Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn saying he thought NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s video apology regarding peaceful protest bridged a gap with the players was one of the highlights of Thursday’s Zoom roundtable discussion on race headed by Quinn, Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce and Atlanta Dream coach Nicki Collen.
The trio of Atlanta pro coaches participated in “Coaches Uncensored: A Conversation On Race and Sports,” an event for local high school student-athletes. Falcons players Ricardo Allen, LaRoy Reynolds and Josh Harris also took part in the panel, as did Hawks player Kevin Huerter.
ESPN’s Elle Duncan moderated discussion, which lasted about an hour and a half and was closed to the media.
“I thought it was great,” said Pierce, who orchestrated the Zoom call. “I thought the players were tremendous. I think it’s just something as we’re trying to address the issues, the systemic issues, the racial issues, the law enforcement — just everything that we’re seeing in our country — I think it’s great to just show people that there’s different ways in engaging in conversation.
“Having a diverse panel of people — Dan Quinn and I, I’m African-American and he’s white — then two white players, two black players and then a white female coach, just having those perspectives in the conversation was tremendous.”
The focus of the nationwide outcry against racial injustice and police brutality has shifted to the city of Atlanta after Rayshard Brooks, a black man, was shot to death by Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe during an incident at a Wendy’s drive-thru last Friday. The incident marked the latest death of a black person at the hands of police. Other recent victims included George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among others. The deaths have sparked protests and tension across America.
Quinn and Pierce have participated in peaceful protests in Atlanta alongside their players, while Collen expressed how sad but proud she was that guard Renee Montgomery chose to sit out the 2020 WNBA season to work on off-court initiatives such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
For Quinn, Thursday night’s discussion and sharing thoughts with the younger generation of student-athletes was an example of putting actions behind words.
“I’m hopeful that we do this again because this is going to be the age group that is going to take the baton,” Quinn said. “That’s where I’m hopeful that we’ll see momentum and progress to keep going, that we never back off of these topics.
“There were hundreds of people on the call. We started by talking about what would be the right approach for a high school athlete who wanted to protest and show their support for a movement. It was nice to hear ideas and suggestions and what it could look like moving forward. We talked about Juneteenth [a holiday for both the Falcons and Hawks on Friday]. We talked about marching along the players. I talked about how diversity has brought me a lot of energy. Then they asked about commissioner Goodell’s and the players’ responses to that. I thought tonight was good, man.”
One thing Quinn did not share with the student-athletes but did open up about after the call was an experience in which he witnessed racial profiling. He said it happened nine years ago when he was driving alongside a black friend as both left the place at the same time.
“Neither of us were speeding, and he got pulled over, and I didn’t,” Quinn recalled. “When he got pulled over, I waited and watched. There’s a different feeling when I get pulled over and [a black man] gets pulled over. I hate that. I want it to be where we all feel the same space. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Pierce noted how the Falcons’ Allen, a team captain and point man on the team’s social justice committee, encouraged the high school student-athletes to use what’s going on in America in evaluating their college decisions. He urged them to understand the institution and what it stands for and what the coaching staffs stand for.
In regard to the next step toward change, Pierce said, “We’re obviously going to keep talking about it. I think the biggest thing is helping each other find our voice and use our voice.
“We’re competitors. We’re used to confrontation. We embrace confrontation. There’s confrontation in the locker room all the time. It’s part of what brings teams together. This is no different: the confrontation over race and the discussion of race. But how do we get to the resolutions? You’ve got to be willing to hold each other accountable and say stuff when you see something happening.”