Social Justice a Lead NFL Season Storyline, Right From Kickoff

Social Justice a Lead NFL Season Storyline, Right From Kickoff

Summer in America 2020 was defined by two major storylines- the COVID-19 pandemic and the grassroots movement for social justice. It’s carried over to the 2020 NFL regular season, with narratives emerging right from kickoff. The very first game, the Houston Texans at the Kansas City Chiefs, saw both teams joining together to stand in silence for the cause of unity.

For some inexplicable reason this was booed, and that set off a chain reaction of events. On top of all the larger issues that transcend a mere game, but also currently engulf it, we’re seeing strong winds of change blowing in the business side of the National Football League too.

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How the NFL is covered, and how we consume it, has been revolutionized by the legalization of sports betting in the United States. It’s ramped up further the growth of daily fantasy sports, a thinly disguised version of sports gambling itself. With the pandemic forcing more wagering online, instead of in real life, it’s a perfect storm for the industry. Online poker mainstreamed betting on the internet, and now NFL wagering, the expansion of prop betting and daily fantasy will bring it up yet another notch.

Prop betting on what the players will do during the Star Spangled Banner has already been around for a few years, as taking a knee during the national anthem has become common practice. Clearly, Colin Kaepernick was years ahead of his time, but with these gestures now being so pervasive, the actual seriousness of the real message that was intended, has been lost. The protests and statements don’t have the same power these days, but then again gestures aren’t what really matter here- it’s actual change.

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CBS Analyst and former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson said it best– it’s about actually walking the walk, and not just talking the talk. It’s one thing to say you want social change, because it makes you look like you’re on the right side of history. It’s an entirely different thing to actually get in the streets, with the people, and do the political action that’s required.

During the first NFL pregame morning show of the season, the NFL on CBS roundtable got right into it.

“One of the big stories, of course, coming out of Thursday night’s football matchup, the Texans remaining in the locker room for the national anthem,” said host James Brown. “But you know what, right before kickoff, both teams came together midfield locking arms in a show of unity, which, Boomer, surprisingly was met with a chorus of boos.”

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It’s unfortunate, but I will tell you this, in talking to Frank Reich, the head coach of the Colts, throughout all of this the last six months, he has said to me he’s never been on a team that’s been this close and this unified,” responded Analyst Boomer Esiason.

“That’s the key word. It is unity. Today the Colts are going to send a message — I’m not really sure what the message is going to be, but it’s going to be a powerful message, according to their head coach Frank Reich.

“I have to tell you, anybody that’s ever been in the locker room understands what this means for everybody who puts on those shoulder pads, and I think most organizations are actually trying to carry the message of the players.”

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Added Burleson: “I get why players stand, take a knee, or stay in the locker room, but the demonstrations turn the conversation. I’ll just say this. If the conversation doesn’t turn to action, then it’s quite pointless.”

“I want you guys to stick around. I have conversation with Calais Campbell of the Baltimore Ravens, and they’re very specific and comprehensive in what they want on a local level. If every team takes that as an example, I think we’ll be in a better place.”

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Burleson referenced the Ravens, and it was their head coach, John Harbaugh, who gave a statement about the movement that was powerful as anything said by anyone in the league, thus far.

Super Bowl winning quarterback and New York Giants club legend Phil Simms has also chimed in, recognizing what happened earlier this summer, and how it’s truly been the strongest action taken so far. 

“A great example for all sports coming together is Jacob Blake, when he got shot up in Wisconsin seven times in the back, the NBA, NFL, hockey, all cancelled games, NFL teams cancelled practice,” said Simms.

“I think that’s a great thing. If all NFL owners unite with the players, they can really help create change.”

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Perhaps it was legendary former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach BILL COWHER who summed it all up best however:

“When you think about the NFL, it is the most diverse league in professional sports, diverse in socioeconomic upbringing, diverse in race, diverse in gender. We have women coaches, women in the front office, but yet every team is trying to create a family culture based on unconditional relationships.”

“We don’t all have to agree on everything, but we have to respect everybody because we have not walked in your shoes, and I say this to the fans, please don’t be judgmental today.”

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“Listen to the statements that these teams are making. This is not about the flag. I love this country, but we can all do better. Please vote.”

Well said coach.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated, Chicago Tribune and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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