NFL end zones will bear the words “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” in small letters just above team names in the season’s kickoff games and home openers.
It’s part of the “Inspire Change” initiative that includes players wearing helmet decals featuring the names of victims of racism and the playing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the black national anthem, before every Week 1 game. The details were outlined in a memo posted Monday on NFL.com.
Player uniforms and helmets are typically off-limits for adornment in the NFL, which has rules for appearance from head to toe on game day. But each player will have the option of honoring a victim of this choosing with his or her initials or name.
The NFL says its campaign will pay tribute to health-care workers, the social justice movement and players’ personal stories of how they came to the NFL.
The league has taken a more relaxed approach to its rules about uniforms over the last few years. In response to criticism after it fined players for writing personal messages on their shoes, it created a “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign in 2016. On one designated week of games, players can design cleats to raise awareness of their pet causes. Otherwise, they can wear custom footwear only during warm-ups.
The NFL follows the NBA, whose courts in the Florida bubble have “Black Lives Matter” painted on the floor. Major League Baseball players can wear a “Black Lives Matter” or “United for Change patch on their sleeves.
The NFL’s stance on social justice issues changed after the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. Patrick Mahomes, Michael Thomas and other star players led the way with a “Black Lives Matter” video message and Commissioner Roger Goodell added one of his own.
“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said. “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.”