protests. Many members of the team and staff, including head coach Dan Quinn and owner Arthur Blank, locked arms in solidarity as the national anthem was performed. Some stood, as they typically do, with one hand over their heart. And two men kneeled.
This weekend, the team is encouraging fans to promote unity by joining them in linking arms for the anthem before its game. But it’s fair to question what’s happening to the original focus of this protest.
When Colin Kaepernick was first seen sitting for the national anthem during Week 3 of the 2016 preseason, he wasn’t doing it for unity. He remained seated, then he began kneeling, to protest racial inequality, oppression, and police brutality. He remains unemployed. It’s cost him dearly.
On Thursday, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett — one of the men on Atlanta’s roster who took a knee — told SB Nation that he doesn’t feel the original meaning of the protest is getting lost in the shuffle.
“I don’t feel like it’s getting lost. I definitely don’t,” Jarrett said. “It was started for a good reason, and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about.”
Dontari Poe, who joined Jarrett in taking a knee during the anthem, said different people may be protesting for different reasons.
“I feel like as long as the person knows why they’re protesting, that’s all that matters,” Poe said. “As long as the person knows why they’re doing it — so he did it for his reasons. Other people are doing it for others. And it’s their right to do it.”
Adrian Clayborn chose to stand next to Poe, with his hand on Poe’s shoulder to show his support for the protest. Clayborn told his teammates that he wished our diverse world could be unified just like the Falcons’ locker room. That’s what inspired Poe to kneel in the first place.
Clayborn said that what Kaepernick and those who came after him set out to accomplish with this protest is being overshadowed.
“I feel like it’s completely lost,” Clayborn said. “That’s what people who don’t believe in social equality and don’t believe that it’s an issue — that’s where they’re going to go.”
The burden to keep the focus on racial equality is on those who are willing to keep fighting for it, Clayborn said.
“And it’s for people that want to make a change, for us to bring it back to where it should be,” Clayborn said. “You’re not going to change everybody’s mind, but until you can change some minds and get them thinking that maybe this is an issue, then that’s when the change is going to come.”
Going forward, Quinn doesn’t expect any of his players to kneel.
“For us, we will lock arms together during that time. We’d encourage our fans to do the same,” Quinn told the Atlanta media on Wednesday. “I think that would be a nice tribute as we’re getting started.”
Displays of unity are fine. But the reasons this movement began remain the same and should not be brushed aside.