This season marks the first appearance of the “Black national anthem” in the NFL.
The opening game of the American football season featured the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But before then, the crowd was treated to a slightly different sound.
This began as a hymn honouring the American president who signed the bill that finally ended slavery in the United States. It had a life of its own once its author stopped caring about it.
Are they Playing the National Anthem Before NFL Games
The National Football League (NFL) 2021 season kicked off with a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a ballad well recognised today as the US black national anthem.
After a year of racial unrest that permeated virtually every aspect of American life, including major league sports, this song was played.
Since young black males predominate in male professional sports, the NFL announced it would play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” before games this season to express more solidarity with players. The song that has meant so much to so many people will now officially open professional sports games in the United States.
Just how did this Song come to be so Significant to Black Americans, and what was its Origin?
James Weldon Johnson, a civil rights fighter, wrote the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in 1900, and his brother later set it to music.
According to Johnson, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, the song was created when someone in town wanted to hold a party on Lincoln’s birthday.
There were special copies created for the event, and he recalled that “a chorus of 500 coloured school children” had learned and sang the song.
An inspiring hymn that encourages everyone to sing, “Till earth and heaven ring/Ring with the harmonies of Liberty,” the words of which express black Americans’ appreciation for independence while also reflecting their hopes for a better future:
“We’ve crossed a path wet with tears; we’ve walked in the blood of the slaughtered; we’ve emerged from the shadows of the past.
Please, lead us on the right path and never let us stray from it.”
Johnson ultimately settled in New York City, where he gained prominence as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. The government of President Teddy Roosevelt eventually elevated him to the position of diplomat.
In retrospect, he now claims that “the song passed out of our brains” after he relocated to the northern climes. But the students of Jacksonville continued to sing it; they took it with them to other schools where they sung it; and when they grew up, they learned it from their teachers and passed it on to the next generation.
The NAACP, the country’s preeminent civil rights organisation, selected it as its national hymn in 1919.
Why is this Music being Played during NFL Games?
Last year, the NFL received a lot of backlash for what was viewed as the league’s insufficient commitment to its players.
Before the racial justice protests that roiled the country, former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was among the first professional American sports figures to try to utilise their popularity on the field to raise attention to the issue, but many thought he was punished for his activism.
After the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody, the issues of racial justice and police misconduct were brought into the spotlight, and sports leagues issued public signals of support for the campaign.
It was revealed during the summer that the NFL would play the song at games this season, and the NBA has since embraced the Black Lives Matter campaign.
To “emphasise messages that are essential to the league, players and personnel, and our communities,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told The New York Times, “Lift every voice” should be played at NFL games.
Also, the NFL has started a 10-year, $250 million investment project to fund organisations working to improve police-community relations and criminal justice.
How have people reacted to this?
Some NFL supporters have voiced doubts about the league’s ability to motivate meaningful change in the area of social justice, claiming that the NFL is merely making a symbolic gesture.
Others on social media have criticised the league for politicising the sport by claiming they will not be attending games because they feel it is unnecessary to play a different anthem.
Though it has fallen out of favour in the NFL, “We Are the World” is still widely loved by black Americans and will likely remain a staple of black American culture.
In fact, Alicia Keys, a popular American singer, sang it at last year’s Super Bowl. The song is still sung at several HBCUs, including Howard University, before important events and games. The American public as a whole can now hear it.