Sports and Social Justice

Photo Credit:

Tim Folliard – Sports Editor

The NCAA has approved student-athletes in all sports to have messages on the back of their uniform to support social justice issues. In addition to the messages, athletes can have a patch on the front of their uniforms to show support as well.

Patches on the front of jerseys must be identical for all members of the team. However, the messages on the back of the jersey may change from athlete to athlete. The messages must be authorized by the school and the conference. 

This move from the NCAA follows other sports organizations and academic institutions taking an increased role in promoting social justice movements.

An excerpt of President Charles Gregory’s message to the Benedictine community was uploaded on the Benedictine Athletics website saying:

“As an institution and a community of people, our hope rests in our ability to live and practice our Benedictine values both on campus and out in the world. This means declaring opposition to hatred, bigotry, racism and discrimination of any type. Why? Because we mean and believe what we say.”

Some athletic departments have faced push back from their student-athletes about their response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Illinois State Athletic Director, Larry Lyons, said “All Redbird lives matter” when talking about the Black Lives Matter movement with athletes and coaches during a meeting. This led to a boycott of team activities by Illinois State athletes.

In response, the Illinois State athletic department released an action plan for social change. This plan stated includes diversity, equity and anti-racism training for administration and coaches. It also includes the creation of a “Student-Athlete Action Team for Social Change.”

Benedictine does not have a program like this in place. Keewaun Stokes, President of the Black Student Union, believes the university should do more.

“Benedictine University has not been without racial incidents. Racial slurs have been used by faculty and students. To be honest, there have been many student-athletes who have participated in these disgusting actions. Benedictine is long overdue for a structural change in the department of social justice. This summer, the Benedictine Black Student Union created a demand letter that listed seven key elements that must be changed to make the university more equitable and just.”

For more information on how to get involved, contact a member of the BSU Executive Board. Click the link if you would like to view/participate in BSU’s request for structural changes.

The NFL has taken steps to correct their poor reputation of promoting social justice movements.  “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter”

When the season begins this Thursday, social justice statements will be displayed in the end zones in every team’s stadium. These statements will say “End racism” and “It takes all of us.” The NFL is also allowing players to have the statements on their helmet as well. Names of “victims of police violence and/or systemic racism on the padding along the bottom of the backs of their helmets.”

During the NBA season in Orlando, Black Lives Matter is written on the center of the court. NBA players can choose from 29 approved messages to put on the back of their jersey. These include Black Lives Matter, Vote, How Many More, Equality, Justice and Peace. Many NBA players have used these messages.

After Jacob Blake was shot by a police officer in Wisconsin, the sports world decided to take action. The NBA players decided to boycott their scheduled playoff games. MLB, MLS and NHL also decided to postpone games during this time. The Chicago Bears joined other NFL teams in cancelling their practices as well.

Sports have become embedded into the fabric of our society. With this, athletes and sports organizations have greater platforms than they ever had before. They can use that platform to help promote positive change that they want to see in the world.