Following a year of racial justice protests across the U.S. and increased attention towards police violence, the NFL broadcast the Black National Anthem before the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked off on Sept. 10.
At the start of each game, the league plans to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson to express solidarity towards the young Black men that play professionally for the country. They will broadcast the song on television during the 2021 season.
The song is primarily used among the African American community, but it plays a role in the nation’s identity. Citizens can appreciate the history embedded in this sentimental chant.
Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick attempted to highlight the NFL’s lack of acknowledgment towards Black athletes and in 2016 by kneeling during the National Anthem. His activism sparked passion and consciousness, while also sparking debate on whether his actions were considered appropriate for a sports game.
Although debate over Kaepernick’s racial prejudice protest took place at the moment, his movement inspired change for the future for not only football but other leagues such as the NBA and WNBA. Today, the NFL makes a necessary effort to honor its Black players.
To promote justice for victims, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the league also allows players to wear one of six approved social justice messages on their helmets. Two examples of this include “Stop Hate” and “It Takes All of Us.”
These personal messages allow players to express an aspect of their identity on the field. They are given the opportunity to publicly stand against the struggles of their families and everyone in the Black community.
Not only does including the anthem in professional sports games spread awareness about racial inequality in general, it also pays respect to the lives lost to police killings this past year. Given that the NFL is 70% Black, it is important to acknowledge the injustices they face when they’re off the field.
Whether the NFL can attempt to promote racial activism through Johnson’s song or not, it will continue to be used at Black universities and colleges’ football games. Adding the Black national anthem to game days may be the first step to a more accepting society.