Posted on July 15, 2021

NFL to Roll Out More Social Justice Messaging in 2021 Season

Michael McCarthy, Front Office Sports, July 14, 2021

The National Football League will introduce more social justice messaging on fields and player helmets during the upcoming 2021 season, following up on initial efforts from 2020.


To reinforce its 10-year, $250 million commitment to combat systemic racism, the league will promote social justice via on-field signage, decals on player helmets, and in-stadium PSAs.

The NFL also plans to make “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — often referred to as the Black national anthem — a prominent part of all big league events, said sources. They will likely highlight victims of racial injustice with a “Say Their Stories” project, as well.


In 2020, the league suffered its first regular-season TV audience downturn in three years. {snip}

While the NFL leans in, other leagues are dialing back. The NBA, for example, has removed most of the social justice signs and messages that were prevalent on courts and player jerseys last season. {snip}


Roughly 70% of NFL players are Black. Commissioner Roger Goodell himself has admitted that the league can’t afford to ignore their deep concerns about racial justice.

At the same time, the NFL lost $4 billion last year due to the coronavirus, with annual revenue slumping to $12 billion from $16 billion. NFL owners want to recoup those losses this season. Conservative owners would argue staying out of politics is a good place to start.

While the NFL declined to comment, sources said this year’s social justice initiative could be as big, if not bigger, than last season’s in terms of spend, resources, and overall commitment.

The overarching theme for all of the league’s cause-marketing efforts this season will be: “It Takes All Of Us.” But in-stadium messaging will be more “targeted” this year — culminating with the “Inspire Change” theme during Weeks 17-18, said sources.

The effort will kick off in the 2021 preseason, which starts Aug. 5. NFL end zones will include messages such as “End Racism” and “Inspire Change.” The campaign will move into high gear with the NFL Kickoff game.

Lift Every Voice and Sing” will be performed before the NFL Kickoff game between Tom Brady’s Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dak Prescott’s Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, Sept. 9.

The league’s TV partners typically only televise anthems before special games such as Opening Night or the Super Bowl. So expect viewers of the game telecast on NBC Sports to hear both “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The league wants to showcase the Black national anthem in all “tentpole events” moving forward, said another source. That will include the Super Bowl, NFL Playoffs, NFL Draft, and NFL Kickoff game.


— Players free to protest: The league and its 32 teams will not hinder the ability of the league’s 1,700 players to take a knee or otherwise protest on field during the U.S. national anthem. {snip}


— Helmet Messages: NFL uniforms have been off-limits for any messaging besides the league’s “shield” logo and trademarks of uniform partners like Nike. But the league made a major change last year, inviting players to add decals bearing the names of victims of police violence like Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as messages like “Black Lives Matter,” to their helmets. The league’s looking to bring back helmet messages this year {snip}


The NFL’s not the only sports league spending hundreds of millions of dollars to promote racial equality.

Last year, the NBA teamed with the National Basketball Players Association to launch the new NBA Foundation. The league’s Board of Governors are contributing $300 million over 10 years to create “greater economic empowerment in the Black community.”

The NBA and its players union also launched The National Basketball Social Justice Coalition to help dismantle systemic racial inequality.

On Monday, Major League Baseball announced a $150 million, 10-year commitment to increase Black representation in baseball.