Last week, both the U.S. Congress and Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, and on June 17 President Biden added his signature to the bill making it law.
It didn’t take long for the major sports leagues across the country to begin responding to the new national holiday that commemorates the official ending of slavery on June 19, 1865 in this country when federal troops arrived in Galveston to enforce the end of slavery more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been law.
It was interesting to see the ways the various sports leagues chose to celebrate Juneteenth, which is now the 11th national holiday in American history.
The NBA – in conjunction with the WNBA — which has been out front of the other sports leagues in terms of how it has dealt with social justice issues in recent years, observed the holiday by giving all U.S. employees paid time off on June 18 along with some other initiatives employees could take part in.
WNBA players wore warmup shirts honoring the league’s commitment to social justice and teams played the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in arenas in celebration of the liberation and perseverance of Black people.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a letter to league employees that Juneteenth provides a moment to “pause, further educate ourselves and reflect on both the history and the current state of race in our country.”
As prolific as Silver’s words were, the NFL was slightly ahead of the NBA on this one when commissioner Roger Goodell announced a year ago the league employees could be given Juneteenth off well ahead of the passage of the landmark bill.
Major League Baseball, which is comprised of just 7.8% African American players, had a little more disjointed recognition that included some teams wearing throwback uniforms and some teams did a nod to the Negro Leagues. Major League Soccer, meanwhile, wore Juneteenth-inspired jerseys on June 18th ahead of the weekend’s national celebration.
All leagues encouraged their players, employees and fans to take in some sort of celebration to commemorate the day. Over the weekend, NFL teams, including the Texans, observed the day with various social media campaigns.
Native Houstonian and former Texans safety Mike Thomas went on a historical tour of Galveston and took thousands of viewers with him as his tour was featured on the NFL Network. Thomas visited several landmarks and included historical experts who offered deeper detail into the landmarks like the Reedy Chapel AME Church and their historical significance.
“I’m looking forward to having a conversation with a couple of historians who can teach me about Juneteenth,” Thomas said during the video. “Being from Texas, I’ve learned about it in school. But to be here on the ground, it’s going to be amazing.”