The NFL and #BlackLivesMatter.

The NFL and #BlackLivesMatter.
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Considering 70% of it’s players are black, the NFL has done little to fight racial injustice in recent history. As the most watched sport in America and the highest grossing league on the planet, the NFL has a pretty important platform when it comes to discussing race.

With Black Lives Matter protests arising across the globe, racial inequality and police brutality is again at the forefront of the news agenda. The NFL has dropped the ball on racism before, can they make a positive turn this time?

Taking a stand

We can’t discuss racial inequality and the NFL without mentioning Colin Kaepernick. It’s been nearly four years since Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem. After sitting on the bench during the anthem for two weeks , Kaepernick decided to kneel. In his own words: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour”.

Eric Reid, Colin Kaepernick and Eli Harold kneel during the American National Anthem.

Players from numerous teams joined Kaepernick’s peaceful protests throughout 2016 and 2017. At one point over 200 players taking a knee, raising a fist or sitting on the bench during the national anthem. Many interpreted the kneeling for what it was; a peaceful protest against undoubted racial inequality in the United States. Unfortunately others didn’t, including numerous of the leagues owners, fans and who could forget the newly elected President Trump.

“Get that son of a b*tch off the field”

President Donald Trump discussing players who knelt during the national anthem.

Despite push back from many players Trump rallied his “fans”; which included several NFL owners who’d donated millions to his campaigns. The NFL eventually stepped in and banned Kneeling at the start of the 2018 Season – promising millions towards social justice charities as a compromise.

The injustice, brutality and inequality continued, as did the NFL, all standing “together”.

From the top down

Remember watching football games on a sunday evening? Between the lines you’ll undoubtedly have seen plenty of black players, over two third of the leagues players are black. Chances are you didn’t see too many black head coaches, last year only 3 out of 32 head coaches were black. How about the coordinators? Same story: just two offensive coordinators and ten defensive. There’s a break in play and the TV cuts to the play-by-play announcers, chances are they’re not black too; only 3 of the 75 working in 2018 were. The camera pans to the owners, as you probably already know: none are black.

For a league where over two third of it’s players are back, the NFL has a lousy track record of involving black people at the higher levels. The Rooney Rule, implemented in 2003 with the aim of increasing the number of minority coaches, seems to have failed. Progress was made, a recent high of eight in 2017 has collapsed to today’s number of just four. Despite some early success there’s now only one additional minority coach than there was in 2003. In it’s 17 year existence only 19 minority head coaches have been hired.

Progress?

After the tragic, avoidable, death of George Floyd and many others at the hands of US Police, racial inequality and injustice is again at the forefront of the news agenda once again. NFL players have expressed their outrage at the killings and injustice; posting videos and statements on social media, donating to charities and joining in protests across America.

The League itself? Business as usual; The first statement released from the NFL failed to mention the words race, black, injustice…

However, following further statements from players, teams and staff the league drastically changed its tune. In a video message released on Friday Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the issue. In the video Goodell encouraged people to speak out, protest peacefully and included important statements acknowledging “centuries of silence, inequality and oppression” and that “the National Football League believes Black Lives Matter”.

Many critics will argue this speech is three years too late. That it only happened as a response to a video from NFL players asking what “if I was George Floyd?”.

Will Kaep be back?

Goodell’s statement leaves the door open for Colin Kaepernick to return to the league. It won’t be easy; he hasn’t played since 2016 and will always come with a lot of “baggage” thanks to his protests. However, there’s currently only ten quarterbacks in the league who’ve played in the Superbowl, Kaepernick would make that eleven. He’s in good shape and happens to plays the most important position in the game, so there’s always a chance…

Hope

Hopefully the NFL will continue to involve the Black Lives Matter movement and it’s struggle to break down the barriers of systematic racism and inequality. Hopefully the NFL can embrace it’s platform and recent tragedies can be used as a catalyst for change across America, across the world.

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