Icon John Lewis to be Falcons’ honorary captain

  • Covered Bears for seven seasons at Chicago Tribune
  • Also worked at Chicago Sun-Times, Fresno Bee
  • Honorable mention, Football Writers Association of America for enterprise writing, 2002

The Atlanta Falcons will pay tribute to late civil rights icon John Lewis by making him the honorary captain for Sunday’s season-opening game with the Seattle Seahawks. Coach Dan Quinn, who plans to wear the phrase “Black Lives Matter” on his hat, made the announcement about Lewis on Friday.

“That’s a big deal in terms of the exposure and the impact Congressman Lewis had not just on Georgia but on the country overall,” Quinn said. Lewis died on July 17 at the age of 80 after a bout with pancreatic cancer. In 1965, the activist had his skull cracked by Alabama state troopers after marching for Black voting rights in a historic event known as Bloody Sunday.

Falcons captain and safety Ricardo Allen walked the same Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, alongside Lewis to commemorate the moment two years ago.

“With everything going on right now in the world, we thought it would be best to start it off with somebody as legendary as John Lewis,” said Allen, one of the leaders of the team’s social justice committee. “He’s done so much for one of our biggest things that we want to stay connected with, one of our main topics as a team that we’re always hitting on: votings rights and the Voting Act.

“We know John Lewis is a big part and a big reason that [Voting Rights Act] is part of the world today. So to be able to tie that in with our team and be able to do it with such a great man like John Lewis — someone that I’ve been blessed enough to go down and do the Selma walk with myself — you know I was all-in for it with him.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank delivered the following statement after Lewis died:

“At the passing of a true American icon, I join his family, the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia and our country in mourning the loss of my dear friend Congressman John Lewis. Freedom fighter are words that were rightly associated with John all his life. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his decades of service as a Congressman representing our city and for his iconic work as one of the 13 original Freedom Riders during the most turbulent years of the civil rights movement. John wore the scars of a brutal 1965 beating he received while leading the history-changing ‘Bloody Sunday’ march in Selma — to those honored to know him, it was always a reminder that freedom isn’t free. John risked his life to end legalized racial segregation and make America a better place for us and future generations. That’s the enduring legacy of one of the most courageous people I ever met. May he rest well and at peace after such a meaningful, purpose-filled life.”

The Falcons have been unified in their stance against racial injustice, and 38 players will wear either names of victims or phrases on their helmets as part of a social justice initiative endorsed by the NFL. Allen, who will wear “Stop Hate” on his helmet, said the team is still discussing whether they will make a statement with any sort of demonstration prior to Sunday’s game.

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