With the NFL’s first game scheduled for this week, a top league official confirmed that “social justice” messaging will continue to be promoted during the 2021-2022 season.
NFL players can wear social justice messages on their helmets again this season and “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” will be stenciled in end zones for the second straight year as part of the league’s Inspire Change platform.
The league will also bring back the Say Their Stories initiative and for the first time, each team will highlight its social justice work during a regular-season home game in Weeks 17 and 18.
“The key message for us as the season is starting, we are ramping up again in a big way with our social justice work,” Anna Isaacson, NFL senior vice president of social responsibility, told The Associated Press.
Several years ago, NFL players came under fire after former quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other players knelt during the playing of the U.S. national anthem, drawing significant ire from fans. At the time, NFL executives were hesitant to express support for Kaepernick and others, but after the riots and protests of 2020, the league was engulfed by “anti-racist” messaging and allowed “social justice” messages to proliferate.
About a year ago, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a video message saying that the league “[believes] black lives matter” and that his organization admits it was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” likely referring to Kaepernick.
The term “Black Lives Matter,” which also refers to a group that was started by several individuals who described themselves as “trained Marxists,” is one of several NFL helmet decals that were approved by the league. Others include “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” “Inspire Change,” and “Say Their Stories.”
Last season, the league enabled players to place names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and Ahmaud Arbery on their helmets. It’s not clear if the NFL will continue that trend during the 2021-2022 season.
“That will provide a unified time frame for us to further amplify all of the work that our clubs are doing and that will lead into the playoffs where Inspire Change will continue to take center stage,” Isaacson told the news outlet. “The key message for us as the season is starting, we are ramping up again in a big way with our social justice work.”
The continuation of Black Lives Matter-aligned messaging comes as televised sporting events, including NBA games and the Tokyo Olympics, have accompanied declines in ratings. As compared with the 2019-2020 NFL season’s average ratings, the audience for the 2020-2021 season shrank by about 7 percent, averaging 15.4 million viewers.
AP contributed to this report.