Atlanta Falcons owner and chairman Arthur Blank issued a statement late Saturday afternoon in regard to the national controversy that has resulted over President Donald Trump's statement that NFL players who don't stand for the national anthem should be fired.
"We are at our very best when we are working together, building unity and including everyone’s voice in a constructive dialogue," Blank said in a statement. "Creating division or demonizing viewpoints that are different than our own accomplishes nothing positive and undermines our collective ability to achieve the ideals of our democracy.
"The NFL has historically been a strong catalyst for positive change and I’m proud of the way our players, coaches and staff use that platform to give back to our community and strive to be good citizens making a positive impact on this and future generations.”
Earlier in the day, the Falcons front office issued a statement affirming Blank's "well-known position on freedom, inclusion and equality," the team said. "He has advocated for all of them in word and deed, repeatedly."
While speaking at a campaign rally Friday night for U.S. Sen. Luther Strange in Huntsville, Ala., President Trump called for NFL players to be fired for protesting the national anthem.
The Huntsville, Ala., crowd roared after Trump said he would like to see the head of an NFL team punish players who protest the playing of the song.
"Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b---- off the field right now. Out. He's fired. He's fired!”
The audience then burst into chants of "USA!"
"You know, some owner's going to do that," Trump continued. "He's going to say, 'That guy who disrespects our flag, he's fired.' "
On Saturday, both NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive DeMaurice Smith released strong statements.
“Whether or not Roger [Goodell] and the owners will speak for themselves about their views on player rights and their commitment to player safety remains to be seen,” Smith said in a statement, referring both to the anthem remarks and Trump's lamentations regarding the lack of old-school violence in the sport. “This union, however, will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks.”
Goodell also criticized the president:
"The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we've experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities."