John Lewis named honorary Atlanta Falcons captain for first game of season
© Greg Nash

The Atlanta Falcons are naming the late civil rights icon Rep. John LewisJohn LewisHundreds in West Virginia protest Manchin's opposition to voting rights legislation Pelosi urges Democrats to pass voting rights bills: 'The clock is ticking on our democracy' Police come under scrutiny in Ocean City, Md., after viral videos of force on boardwalk MORE (D-Ga.) as an honorary captain for their first game of the season on Sunday evening. 

Dan Quinn, head coach of the team, confirmed the news over the weekend, according to ESPN, saying: “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.” 

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Falcons safety Ricardo Allen, who is also a captain of the team and helps lead its social justice committee, said in a statement obtained by ESPN that the team thought “it would be best” to start off the season with the move honoring “somebody as legendary as John Lewis,” given the current climate. 

Lewis died at the age of 80 in July, roughly seven months after announcing he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and would be undergoing treatment. The late congressman, who had also been a confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has long been revered as a civil rights icon for his commitment to fighting for racial justice. 

His death came at a time when widespread protests against racial inequality and police brutality had taken hold across the country and other parts of the world following the police killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans.

“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: voting rights and the Voting Act,” Allen said.

“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,” he continued.

According to ESPN, the Falcons plan to put a jersey bearing Lewis’s name on a chair near the 50-yard line.

The NFL team, which faces off against the Seattle Hawks in their season opener, is also reportedly still in talks about plans to demonstrate ahead of the game. 

The report comes days after the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs drew both praise and boos during their opener after players locked arms for a moment of unity amid ongoing protests in parts of the country.