Black National Anthem: The NFL's Bold Step to End Racism in Sport

Muib Shefiu

Muib Shefiu

July 2021 | Nigeria

Black National Anthem: The NFL's Bold Step to End Racism in Sport


It cannot be denied that sport is part of social integration; it has brought us together irrespective of race, colour or country. The world is defaced with numerous social injustices on the personal, group, institutional, and societal levels. The sporting arena is a very good place to notify the world about the injustices that are happening in our societies. Many people and organisations believe that the effective use of sports activities can bring about social justice. Many players and athletes have drawn the attention of the world to germane issues that can make lives unbearable for humans even to the detriment of their careers. For instance, San Francisco’s starting quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, refused to stand during the national anthem to protest racial discrimination in the United States. Hence, the same energy has been used by National Football League to include the playing of the Black National Anthem " Lift Every Voice and Sing" at the beginning of each game in the coming season; all in a great effort to promote social justice and end racism in sport.


Toporek and Williams in 2006 explain that social justice bears the implication that the spreading of advantages be fair and equitable to all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability and appearance, social class, or religious beliefs. To achieve a peaceful society, social justice needs to be promoted. We are living in a globalised world, anyone has the chance to legally travel anywhere; freedom of movement. Sleeter as far back as 1996 already explained that globalisation has dramatically influenced society, people now need to socialize, execute their work, and live with the diverse individuals who are encountered daily. Therefore, it is not surprising that many scholars and practitioners have realized that there is a need for promoting diversity and social justice, focusing on equity and social change.


The notion of social justice can be extended into almost all of the contexts of society and life including sporting activities. Over the years, one major issue that usually disrupts the peace of sporting activities is racism. Sporting organisations have been implementing different policies to curb this menace, including the recent bold step of the NFL to play the Black National Anthem at the beginning of every match in the 2021 season. Maybe, this recent tremendous development is because of the psychological breakdown and abuse that the black races have suffered at the hands of racists in sports and other aspects of their lives. Unlike other policies that majorly involves monetary fines, or banning of perpetrators, this policy is targeted at improving the psychological, interests and minds of black players  by making them feel the sensation of being part of the sport. Prior to this monumental policy, the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) and its 30 team owners created funds that are estimated to be US$250 million and US$300 million respectively.  The former will combat systemic racism and the latter will create greater economic empowerment within black communities for the next decade. I believe that the relentless activities of the duo to combat social injustice, racism in football and other aspects of lives will soon be relegated only to the book of history.

The influence of sport in our world cannot be overemphasised, Dr. Ketra L. Armstrong, a professor of Sport Management and director of the Center for Race & Ethnicity in Sport (C-RAES), stresses how sporting events and athletes play a role in addressing social justice issues when she considered sports has a powerful institution that has impacted our society in so many ways, culturally, socially, psychologically, politically. And most of us are connected to sport in some way. We have favorite sport teams, we have favourite sport athletes. And so we are connected to sport emotionally, psychologically, we feel vested in this enterprise. And in sport also, because of those factors, sport has a very wide catchment area. So it's a great way of communicating with the masses. And it is very visible, sporting events are the most watched events out of all other forms of entertainment. So, if you put all those things together, it creates a very powerful platform to communicate messages, and that include messages of social justice. The implication is that if the National Football League can send the message of unity to the world with the bold step of playing the Black National Anthem" Lift Every Voice and Sing". I am optimistic that it will send a powerful message that the human race is one, irrespective of colour.


Lastly, Racism is a social menace that is a threat to our world. It is everyone responsibility to shun any act of discrimination. To achieve social inclusion and end racism, we must believe that the human race is one especially in a setting that involves a diversified group of people like sport. Perhaps, that is what prompted Cameron Mitchell, Chief Executive Officer at Majid Al Futtaim Leisure, Entertainment & Cinemas to recommend that Sport and entertainment are powerful tools for social integration and inclusion, whilst having the power to unite people in challenging times.

 

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