Lewis was the one of the speakers at the March On Washington in 1963 where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr made his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

Lewis sustained a fractured skull after being hit by an Alabama state trooper on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma during a march for voting rights to Montgomery, Alabama.

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He served as a representative from Georgia's 5th Congressional District for more than three decades and passed away from pancreatic cancer in July aged 80.

"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," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn told ESPN.

Falcons captain Ricardo Allen, who walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge alongside Lewis to commemorate the occasion two years ago, said the gesture would help the team stay connected with the late civil rights icon.

"With everything going on right now, we thought it would be best to start it off with somebody as legendary as John Lewis," Allen told ESPN.

"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."

The NFL season kicked off under a cloud on Thursday after fans jeered during a moment of silence for social justice ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs' game against the Houston Texans.

Falcons games will be closed to fans, however, and players will demonstrate for racial justice by wearing either names of victims or phrases on their helmets. (Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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