NFL will play the ‘Black National Anthem’ before every game in 2021

"Lift Every Voice and Sing," widely recognized as the "Black National Anthem," was written over 120 years ago by James Weldon Johnson

The NFL has announced it will play the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” before each game in the 2021-22 season as part of a $250 million investment towards social justice.

The league will also continue many of the social justice initiatives implemented last season, including featuring messages of antiracism and unity on helmets and the field, and communicating to fans through signage and public service announcements, per reports by Front Office Sports.

The NFL shield logo is seen following a press conference held by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (not pictured) at the George R. Brown Convention Center on February 1, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

The multi-million dollar investment is part of the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative, advised by rapper and business mogul Jay-Z.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson and composed by his brother John Rosamond Johnson in 1900. Per the NAACP, the song became a “rallying cry” for Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.

This is not the league’s first time acknowledging the song — an Alicia Keys performance of Lift Every Voice and Sing was featured before the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner at Super Bowl 55 in February, during which players from the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linked arms in solidarity.

Although it didn’t happen until the Super Bowl, the NFL considered implementing the song as early as week 1 of the 2020 season. Jacksonville Jaguars player Chris Conley responded to the league’s early considerations when news first broke last June.

“The league taking the opportunity to play “Lift every voice and sing” (the black national anthem) is sweet. It’s a great way to honor those who started this movement year and years ago,” Conley tweeted.

“For those who aren’t familiar with it, this song seeks to remind us of our past as a country and to strive to be better,” he continued. “It speaks to all of us not just black people even tho it became a rallying cry for blacks in the Jim Crow era. It is a beautiful message birthed from pain.”

He closed the series of tweets by refuting those who claim the song is divisive, saying it isn’t just for Black people to acknowledge, but for anyone who wants to “press toward a better future.”

The NFL heavily increased its commitment to racial justice issues in 2020, responding to the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the backlash directed toward the league for its handling of peaceful protests such as the kneeling popularized by Colin Kaepernick in past years.

“We, the National Football League, believe Black lives matter,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a video released last June addressing racial injustice. “Without Black players, there would be no National Football League, and the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of Black players coaches, fans and staff.” 

Last August, Goodell also appeared on Emmanuel Acho’s Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man YouTube show, addressing the league’s handling of kneeling and other peaceful protests against racism.

“We have never disciplined a single player for anything with the national anthem, in violation. And I don’t intend to. I will support,” Goodell said.

Other national sports leagues have also increased their efforts toward the cause, such as the NBA’s Board of Governors which committed $300 million toward Black economic empowerment over the next 10 years.

The MLB also announced on Monday that it is contributing $150 million to increasing Black representation within the sport of baseball.

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