That changed for Ryan this summer when the Falcons held virtual meetings about Floyd’s killing. Hearing players, including Allen, describe instances of being racially profiled by police, Ryan recognized he could no longer sit idly by.
“For our team, it was the third or fourth time talking about the same things,” Ryan said. “If we continue to take the same approach, and guys continue to do what we’ve been doing, that’s not going to work.”
In early June, after ESPN wrote about Allen’s 2018 trip to Selma, Ala., to visit the site of 1965 Civil Rights march, Ryan called and, in what he said was an uncomfortable conversation, asked how he should speak out because he was unfamiliar with talking about issues of race.
Allen told him just to be himself and speak from the heart.
“I’m from the ‘hood and live in the country club now, but I can see how people don’t understand what it’s like in the ‘hood because they’ve never seen it,” Allen said of Ryan’s discomfort.
“Matt and a bunch of other white teammates hit me up, and the main thing they tried to tell me was they don’t know the perfect thing to say,” Allen recalled.
Ryan’s community efforts, to that point, focused on supporting children’s hospitals and Boys and Girls clubs. Growing up outside of Philadelphia, Ryan had classmates and teammates of various backgrounds. But he did not have to confront the harsh realities that Black teammates like Allen routinely did.
“I feel fortunate to come from where I come from,” Ryan said. “Playing sports my whole life, I’ve also come to appreciate it even more because knowing other situations that guys have gone through. There’s a lot of things they’ve had to overcome that I didn’t.”