The NFL 2020 season started yesterday and the league made good on its promise to do better.
After ostracizing Colin Kaepernick for his willingness to kneel for the causes of the oppressed, the league showed sports exactly why it is the leader of the pack.
Two anthems were played before kickoff: Lift Every Voice and Sing & The Star-Spangled Banner.
Also known as the Black National Anthem, James Weldon Johnson’s opus to the optimism through extreme struggle is a resolute promise to America that it will never break the spirit of its sons and daughters of Afrikan descent.
It was performed for the first time by 500 school children in celebration of President Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12, 1900, in Jacksonville, FL. The poem was set to music by Johnson’s brother, John Rosamond Johnson, and soon adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as its official song.
Alicia Keys delivered the powerful performance of the song via video as actor Anthony Mackie narrated a short history of the injustices America has heaped upon Black people before Keys played.
It was an integral moment for a league that once was the lightning rod of controversy in the sports world regarding racial injustice.
Colin Kaepernick’s stance was a throwback to Muhammad Ali’s when he risked it all to bring awareness to police brutality and injustice in America. Since then, more Black men and women have died across the country at the hands of police.
Monuments erected under the guise of historical pride for The Lost Cause of the Confederacy have been brought down. Whole boulevards have been renamed and school curriculums, even during the homeschooling process caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, have evolved to include the whole story of America.
Roger Goodell admitted that he wishes “we had listened earlier” to what Colin Kaepernick was protesting. Then he went further during former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho’s video series, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man”.
“These are not unpatriotic people. They’re not disloyal. They’re not against our military,” Goodell said. “Many of those guys were in the military, and they’re a military family. And what they were trying to do is exercise their right to bring attention to something that needs to get fixed. And that misrepresentation of who they were and what they were doing was the thing that gnawed at me.”
In June, Goodell and the NFL released a video apologizing on behalf of the league for not doing a better job of listening to the players’ concerns about racial inequality.
It is a stark turnaround from the former stance of the league and in deference of the status quo. After all, this is the same league that once allowed George Preston Marshall to create the Washington Redskins and denigrate Native Americans for years.
However, the NFL has taken the lead, alongside the NBA at displaying how the country can begin to keep the concerns of ALL its citizens at the forefront.
Playing Lift Every Voice and Sing, in conjunction with The Star Spangled Banner, should be the standard for American sports, entertainment, and politics. It is a demonstration that America recognizes its duplicity in the treatment of its Black citizens from inception.
It recognizes that there are two Americas still and until that chasm is filled two anthems are necessary. Two anthems might always be necessary for that matter as a reminder of what we do not want to repeat in the future.
Currently, The Star Spangled Banner only represents White America’s triumph over the British. However, Lift Every Voice and Sing represents Afrikans plight to be seen not only as African-Americans but simply as Americans.
The NFL is showing that inclusion means admission to the plight of all Americans, not just the ones who feel they are being erased by diversity.