Falcons’ Blank defends players’ rights in anthem protests

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank believes players should have the right to speak out on important issues even though he isn’t expecting his players to protest during the national anthem this season.

Blank says just like last season, Falcons players have been asked to stand for the national anthem.

He said the Falcons are ”very committed to the military.” He also says he believes players have ”very significant rights” and appeared to say he wouldn’t fine players for exercising those rights.

Blank said players should be allowed to make their own decisions on what he described as the ”complex issue” of standing or kneeling for the national anthem.

”So if you have players who still feel that’s the way they have to express themselves, they will,” he said, adding ”I don’t think you’ll see” protests.

”But it’s far better in my opinion to have somebody make those decisions themselves than to hit them over the head with a hammer,” he said.

Blank’s comments came as the NFL and NFLPA, the players’ union, held what they said in a joint statement was ”a constructive meeting” about the anthem policy. They said their talks will continue.

Last season, two Falcons defensive linemen – Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe, now with Carolina – knelt during the anthem before the team’s game at Detroit on Sept. 24. After the game, coach Dan Quinn described the action as a ”one-off.”

The Falcons held a team meeting and decided players would stand together during the anthem for other games.

Quinn said that decision was not a written policy ”but more one that was really based on the heart of brotherhood to say, `What we do, we’ll do it together.”’

No players took a knee during the anthem the remainder of the season.

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