The National Football League (NFL) started its season facing not only the coronavirus pandemic but also a resurgent Black Lives Matter movement of which the league has reluctantly found itself at the forefront.
On Wednesday, the league announced a brand new campaign called “It Takes All of Us,” aimed at uniting “the country during a critical time in our nation.”
The effort to promote this idea was on display Thursday night in the season opening game between the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans. The phrase “END RACISM” was outlined on the backline of the endzones and before the beginning of the game both teams came together on-field to lock arms in a moment of unity.
The moment of unity, however, was quickly soured when the roughly 17,000 socially-distanced Kansas City fans loudly booed and the teams linked arms.
The less-than-warm welcome is a telling snapshot of the polarized landscape that the league must navigate.
For years, the NFL — a league whose players are predominantly Black — has erred on the side of aversion, refusing to espouse support for the players who decided to kneel during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality against Black Americans.
This year though, after a tumultuous summer that began with the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis at the end of May, the NFL has taken a different track.
Late last month, league commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to take a knee just over four years ago.
“I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to.” Goodell said in an appearance on former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho’s YouTube show, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.”
Goodell’s apology to Kaepernick and the league’s concerted effort to stand behind its players come amid nationwide protests and a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which many NFL players have openly supported.
But President Trump and other Republican were vocally against players kneeling during the national anthem and have been against the show of support that the NFL and other professional sports leagues have done for the movement.
“Football is officially dead — so much for ‘America’s sport.’ Goodbye NFL… I’m gone,” Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, tweeted at the beginning of last week.
Football is officially dead — so much for “America’s sport.” Goodbye NFL… I’m gone. https://t.co/FSJeyvsql3
— Eric Trump (@EricTrump) September 8, 2020
Despite the pushback the NFL has rolled out a number of other initiatives, including a voting initiative and an investment of $250 million over the next decade targeted at dismantling systemic racism in the country.
The opening week of games also saw “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” colloquially known as the Black national anthem, sung prior to kick-off along with the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Sunday’s slate of games saw six teams stay in the locker room while the anthems were being played.
During pre-game warmups, numerous players wore various gear in support of the BLM movement. Notably, New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton featured cleats that were emblazoned with the phrases “7 Shots” and “No Justice No Peace.”
“7 Shots” refers to Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times in the back at point-blank range by police in Kenosha, Wis., three weeks ago.
Players on both the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams knelt during the national anthem before the teams faced off on Sunday Night Football matchup.
Kaepernick, however, appeared less than impressed with the NFL’s efforts Sunday.
“While the NFL runs propaganda about how they care about Black Life, they are still actively blackballing Eric Reid (@E_Reid35) for fighting for the Black community. Eric set 2 franchise records last year, and is one of the best defensive players in the league,” Kaepernick wrote on Twitter Sunday afternoon.
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