When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games in 2016, the league’s most powerful figures didn’t exactly support his message against systemic racism. After George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May of this year, the league was called out for its lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
But now, the league has announced new efforts aimed at supporting diversity and inclusion when the 2020-21 season begins in September. According to a league memo obtained by ESPN, players will be allowed to honor victims of systemic racism and police violence with decals on the back of their helmet. All 32 teams will allow the decals and coaches can also honor victims by wearing patches on their hats.
“Players will be offered a list of names and short biographical information to help guide their decision-making, however, they can also select a victim of systemic racism who is not represented on this list,” said the memo, according to ESPN.
Some players have already announced which victims they play to memorialize this season, including Atlanta Falcons guard Jamon Brown, who has said his helmet will bear the name of Breonna Taylor.
In addition to wearing decals honoring victims of race-related violence, many NFL players plan to kneel during the national anthem this season. The league will also stencil the messages “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” on all end zone borders for home-opening games. The league hopes the end zone messages will show “how football and the NFL brings people together to work as one and use our example and our actions to help conquer racism,” the NFL’s memo said.
A recorded performance of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the song traditionally known as the Black national anthem, will also be featured in pregame ceremonies. During the song, montages of the social justice work of NFL players and franchises will be shown on stadium video screens.
Furthering that commitment, the NFL recently shared a public service announcement about the killing of Stephon Clark on Twitter. On March 18, 2018, the unarmed 22-year-old was fatally shot and killed in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento by two police officers.
It was the fifth video in the league’s “Inspire Change” series, produced by Jay-Z’s artist and athlete management company, Roc Nation, and the NFL to help raise awareness in communities to end systemic racism. You can watch the video below.
— NFL (@NFL) July 28, 2020
In addition to spotlighting the fight for racial equality, the league plans to pay tribute to frontline workers who’ve provided essential services and saved lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. ESPN reported that the league’s memo said a message thanking frontline workers will be shown on the seat coverings between the 30-yard lines at every stadium.