The NFL really doesn’t care

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Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

NFL footballs lay on a football field.

Lindsay Giovannone, Sports Editor

Is the National Football League a hotbed of performative activism, or does the trade association actively–and honestly–seek to push social change? After the NFL announced in early September that players would be permitted to wear six social justice messages on their helmets during play, the conversation began yet again about athletes using their platform to publicly show support for different causes.

Politics and sports no longer operate in separate spheres. The NFL’s Football Operations has an entire webpage on the League’s social justice initiative. The page highlights milestones in pushing for change in the criminal justice system, promoting economic advancement, and supporting education.

But the NFL hasn’t done any of that. Players have–collectively or individually.

The Players Coalition,a nonprofit founded in 2017 by Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins, seeks to engage communities by working with professional athletes. The NFL has a $90 million social justice partnership with the Players Coalition, which enables them to tout Players’ Coalition initiatives. But any tangible actions taken to end injustice have been enacted by the coalition or individual players.

In 2018, the Players Coalition successfully lobbied for voters’ rights, and helped staunch the disenfranchisement of millions in Florida, Louisiana, and California. New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis, a member of the group, started Devoted Dreamers Academy “to work with inner city youth to provide academic, athletic, spiritual, and mentorship opportunities not otherwise available.”

Even with their recent statements and press releases, prior to 2020, the NFL has scarcely acknowledged racial injustice. Even after being publicly called out for “blatant pandering to public sentiment,” all displays of so-called solidarity are set to continue. Is this a desperate attempt to preserve an audience and seem “woke?” Maybe. But social justice is great for business. Covid-19 took the NFL’s revenue down by $4 billion and television views were at an all-time low. The NFL needs positive press.

In 2020, the NFL’s racial demographics report showed that 57.5% of players identified as Back or African American. Without Black players, the NFL has no future. The stickers the players are wearing on their helmets are just stickers. The painted turf behind the end zone is painted turf. Those are empty, performative promises from an organization that exploits brutality, injustice, and anger to maintain its billion-dollar worth.