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NFL to play Black national anthem before every game

Lift Every Voice and Sing was written in 1900 by civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Sunday 18 July 2021 22:25 BST
Related video: NFL 2021-2022 Future MVP Odds

The NFL will play the song widely recognised as the Black national anthem before every 2021-2022 season game as part of a $250million social justice investment.

Lift Every Voice and Sing was written in 1900 by civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson and set to music in 1905 by his brother John Rosamond Johnson.

The song became a “rallying cry” for African Americans during the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the NAACP.

The football league will also continue with a number of social justice changes that were instituted last season, as the country saw widespread protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020.

The measures include incorporating anti-racist and unifying messages on helmets and fields as well as fan communication through signs and public service announcements, according to Front Office Sports.

The “Inspire Change” initiative includes artist Jay-Z as an advisor.

At Super Bowl 55 in February, Alicia Keys sang Lift Every Voice and Sing before The Star-Spangled Banner was performed. The players from the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed solidarity by linking arms with each other.

The NFL considered starting the practice of playing the song before games from the first week of the 2020 season but in the end, it wasn’t implemented until the Super Bowl.

When the league’s considerations made it into the news last June, Chris Conley of the Jacksonville Jaguars tweeted: “The league taking the opportunity to play “Lift every voice and sing” (the black national anthem) is sweet. It’s a great way to honour those who started this movement year[s] and years ago.”

“For those who aren’t familiar with it, this song seeks to remind us of our past as a country and to strive to be better,” he added. “It speaks to all of us, not just black people, even tho[ugh] it became a rallying cry for blacks in the Jim Crow era. It is a beautiful message birthed from pain.”

The NFL increased its social justice efforts in 2020 as a response to the growing Black Lives Matter movement and after strong criticism was levelled at the treatment of former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who popularized kneeling as a protest against systemic racism.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a video statement last June: “We, the National Football League, believe Black lives matter. Without Black players, there would be no National Football League, and the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of Black players, coaches, fans, and staff.”

“We have never disciplined a single player for anything with the national anthem, in violation. And I don’t intend to. I will support them,” Mr Goodell added during a discussion with Emmanuel Acho on episode eight of his YouTube series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.

The NBA’s Board of Governors pledged to spend $300m on Black economic empowerment over the next decade, and the MLB said on Monday that it is committing $150m to boost Black representation in baseball.

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