The National Football League is continuing its efforts to amplify social justice by again playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before some games and other major NFL events this season.
The song, traditionally known as the Black national anthem, will be played before “The Star-Spangled Banner” ahead of events such as the NFL Kickoff Game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, Sept. 9, and other “tentpole” games and events such as the Super Bowl and NFL playoffs games, Front Office Sports reported on July 14. The outlet, which cited unidentified league sources says the song is just one element of larger social justice that will include signage with messaging such as “inspire change” and “end racism.”
In the midst of 2020 social uprising, the NFL played the song ahead of Week 1 games. In the years since Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in opposition to police brutality, the league has been battered with criticism of its response to widespread kneeling during the national anthem and its apparent antipathy toward the players’ sideline protests.
Although last year NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league worked to quash claims that they were indifferent or hostile toward the fight against racism and social injustice. “We, the NFL, condemn condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people,” said Goodell in a June 2020 video. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to players earlier and encourage all to speak out and protest peacefully.”
Fast-forward a year later, and former NFL fans say the league has gone too far with its “woke” approach to addressing the social climate. While the league’s Sept. 9 kickoff is still several weeks away, critics who strongly oppose the addition of Black national anthem have already vowed to not tune in to to the upcoming season.
The now-controversial song began as a poem written by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900. It became a hymn when Johnson’s brother, John Rosamond, composed music. The song was first performed as a celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday by 500 students from the segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida.
The song did not become widely known as a Black anthem until it was used throughout the fight for civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s.
While the number of those in opposition to hearing the song played are plenty, there are those who didn’t not have such visceral negative reactions to the news.
And there were some who felt the league should refrain from using the song when the paucity of Black NFL coaches and owners remains a glaring issue in a league that is majority Black.
Regardless of any one person’s stance on the matter, the NFL will continue to make good on its 10-year pledge of using $250 million to combat systemic racism. And, just like last season, the league will continue to use helmet deals, signage, and PSAs to shed light on the continued fight against social injustice.