By Glynis Rogers
I think we can all agree one of the best things about fall, besides pumpkin everything, is football. Whether you’re a casual watcher or a die-hard fan, you know fall means it’s time to see our favorite teams and players on the gridiron. If you are watching the NFL you may have noticed some players’ helmets have a bit more text than usual. This season, the NFL has allowed players to wear social justice phrases on their helmets. There are six phrases that players can decide to display: “End Racism”, “Stop Hate”, “It Takes All of Us”, Black Lives Matter”, “Inspire Change,” or “Say Their Stories.”
NFL players have been able to display social justice phrases since the 2020 season when the “Say Their Stories” campaign began. Coaches and players wore helmet decals and badges to honor social justice heroes or victims of systemic racism and police brutality. The NFL hasn’t always been this open to players and coaches giving voice (or helmet) to their beliefs. Let me take you back to September 1st, 2016.
The world watched as Colin Kaepernick kneeled in a peaceful protest against police brutality in America a few years ago. The reaction of NFL fans, players, coaches, and executives ranged from disgust and outrage to pride and hopefulness. This protest was used by politicians to score political points with their constituents and Kaepernick was banned from the NFL, despite certain teams needing a more than qualified quarterback. Because of this protest by Kaepernick and other NFL players, after countless meetings (at least 1 including rapper, Jay-Z), press conferences, and I’m sure Zoom calls, the NFL, decided to create their new campaign “Inspire Change.” Inspire Change is an initiative that prioritizes social justice and taking action to move our communities towards a more equal and just tomorrow. Inspire Change is open to all teams and players and includes an ongoing acknowledgment of the ways that systemic racism contributes to barriers to opportunity and equality. Inspire Change encompasses programs and initiatives in 4 key areas: 1) Education 2) Economic Advancement, 3) Community-Police Relations and 4) Criminal Justice Reform.
Sports have always been a way for America to reckon with racism. From Jackie Robinson integrating major league baseball to Colin Kaepernick’s protest and subsequent ban from football. America has always had to deal with racism and its effects while watching its favorite pastimes. The NFL has made some headway in understanding that its players and fans face social issues that, despite them making it to “the league” or having undying loyalty for their favorite team, do not exempt them from racism. As the progress of racial equality and equity continues to move forward in America, we must ask ourselves, “ Do we just want to inspire change or actually make changes?”