An outsider NFL fan might know Arthur Blank best for watching the last minutes of Falcons games from the sidelines. MLS fans outside the south might think about the massive Mercedes-Benz Stadium he envisioned and the bravado of the organization he helped establish. It’s a shame they can’t appreciate Blank for the philanthropist and community-builder he is that’s has made him an Atlanta icon.
He’s not an icon for erecting stadiums or building massively successful organizations as bullet points on a resume full of them. He’s an icon because he does these things in the context of humanity. With Atlanta United, Blank didn’t just found a team, he built a vehicle of community.
In late March, while society has been crippled by the COVID-19 crisis, Blank and The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation committed nearly $5.4 million in funding for immediate and long-term recovery assistance to organizations providing critical support throughout Georgia and Montana. The Foundation will grant $5 million to the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund established by United Way of Greater Atlanta and Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.
This week, Blank’s Atlanta United added to the initial financial commitment with its ‘United We Conquer’ initiative, which will serve as a platform for the club to give back to the community, acknowledge and support those on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis and offer resources for fans and community members who would like to learn about safe volunteering opportunities. On top of the the Atlanta United Foundation will grant $85,000 to Soccer in the Streets — a grassroots organization that anyone reading this knows well — to allow it to continue operations.
While other clubs in the league are furloughing workers and focusing on the bottom line, Blank is leading in a different way. I can’t help but think of a quote of his as reported by Forbes in January 2019 shortly after he lifted MLS:
“I think that you want to create an environment where people feel like they’re part of something that’s bigger than they are; that they are a service to other people–of service to humanity if you will. So we focus not on the numbers side of anything: we focus primarily on the behavior and how we can show appreciation and show gratitude for people that are giving us their time, their energy, their resources, and support of all those activities.”
So it makes sense that if his organizations are not going to be able to operate and serve the community as they typically would, then they can pivot and use their clout to help service the need at hand. Thus, the club has created an online hub to galvanize support for organizations on the front lines throughout the city area.
“A core value of our club is giving back to others, whether it’s through grant giving to a valued partner like Soccer in the Streets, or providing a central place where our community can go to learn about contributing during these challenging times,” said Atlanta United President Darren Eales. “There are many ways to give back either virtually or through safe volunteering opportunities. We hope the community resources page will help to encourage our fans to engage and support in a way that works best for them.”
And finally, the club is purchasing billboard space around town to salute the medical professionals who are putting themselves in harms way to save lives.
So we here at Dirty South Soccer salute Arthur Blank and his organizations on their leadership in the community. As great as lifting MLS Cups are, it’s these actions in times of physical and economic distress that show one’s true colors.