The National Football League (NFL) closed its season with the Super Bowl Sunday but reminded fans that, while football may be on hiatus until next September, “systemic racism” never takes a holiday.
The NFL aired its “closing argument” ad during the Super Bowl Sunday night as part of a commitment, made over the summer, to publicly address racial inequality. The ad titled, “Inspire Change,” introduced a campaign of the same name, and served as a tribute to former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who “inspired” the league to include racial justice messaging over the course of its 2020-2021 season.
The ad, Fox News reports, “demonstrated the importance of diversity to the sport and reaffirmed the pledge it made in June to commit $250 million over a 10-year period to various methods designed to combat systemic racism.”
Viewers took to social media to criticize the NFL for airing the ad while Kaepernick remains unsigned. The former 49ers second-string quarterback, who made a name for himself by kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality, walked away from a one-year contract extension several years ago but was not picked up by another team.
Last year, he settled with the NFL for an undisclosed amount after suing the league claiming that he was “locked out” of professional football because of his political beliefs. Kaepernick alleged that team owners conspired, allegedly with then-president Donald Trump, to keep Kaepernick off the field in order to silence his protest.
Over the summer — in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department, and the massive nationwide, anti-racism protests Floyd’s death inspired — the NFL appeared to change its mind on Kaepernick and his demonstration, and committed to addressing “systemic racism” during the 2020-2021 season.
We wouldn’t be where we are today without the work Colin and other players have led off,” an individual familiar with the league’s plans told NFL.com at the time. “That is a key point here. We listened to our players. We needed to listen more, we needed to move faster. We heard them and launched a social justice platform because of what Colin was protesting about. The players have always been an essential piece of this effort and this campaign. It would be awesome to engage Colin on some of the work we are doing. He’s doing real impactful work. Getting him in some way would be amazing for us. There’s a lot of work to do to get to that point. We’re certainly open and willing to do that.”
The messaging was overt at first but after NFL ratings plummeted — a change that seemed to correlate with the introduction of Black Lives Matter messaging — the league seemed to draw back on anti-racism efforts. Sunday’s commercial was just a short message, with the league pledging to work more ardently on racial justice efforts in the off-season.
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