The NFL is planning to join the NBA in allowing players to make statements about social justice on their game uniforms, according to the Associated Press.
Teams can choose to wear helmet decals honoring the victims of police brutality, including George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis Police Department officers, and Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville Metropolitan Police Department officers.
The program will extend throughout the season, and the NFL is working with the players union to put together a list of names that teams can select from.
It’s unusual for the NFL to allow such an open expression of social justice activism, as the league has been resistant to such demonstrations — and probably became more resistant after the backlash that has accompanied players kneeling during the national anthem.
From the Associated Press:
This initiative is something of a breakthrough because the league has not allowed such messaging, except for during its October NFL Crucial Catch program in conjunction with the fight against breast cancer, and in its November salutes to the military. Players also have been allowed to represent a cause on their cleats one weekend per season.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently apologized for his opposition to peaceful protests before games in the past, presumably including anthem kneeling. There is a significant portion of the NFL fan base that is opposed to anthem kneeling, viewing it as disrespectful to veterans and to the country.
“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said in June. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”
Also, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song also known as the “black national anthem,” will reportedly be played at every Week 1 NFL game and ahead of “The Star-Spangled Banner” when the season begins.
The NFL is moving in the direction of the NBA, which has for years allowed overt and individual expressions of social justice protest against racism or police brutality.
The NBA is allowing players to choose from an approved list of social justice phrases to wear on the back of their jerseys instead of their last names. Approved phrases include “Black Lives Matter,” “Say Their Names,” “Power to the People,” “Liberation,” and “Group Economics.”
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” will be painted on the courts when the league resumes its season on July 30 in Orlando, Florida, after several months off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.