NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons came together for a powerful display of unity Monday night by joining hands in a circle on the field following the national anthem.
ESPN’s Lisa Salter reported from the sideline during the broadcast that Saints coach Sean Payton reached out to Falcons coach Dan Quinn with the idea earlier in the week, and player leaders from both teams loved it. The coaches then left it up to their quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, to come up with the exact way for that statement to be both unifying and respectful of the national anthem.
Payton and Quinn figured it was a great way for players to join the growing protests around the NFL against injustice in America while still making it a message about unity, especially with two longtime rival teams from culturally rich cities. They planned to spend a minute holding hands in thought and prayer.
“I reached out to Drew [Brees] and just told him we were on board,” Ryan said. “But I think the big thing was, I mean, obviously, everybody knows what’s been going on throughout this entire year and for a long time. And people think things need to change. We all felt like the best way to do it was everybody do it together. And we wanted to send a message loud and clear that unity is probably the best way to make a change, and I thought that came across loud and clear tonight.”