As the new NFL season kicks off, it’s not just touchdowns and tackles that are making headlines. The Thursday night matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions brought politics onto the field, sparking passionate reactions from fans. At the center of the controversy was the rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” commonly referred to as the “Black National Anthem.”
Since the tragic death of George Floyd in 2020, the NFL has been at the forefront of the cultural battle against racism. This year, they chose to feature “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during the pregame ceremony, a decision that did not sit well with a significant portion of the crowd.
While fans may have gathered to support their teams, the playing of the “Black National Anthem” was met with a chorus of boos from the stands. The atmosphere turned tense as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes crossed the Arrowhead Stadium field with the song playing in the background.
The reaction was swift on social media. Some on the left criticized the fans, calling them racist, while others argued for unity through a single national anthem. One Twitter user lamented, “Kansas City Chiefs got some racist fans. They booed the Black National Anthem smh…”
So when do the Hispanics, American Samoans, Indigenous people of multiple nations, and every other identity group get their anthem played?
The song is a beautiful song and it has meaning, but this nation has ONE National Anthem.
— Geoff Caldwell (@geoffcaldwell) September 8, 2023
In contrast, there was a different reception for Christian singer Natalie Grant’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, the American National Anthem. Fans responded with raucous applause, showing their appreciation for the patriotic tune.
This controversy is not new. In 2020, the NFL announced that it would play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before games as a symbol of their commitment to fighting racism. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated, “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people. 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. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you, and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”
However, this year, the NFL decided to remove its “End Racism” on-field messaging, replacing it with a more straightforward “PLAY FOOTBALL” message for the 2023 season. This shift was evident on the field during the recent Chiefs game, signaling a change in the league’s approach to social justice messaging.
The NFL will no longer ‘End Racism’.
They will Play Football. pic.twitter.com/hgZaXmz1sA
— PJ Green (@PJGreenTV) August 26, 2023
The central question in this debate is whether there should only be one national anthem that unites the entire country. While some argue that a single anthem promotes unity, others contend that it is essential to recognize and celebrate the diversity of the American people.
This controversy highlights the ongoing struggle to balance patriotism and inclusivity in the world of sports. It also raises questions about the role of professional sports leagues in addressing social and political issues.
As the NFL season continues, it remains to be seen how this controversy will evolve and whether it will lead to a broader conversation about the role of politics in sports. One thing is clear: the passion and intensity on both sides of the debate show that the intersection of sports and politics is as contentious as ever.