As a starting quarterback in the NFL, and a former league MVP, Matt Ryan knows a thing or two about stepping forward and setting an example for others to follow.
When it comes to raising awareness for modern social injustices and racial inequality, Ryan, like nearly every other player in this league, is following the lead that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick set four years ago when he first knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality. In kneeling, Kaepernick started a movement that began to gain traction in locker rooms across the league, but it also drew heavy scrutiny from political leaders and parts of the league's fan base.
The 2016 season was the last in which Kaepernick was on an NFL roster. His camp has previously argued that his activism has led to teams banding together to keep him out of the league, while the NFL has denied any such collusion. The two sides reached a settlement in February of 2019. In light of recent events around the country, which are again shedding light on the issue Kaepernick knelt for, Ryan shared his belief that the 32-year-old quarterback should be given another shot with an NFL team.
"As far as Colin being back in the league, I think he should have every opportunity to," Ryan said. "He created awareness for a situation that, it's taken some time, but people are becoming more active in their response to it. I think from that standpoint, his protest is being heard at this point – it might have taken too long. But I think he should have every opportunity to have a job and have a spot in this league."
Kaepernick and the league had set up a workout in front of NFL team representatives last November, which was scheduled to take place at the Falcons' facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. The workout was moved soon before it was scheduled to begin due to disputes about the waiver the league was asking Kaepernick to sign. The workout still took place at a venue many miles away, but only eight teams were present after the change, a significant drop from the 25 reportedly planned to attend.
The league's handling of the Kaepernick situation has drawn scrutiny since it first began in 2016. During the new wave of protests against police brutality, many players have looked to the league to see whether they would support their right to shine a light on social issues.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently issued a statement condemning racism and admitting that the league was wrong for not listening to players earlier and supporting their rights to peacefully protest.
"I think they referenced that they have made mistakes in terms of how they've handled peaceful protests and players voicing their opinions," Ryan said of the statement. "I think they've recognized that they made mistakes there."
A number of Falcons players and coaches have voiced their support for the ongoing peaceful protests, with some notable members of the organization like head coach Dan Quinn, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and team captain Ricardo Allen joining a march to the governor’s mansion.
For his part, Ryan is also taking a leading role in this moment. He has established a GoFundMe page with the stated goal of supporting the black community of Atlanta. Ryan kicked off the fundraising efforts with a $500,000 donation of his own, and he has, as of Wednesday morning, raised over $1 million towards the stated goal of $2 million. Among those who have donated to Ryan's fundraiser are Quinn, Dimitroff, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay.
"Part of responding now is acknowledging that what I've done up until this point hasn't been good enough," Ryan said. "I can't really change what I've done up until this point, and I do feel like I wish I would have done more, but I can change and I can be better moving forward."