Football Has Changed: Did It Go the Right Way?

COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter drastically altered the ways in which the sport of football is viewed and played.

To what extent has the NFL adapted and made changes needed to address societal issues in 2021?

Getty Images/iStockphoto

To what extent has the NFL adapted and made changes needed to address societal issues in 2021?

Our world has changed dramatically throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, and with it, so has entertainment. However, despite these major world alterations, our timeless source of intrigue, sports, remained unchanged. The NFL, the largest sports market in the United States, has been forced to reckon with itself over the past few years, but it has failed to act on some of its extremely visible flaws. As protests erupted over the course of the last year and as the Coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc across the country, the organization remained stagnant, refusing to take the necessary steps to correct its controversial practices.

In the preseason of 2016, Colin Kaepernick began to kneel during every game during the National Anthem. His decision was met with online vitriol and hate, leading to Kaepernick’s falling out with the 49er’s organization and his eventual withdrawal from playing football. Since then he has remained a free agent, focusing on social justice initiatives. While he has faded from the pro sport spotlight, his actions have become a source of great inspiration for those supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement, and other organizations. From a survey conducted by the Seattle Times, more than half of respondents in a study of political forces within sports said that Kaepernick inspired them to vote in a local or national election. 

A cropped photo of hands raised with closed fists symbolizes the BLM protest movement. (Getty Images / iStockphoto)

The issues of institutional racism and player safety already divided fans even before COVID-19 struck. But now, the NFL is trying to rebrand itself as a forward thinking organization, highlighting the deep hypocrisy that runs through the veins of football. 

Throughout this time of awakening and activism, the NFL attempted to amplify voices and social movements by displaying quotes, information, and news on developing issues. However, certain steps that needed to be taken were ignored and discarded in favor of their core fan base. For instance, SportsCasting reports that there remain no black franchise NFL owners, while 70% of the players who are at risk are black, with their careers averaging 3 and a half years — making it a quick, dangerous, and high risk high reward option.

Recently, it was revealed that the head coach of the Raiders, John Gruden, made racially insensitive comments towards the head of the players union. His actions were only reported after an e-mail leak, despite Gruden’s consistent disrespect over multiple years. Higher ups in the Raiders organization and the NFL likely knew about the insensitive opinions of one of their most high-profile coaches, yet they did nothing about it until the public had access to the information. The year 2020 presented the NFL with a choice about itself and its future. Instead of restructuring their pay, holding their leadership to higher standards, and committing to putting more black individuals in higher positions, the NFL showed just how unaware they really are.

Football is the classic American pastime, adored by fans across the country, but how American is it really if the NFL is not honoring the struggles facing the majority of American people, especially those that directly impact its players? As football turns the corner into a supposed new start, it would be wise to commit to real tangible change and end the exploitation of the people who make their game.

Football is the classic American pastime, adored by fans across the country, but how American is it really if the NFL is not honoring the struggles facing the majority of American people, especially those that directly impact its players?

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