As the NFL kicked off its season, many social justice initiatives were included into the typical nuances of game day. These included, but were not limited to, helmet decals and signage in end zones for kickoff games and club home openers.
The league’s new social justice initiatives are just one of the ways that it is trying to push forward its Inspire Change Program.
One aspect of this program is the #SayTheirStories initiative. To fulfill this initiative, each player had the option to include a helmet decal that honored a victim of racism by displaying the person they chose to honor via their name or initials. If a player didn’t wish to honor a specific individual, they also had the option to choose one of the four pre-approved slogans to display: “Black Lives Matter,” “Stop Hate,” “It Takes all of Us” or “End Racism.”
As for the on-field signage, end zone borders featured stencils with “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” on opposite ends of the field. On top of these gestures, every week one game featured a pre-recorded version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as the Black National Anthem.
The more controversial initiatives received less media attention than the aforementioned decals and end zone signage. During warm-ups, every player was allowed to wear a T-shirt displaying “Injustice against one of us is injustice against all of us” on the front and “End racism” on the back.
On top of this, players and coaches were allowed to kneel during the National Anthem, which San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick received extreme criticism for when he first did it in 2016.
The opening game to start the NFL’s 100th season was hard-fought between Houston and Kansas City. Before the game started, however, the players, coaches and staff members from each team all interlocked arms with one another in center field, showing their solidarity and unitedness concerning the social justice issue. The Chiefs ended up winning the game 34-20.
The Philadelphia Eagles played their first game against the Washington Football Team last Sunday. Between the controversy of Washington’s name change from the previously racist name “Redskins” and the fact that the Eagles remained in the locker room during the National Anthem, the game was interesting before it even began.
Washington’s name change was just another aspect of the Inspire Change Program, making it clear that the NFL wanted to send the right message regarding any potential racial conflicts.
As for the Eagles, they weren’t the only team that remained in the locker room during the National Anthem. The Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins also elected to stay inside during the anthem.
In conjunction with the release of a #SayTheirStories video, a number of teams shared efforts of their own on Sept. 9.
For instance, the Denver Broncos announced a team initiative to create change, promoting education, awareness, diversity, inclusion and activism in the franchise and their local community.
The San Francisco 49ers selected the nine recipients of the $1 million grant the team is awarding to organizations committed to social change, which have been in the works since the death of George Floyd back in May 2020.
The two-month selection process included members of 49ers ownership and 49ers team representatives from the Players Social Justice Council. The nonprofit organizations had to focus on racial equality in policing, ending mass incarceration or educational and economic advancement for young Black people.
The 49ers have also launched a video series, “Subject to Change,” with the first two episodes discussing race and police brutality, voter education and steps to take in the local community to promote change.
The 49ers played the Cardinals on Sunday and lost 24-20, but the messages they are giving and the actions they are taking to fight for racial equality are much more important than the score.
As for the Week 2 games, while there wasn’t as much attention drawn to the social justice initiatives that they had spent a whopping $250 million for, there were still some noticeable occurrences other than the games themselves.
Most end lines still had slogans sketched on them, and a few teams still did not come out for the National Anthem. Leniency by the NFL will be something to watch as the season progresses.