Four weeks after commissioner Roger Goodell vowed to listen to and work with players in their fight for racial equality, the NFL is in the process of solidifying plans to honor victims of systemic racism with a number of in-game programs during opening week of the 2020 season.
Starting with the nationally televised regular-season opener between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 10, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black national anthem, will be performed before every Week 1 kickoff, before “The Star-Spangled Banner,” according to a person familiar with ongoing discussions. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because plans have not yet been finalized and announced by NFL officials.
Both anthems will be televised Sunday afternoon, and on “Sunday Night Football” and “Monday Night Football” contests as well. ESPN’s “Undefeated” first reported news of these plans.
The person said after brainstorming with numerous players and the NFL Players Association, NFL officials also plan to honor victims of police brutality through elements such as helmet decals or jerseys. It’s also expected that the Week 1 broadcasts will feature a number of educational PSAs about victims and their families.
Award-winning journalist Jemele Hill reacted to the news on Twitter, writing “I can’t wait until the NFL figures out nobody black knows the second verse of Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
An earlier report published on theGRIO noted that many of us are able to hum at least the first stanza from memory, but not many know the background of the “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (or “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”).
I can’t wait until the NFL figures out nobody black knows the second verse of Lift Every Voice and Sing
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) July 2, 2020
The song started as a poem. It was first recited in the year 1900 by 500 schoolchildren at the all black Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida, as a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
James Weldon Johnson, a civil rights activist, lawyer, and principal of the Stanton School, wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to introduce famed educator Booker T. Washington, who was visiting the school at the time. Johnson’s brother, John Rosamond Johnson put the poem to music and it officially became a song.
In 1919, the NAACP adopted the song as its official “Negro national anthem” and it enjoyed widespread distribution and celebration. The song experienced a resurgence during the civil rights movement.
In addition to the song being played before every game in Week 1 of the NFL season, the Players Association is working with the league to allow the names of victims of police brutality on the back of player’s jerseys instead of their last name.
“People are saying that social justice will be off of everybody’s mind in Orlando,” Thunder point guard Chris Paul told ESPN’s Marc Spears. “With these jerseys, it doesn’t go away.”
— NFL (@NFL) July 1, 2020
Paul said players who want to participate can promote other causes and charities not related to social injustice.
“The guys I talked to were definitely excited,” Paul told Spears. “The reason I’m passionate and excited about it is that it gives a voice to the voiceless.”
According to the report, the back of the jersey could feature the name of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or phrases like “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe.”