The National Football League (NFL) has not scaled back its social justice spending initiatives despite the damage it has done to its brand in recent years.
In 2020, when Black Lives Matter (BLM) warrants reached the national consciousness following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, the NFL said it would commit $250 million to a 10-year period of service to combat “systemic racism and support the fight against injustices faced by African Americans.” It came after former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched the Take a Knee campaign to protest police brutality during the national anthem.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the work that Colin and other players have done,” a league source said at the time. “That’s a key point here. We listened to our players. We needed to listen more, we needed to go faster. We heard them and started a social justice platform because of what Colin was protesting against.
“The players have always been a huge part of this effort and this campaign. It would be great to engage Colin on some of the work that we do. He does really impactful work. another would be amazing for us. There’s a lot of work to do to get there. We’re definitely open and willing to do that,” the source added.
Ahead of its 10-year commitment, the NFL launched its Inspire Change program in 2018 and accelerated its proposed spending following the killing of George Floyd as protests and riots rocked the country. As of January 2021, less than a year after the $250 million proposal was announced, the NFL had given more than $95 million to the service for social justice initiatives. From NFL.com:
The NFL today announced 13 new grants to nonprofits across the country and additional funding to support bridging the “digital divide” as part of its social justice initiative, Inspire Change. The league and its clubs have provided more than $95 million to date to support programs focused on education, economic advancement, police and community relations and criminal justice reform, encouraging the unity and respect in our communities. These efforts contribute to the NFL’s ten-year, $250 million commitment to social justice.
Inspire Change launched during the 2018 season, showcasing the collaborative efforts of players, clubs and the league to create positive change in communities across the country. Approved unanimously by the Player-Owner Social Justice Task Force, the 13 new grants total nearly $4.3 million and add to the 20 organizations funded over the past three years.
Arthur Blank, owner and president of the Atlanta Falcons and a member of the player-owner social justice task force, said the league will continue to “support the march against social injustice.”
“This past year has opened the eyes of so many to the inequality experienced by many of our brothers and sisters, neighbors and associates. We will continue to support our players as we address the underlying issues and bring people together to achieve meaningful and positive changes,” Blank said.
Not all of the causes discussed had a political bent, such as when the NFL sought to bridge the “digital divide” during the coronavirus pandemic by helping to bring the internet and technology to underserved communities for the sake of education. However, causes that were politically motivated were unmistakably left-leaning. As Fox Business reported in December 2021, Inspire Change had gone so far as to fund “Defund the Police” initiatives.
“Groups that have received funding through ‘Inspire Change,’ the NFL’s social justice initiative, include the Vera Institute of Justice, the Oregon Justice Resource Center and the Community Justice Exchange. These three groups support the defunding or abolishing the police, as evidenced by a review of their public statements,” FBN noted.