In the visitor center across the street from the reflecting pool where King and his wife, Coretta, are interred, Devin McCourty’s twin brother, Jason, a cornerback on the Patriots, was watching a video of King’s efforts, in 1968, to boost the wages of sanitation workers in Memphis. As the video illustrated, King was assassinated there and his widow ended up holding the peaceful march through the city that her husband had planned.

“You start to realize that as important is football is, you start to get married families and have kids, there are bigger things that surround us,” he said. “Though there’s a ton of work still to do, being in this museum and seeing how different times were makes you realize there was some great work done. You didn’t realize how bad it was.”

The players took in the magnitude of the moment. After listening to a park ranger talk about the sanctuary in Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was a co-pastor, the players got out of the pews, formed a circle in front of the podium where King gave his sermons, held hands, closed their eyes and prayed.

“Let’s just let this sink in,” said Jack Easterby, a coach who helped organize the excursion. “We will tell our children that standing in front of Dr. King’s church, that it hasn’t always been the way it is now.”

Another reminder of the tension between protest and change was on display a few miles away, at the High Museum of Art. There, an exhibit by Glenn Kaino, a conceptual artist from Los Angeles, brings to life the one-armed salute by the sprinter Tommie Smith at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968. The decision by Smith and his teammate, John Carlos, to raise their clenched fists while wearing black gloves on the winner’s podium remains one of the most iconic gestures in sports and beyond.

Through prints, sculpture, video and items from Smith’s archives, the exhibit entitled, With Drawn Arms, shows how Smith, a world-record holder before the Olympics, was outspoken on issues of social injustice well before he raised his fist. It also showed how his views were framed by the media. One set of panels shows the cover of Newsweek magazine from July, 1968, with Smith’s photo and a headline, the Angry Black Athlete.