Comparing the NBA and NFL’s Social Justice Initiatives

Connor Foote, Sports Editor

Social injustice has long been an issue in America and has recently gained a larger spotlight. Since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in May, protests have picked up significantly around the country. Professional sports do not have a long history of discussing or intentionally taking a stance on issues outside of their sport. Colin Kaepernick, the 49er’s former quarterback, has not held a job in the NFL since 2016 when San Francisco cut him for kneeling during the anthem. That is where the problems started for the NFL.

The NBA has long been a player-driven league. Owners take a backseat and allow players to do close to whatever they want on the court and in the locker rooms. Because players play such a large part in league policy, their views are typically dominant and expressed more than in other leagues. In this case, when players asked the league to help with the issue, they quickly complied and deployed an array of choices. Most athletes in the NBA bubble chose to display an approved phrase on their jerseys, such as the Mavericks’ “Equality” or Ja Morant’s “Enough”. After the shooting of Jacob Blake in August, the Bucks refused to play their game against the Magic in protest. The league soon followed. Before they got back to work, the NBA chose to open arenas as polling places and establish a social justice coalition. Although it has not gotten as much of a spotlight, it would be unfair not to acknowledge the work that the WNBA has done with this issue too.

 

The NFL, on the other hand, is decidedly not a player-driven league. Owners act more like CEOs than leaders of a team by sacrificing their relationships with players for any economic or monetary gain they can find. Players do not have nearly as much power in the NFL as they do in the NBA because, while they can still voice their concerns, they are not always heard. Part of the reason this is more prevalent is because there are many more players in the NFL, which decreases both independent voices in general and the prominence of star players. The NFL has taken a very non-committal stance when it comes to racism, such as allowing for certain phrases such as “Stop Hate” or “Black Lives Matter” to appear on warmup shirts and letting players choose a name to put on their helmet bumpers.

 

 

The NBA has for a long time been viewed as the most progressive league, and with good reason. Especially compared with the NFL, it is much more forward than any of its American counterparts. It is quite literally one of the biggest organizations in the country to help with social justice. The NFL, afraid of the drop its ratings might take, has been soft on the issue, even with star players speaking out themselves. In my opinion, they could both do more. At their essence, they are both companies with resources to help the community. Why shouldn’t they choose to use them?

Photos courtesy of The Undefeated and News Break