The NFL, which up until recently had restricted its players from protesting on the field for social change, is going all in for the 2020 season.
League Commissioner Roger Goodell walked members of the media through a series of social justice initiatives the league has planned in a call on Tuesday, including helmet decals, a voter activation push, and phrases stenciled in the end zones.
Those phrases, Goodell said, include “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism.” They will be stenciled in paint in each teams’ end zones all season long.
The NFL will also play the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song known as the Black national anthem, before games on opening weekend, while airing footage that showcases the social justice work of players and teams, Goodell said.
Goodell added that a number of players he spoke to said that voting was the number one issue that was important to them, which helped spur a voting initiative the league launched in July called NFL Votes.
It’s a league-wide, nonpartisan initiative that Goodell said “supports and encourages civic engagement and voting of fans, players, legends and club and league personnel.”
The initiative will focus on three pivotal parts of the electoral process: voter education, voter registration and voter activation.
Education programs have been conducted with players on all 32 teams, and Goodell said that the league encouraged teams to offer their stadiums as polling centers.
Goodell, who said last month that he wished the league had “listened earlier” to Colin Kaepernick when he began protesting during the National Anthem back in 2016, also announced that the league’s players will be able to “shine a spotlight on and honor victims of systemic racism and police brutality” with decals on their helmets that bear their names.
These decals will be able to be worn by players all season long.
“The NFL stands with the Black community, the players, clubs and fans,” Goodell said. “Confronting systemic racism with tangible and productive steps is absolutely essential. We will not relent in our work and we will redouble our efforts to be catalysts for the urgent and sustainable change that our society and communities so desperately need.”
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, acknowledged that some players may choose not to play in week 1 to protest police brutality and racism. He said that all players will have the “individual choice and right to either sit out or protest.”
There was no mention of any punishments or fines for players sitting out of games.