National Football League fans who merely want to watch a football game this year will again have social justice messages as part of the package prominently displayed on the field.
While some leagues, notably the National Basketball Association, plan to dial back on politics for their coming season (NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN, “I understand those people who say, ‘I’m on your side. But I want to watch a basketball game’”), the NFL is doubling down on its plans for its upcoming regular season, which starts Sept. 9.
That’s even as its television ratings dipped in 2020, the first time in three years the regular season audience was down. Still, the NFL managed to break records when its TV contracts were up for renewal in the off-season., topping the $100 billion mark and adding Amazon to its mix.
This year, the NFL will again allow its players to display social justice messages on their helmets. The end zones stencils will also carry the slogans “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” at every field. The league will also play the so-called Black national anthem before the “Star Spangled Banner” at its games.
Players will choose a decal with one of six messages to place on the back of their helmets: “End Racism,” “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Inspire Change” and “Say Their Stories.” Last year, the league allowed individual name decals to be placed on helmets, but suffered an embarrassment when an Indianapolis man who fired a gun at pursuing police was named.
Roughly 70 percent of active players on NFL rosters are Black, and the league sees its mission as making up for past missteps in recognizing social justice initiatives, including kneeling for the national anthem or raising fists. Both practices caused major contention with fans, with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick a particular lightning rod who was criticized by President Donald Trump, among others.
A league spokesman told the New York Times that the league wants to use its platform to promote social justice messages.
“It’s an opportunity to highlight messages that are important to the league, players and personnel and our communities,” Brian McCarthy, the N.F.L. spokesman, said on Saturday. “We’ve seen tremendous work done by our players to make an impact, and we can increase that through the high-visibility platform that the N.F.L. provides.”
The NFL is also beginning a program that will spend $250 million over the next 10 years on various initiatives. These include police-community relations, criminal justice reform, education and economic advancement.
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