If you care about it, you'll promote it.
That's been the message to the NFL from its own players and social justice groups for more than a year. As the league continues its pledge of $250 million in donations to grant partners over 10 years to various social justice causes, it's also using its platform in even bigger ways than in 2020.
The NFL will use Weeks 17 and 18 of the regular season to promote "Inspire Change," the league's social justice campaign. Much like the Salute to Service and cancer awareness-themed weeks on the NFL calendar, the 'Inspire Change' weeks will give all 32 teams the opportunity to highlight work done in their respective communities by the club and individual players.
"We are certainly a company and have financial resources, but what sets the NFL apart when it comes to social responsibility is not necessarily the cash, but it's the platform," Anna Isaacson, the NFL's SVP of social responsibility, told CBS Sports recently. "The [grant] partners, and we heard this from players, too, they want us to use our platform. They want us to take our most important moments and biggest assets and put it towards this cause. And that is everything from NFL Network, our social media handles, the Super Bowl.
"Use it to raise up the people who are doing the work."
The regular season expanding to 17 games provided the NFL the opportunity to create these themed weeks. Over the final two weeks, all 32 clubs will have at least one home game to promote their team's social justice work with in-stadium PSAs and features during the television broadcast.
The league has come a ways from 2016 when Colin Kaepernick first began his demonstration against police violence and social inequity during the playing of the national anthem. Last summer, in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder, NFL players pressured commissioner Roger Goodell to say "Black lives matter" and apologize to players for not backing them earlier for their peaceful protests.
"Inspire Change" has been ongoing since 2017, but the events of 2020 caused the league to self-reflect and do more for the cause.
"Everyone throughout the organization had to be accountable for this work and that was the biggest change," Isaacson said. "We essentially said the lights are on every day. Every day we're going to storytell, elevate the work of our grant partners, shine a light on what NFL players are doing in their communities. And that commitment that we made last year, we will continue this year. We made a lot of progress and we saw awareness definitely rise among our players and fans and key constituents in terms of what the NFL is doing in this area."
The end-zone stencils created for 2020 return this season. "It Takes All of Us" will be in one end zone while teams have the option of putting "End Racism" or "Advance Social Justice" in the other. The helmet decal program continues with some tweaks. Players will have the option of one of six messages for the back of their helmet: "End Racism," "Stop Hate," "It Takes All of Us," "Black Lives Matter," "Inspire Change" or "Say Their Stories."
Players no longer have the decal option of a person's name who was a victim of systemic racism or police violence. While the vast majority of players went about that program in the proper way, others were able to slip names through that weren't in the spirit of the program.
Isaacson said the league's decision to change the program didn't have to do with that as much as it was a "natural evolution" that saw players picking messages more than names by the end of the season. And with the "Say Their Stories" option, players will still be able to highlight those same victims and/or social justice heroes.
"I think what's most important to note about this season is that 'Say Their Stories' was essentially a content platform that was created out of the helmet decal program last year," Isaacson said. "And what players told us that was most important about the names was not necessarily the decal on the back of the helmet but the person's story and making sure that their legacy was told.
"We felt like last year the 'Say Their Stories' features were so emotional and powerful and that was really the crux of the campaign that we felt was most important to continue."
The league has 27 grant partners and will add more late in the fall when it announces its next round of funding. The NFL raised more than $90 million in 2020 alone, taking its total from 2017 up to $160 million and growing.
"We made such tremendous progress toward the $250 million last year that it wouldn't surprise me if we surpassed the 250 well before we passed the 10-year mark," Isaacson said.