Whether or not one agrees that politics or social justice movements belong in professional sports—or other entertainment media, for that matter, and whether or not one believes sports teams take a stance on such issues from a position of pure altruism or as a PR strategy, it’s undeniable that professional sports in the United States offer a tremendous platform from which to address these issues.
Massive Audience Reach Provides Platform for Change
The first NFL game of the 2020 season between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans is a great example of this platform, as well as the challenges that remain in promoting social justice movements. While the NFL’s response to COVID-19 means that the stadium wasn’t filled to its 80,000-person capacity, the city of Kansas City did allow roughly 16,000 fans to attend in person, making the game one of just two week-one NFL games to allow fans. More importantly, from a message platform standpoint, the game, played on Thursday, September 10 in Kansas City, was watched by over 19 million people across the country.
NFL Approach Delights Some, Infuriates Others
The NFL, as well as the Chiefs and Texans, saw the prime time event featuring the reigning Super Bowl champions as a great opportunity to promote a message of racial unity. However, some fans had other ideas, as Tyler Lauletta reports in an article for Insider: “Kansas City Chiefs fans booed through a moment of silence dedicated to ‘the ongoing fight for equality’ before Thursday night's opening game of the 2020 NFL season,” Lauletta writes. The national anthem followed “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” After both were played, both teams met at centerfield. “The Chiefs' public-address announcer then called for a moment of silence ‘dedicated to the ongoing fight for equality,’ as players stood arm-in-arm. Fans could be heard booing through the gesture.”
We should note that the actions of the fans who booed through the moment of silence don’t represent the views of the nation, nor the views of all NFL fans, the views of all Kansas City Chiefs fans, nor even the views of all those in attendance. In fact, many fans quickly took to Twitter and other social media platforms to condemn those who booed.
Opportunities and Challenges
The Chiefs-Texans game represents both the opportunities and the challenges faced by those promoting racial justice efforts—including business organizations of all types and sizes. Professional sports organizations, teams and athletes, celebrities and major business brands all have the opportunity and the voice to promote such efforts if they choose. The challenge they face is potential backlash from some—largely a minority of—fans and consumers who either disagree with the message or disagree with making political and social justice messages a part of traditionally non-political spaces.
Despite potential backlash now is not the time for organizations serious about building inclusive cultures to back down. In fact, now is exactly the time to step forward in unity and solidarity with the NFL, its players and literally millions around the country, and around the globe, to advocate for minorities.