Culture Jam Assignment

NFL: National Football League’s Unity Ad Campaign

Re: #TakeAKnee

Pictured above: The NFL’s recent advertisement campaign, “Inside These Lines”, which aims to inspire unity amongst players and fans in light of protests of the national anthem & police brutality against the black community.

The print advertisement states:

“Inside these lines, we let nothing come between us. Not our color, not our beliefs, not our blood. Inside these lines, we push past any differences, because we know there is far more that unites us. Inside these lines, we turn fear into strength, rivalry into respect. Inside these lines, we rise to the challenge, to the occasion, to new heights. Inside these lines, we bring out the best in each other. And there’s no feat we cannot achieve, no victory we cannot attain, no limit we cannot overcome, when we come together, inside these lines.

A video of the advertisement campaign can be viewed here:

The Problem: 

This advertisement is meant to be a response to President Trump’s criticism of the NFL for not banning or removing players who engage in these protests, as he and many others believe that taking a knee during the national anthem is a sign of disrespect to the nation, the flag, and war veterans.

In my opinion, this does a poor job of signalling any efforts towards social justice and allows the same, indifferent and useless promotion of love and unity to continue, rather than addressing real issues and standing up against a system of oppression.

Over 70% of the players in the NFL are black. This advertisement tells these players and their families that they should “just get along” with their counterparts who refuse to recognize their own privilege and stand up against police brutality. Moreover, these black players have faced backlash for taking part in the #TakeAKnee protests inspired by NFL quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick, who also faced pressures to leave his position before he could be removed.

Black players have been told to “just shut up and play” and to stop complaining about these issues on the field. These players are constantly reminded that their only purpose is to generate money for an organization that does not value their lives or existence, and one that will not stand for their rights or equality.

The NFL’s ignorance in overlooking this and acting like unity will solve everything is the same sort of colour-blind approach that privileged individuals often take when they want to be absolved of any moral responsibility to address issues to which they directly contribute, either by benefitting from a system of oppression or reinforcing it through their own actions.

It’s also important to recognize that while these black athletes are incredibly talented, many of them as well as young black boys and men aspire to be drafted into the NFL in hopes of pursuing their big break. The reality is that for many, a career in sports can be far more profitable and from a young age, these boys are groomed into performing at elite levels in sport, because attaining higher levels of education or a secure career can be more challenging or less attainable as a result of structural inequality and barriers that are reinforced by a longstanding system of oppression.

Moreover, black men are constantly told that they are only valued for their contributions to sport or to popular culture, such as media and music, but rarely ever valued for their contributions in academia, business, and other areas. In fact, black men are underrepresented in these other areas and are essentially told that they must stay “inside these lines.”

“Inside these lines” is restrictive – it polices the voices of black men as well as fans that support the #TakeAKnee movement. It reminds us that black men should leave their blackness at home when playing  inside these lines, instead of telling these athletes’ white counterparts to recognize their privilege and stand against police brutality.

It tells us that “keeping the peace” means ignoring issues that black men can’t leave behind when they go home after a game – the colour of their skin, the way their own people have been treated for generations, and the constant backlash they face for simply existing. If the NFL truly wanted to promote unity, they would ensure that no coach could ban or fine players for kneeling during the national anthem. The NFL would keep the safety, wellbeing, and human rights of their black players in mind, but instead they promote indifference and silence, so long as they can profit off of black lives.

Jammed Ad:

My jammed advertisement tries to demonstrate or shed light on the real intentions of the NFL. The NFL prospers because it profits off of its black players. NFL management and PR teams have attempted to display a show of unity, likely because of growing fears of football viewers boycotting their games and merchandise.

To some, their advertisement may seem inspirational, but to those who are aware of the true intentions of an organization that has done little to assist its own marginalized athletes, we recognize that this show of unity and tolerance is colour-blind and ignorant. As much as we would like it to, love doesn’t solve anything, but socio-economic and political reform can; an organization as large as the NFL taking a stand against the continued oppression of people of colour and white supremacy could make a difference.

The advertisement I’ve created also makes a play on words, referencing the Black Lives Matter movement. When black people speak out in defence of their basic human rights and safety, they are demonized – told that they need to find more peaceful ways to protest. Then, when black athletes and viewers take a knee during the national anthem, this sort of protest is also deemed “not peaceful enough.”

No matter what the black community does in the battle for equality and social justice, especially in light of increasing police brutality and growing mass incarceration of black individuals, they are told that it’s best to stay inside lines. These lines are ones of silence, oppression, ignorance, and indifference. Inside these lines, black people are only valued for the money they can generate.

Black athletes in the NFL are payed only a fraction of what their white coaches and team owners make. They face unsafe conditions, like risk of concussions and injury, with little support for mental health or their safety and wellbeing. To those that benefit off of the oppression of black people, black lives do not matter, but money does.

Within the African-American community, the phrase “negroes for lease” is known and used as satire of an organization and system of oppression – one that has long profited off of its black athletes, but discards them as soon as they no longer can generate money. Only one team owner in the NFL is a person of colour, but over 70% of the players are black. As mentioned, these players are told to “shut up and play” and to be grateful for the money they make by coaches and owners, who often possess a mentality that reduces their players as slaves to the game.

These coaches and owners who come from privileged backgrounds and have little to no understanding of the struggles that black men face each and every day, simply for existing, profit off of the performance of these athletes and criticize them for any form of peaceful protest, because they value the opinions of white players and white fans over the lives of black individuals.


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