The Atlanta Falcons have made the NFL’s “Salute to Service” a part of the franchise’s culture.
For Falcons chief financial officer Steve Cannon, that connection is personal. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1986. He was an Airborne Ranger in West Germany and served five years as an artillery officer.
He’s remained active in supporting military families since taking over as the CEO of AMB Sports and Entertaiment. For his efforts in 2020, Cannon received the 2020 Salute to Service Award presented by USAA. It’s the fourth time in five years that a member of the Falcons organization has won the award.
Cannon’s service continues today. He has brought a “military first” mindset that permeates across the organization. Former Falcons coach Dan Quinn won the award in 2016, and Atlanta players Andre Roberts and Ben Garland won the award in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Cannon will be recognized at the NFL Honors on Feb. 6.
“One of the reasons we’ve earned this recognition four of the last five years is because Salute to Service is not one weekend for us,” Cannon told Sporting News. “It is a 365-day platform for us. We live in Georgia — where you have Fort Benning, Fort Stewart and Fort Gordon. We have a higher concentration of military members and their families than most states. It’s part of who we are as a franchise.”
The Falcons set the standard when Cannon helped organize the first USO tour by an NFL franchise in 2018. Those efforts continued this year, and Cannon admitted that challenge was made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Cannon maintained that connection through his work with TAPS — the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. That program is for Gold Star families who had a family member killed in action. The Falcons have honored 281 families in the past five seasons, and Cannon helped organize a way to bring those members back together this season.
“We re-invited them back to come together with us virtually. We had a week of virtual events — breakout events — and we spent time talking about their loved ones,” Cannon said. “It didn’t feel as great not to be in person, but it was still pretty darn good.”
Cannon also said the organization was able to continue its behind-the-scenes efforts. The Falcons help military wives collect gifts for Christmas. He is looking forward to having more military families spend time around the team’s facility for practices and games. USAA will contribute $25,000 in Cannon’s name to help the five military branches. The NFL foundation and Atlanta owner Arthur Blank will match that donation.
It’s a mindset that Cannon looks to continue through his efforts with the Falcons, Atlanta United in MLS and the PGA Superstores.
“This means the world to me,” Cannon said. “It means that the platforms like the Atlanta Falcons and the NFL that I have the privilege to be connected to and are as powerful as they are — we’re using them not only to play football on Sunday, but to recognize things that matter in our society.”
Cannon also hopes those efforts are more visible in 2021. The “Salute to Service” campaign has raised more than $11 million for military families since 2011, and Cannon wants those families to be recognized at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“What we’ve found out over the last 10 months is when that’s missing we’re less well off as a society when that’s taken away from us,” Cannon said. “My hope for us is vaccines get distributed, and when people feel comfortable and those families can come to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and 70,000 strong, root for the Atlanta Falcons.”
Cannon said that philosophy will continue despite the changes within the organization in 2021.
“We have a new coach, a new GM and the fourth pick in the draft,” he said. “The hope cycle has been rekindled and everybody is longing for that return to normalcy. We deeply hope that will happen in 2021.”
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