As the NFL kicked-off its 100th season with a prime-time game featuring the Chicago Bears versus Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on Sept. 5, the roll out of the league’s new collaborative social justice platform “Inspire Change” took center stage.
On Aug. 30, the NFL and Shawn “Jay Z” Carter’s entertainment company, Roc Nation, announced the creation of a new socially conscious platform called “Inspire Change,” an initiative with the primary objective to address criminal justice reform, police and community relations, and economic empowerment.
The “Inspire Change” campaign has two revenue generating initiatives. The first being Inspire Change, a new league-sponsored clothing apparel line named after the campaign. The Inspire Change apparel is scheduled to be released later this year with a portion of proceeds earmarked for philanthropy. The second initiative, Songs of the Season, is a season-long initiative that will highlight music artists in promotional songs for the league that will also be played throughout the season and will be made available for streaming. All proceeds from Songs of the Season will benefit the “Inspire Change” platform, according to reports.
The online response to “Inspire Change” was met with immediate skepticism.
According to a report by Sports Illustrated, Inspire Change donated $400,000 to Chicago community organizations Crushers Clubof Englewood and (Better Boys Foundation) BBF Family Servicesof North Lawndale. Representatives from the NFL and Roc Nation also did not respond to the Defender’s questions about the selection process criteria.
In the days leading up to the season opener the NFL hosted neighborhood community engagement events with BBF Family Services, local Boys and Girls Clubs, among others. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx applauded Inspire Change’s early community contributions on Twitter. “Having the @nfl and @rocnation come to North Lawndale to invest in the bright young people who are here lets them know that their hopes and dreams matter just as much as anyone else in the city. It was my honor to be a mentor today and help #InspireChange.”
As part of the roll-out, the campaign sponsored a free concert featuring rapper Meek Mill, singer Meghan Trainor and rapper Rapsody. The performers, named the first “Inspire Change” advocates, entertained at the NFL Kickoff Experience as part of the season opener’s pregame show. The evening concluded with a game watch party.
Chicago resident Irving Barrett, who attended the event, called the $400,000 donation by “Inspire Change” “a beautiful thing.” He suggested Aleta Clark, founder of Hugs No Slugs, should be the next recipient of a donation from the campaign.
“It’s a beautiful look for the city… our kids need that right now, especially in the South and West side…. I’m glad the NFL decided to make those changes,” Barrett said.
Barrett said because of Jay Z’s involvement with the campaign he has confidence the partnership will yield meaningful and positive results.
NFL Kickoff Experience attendee Cedric Bell said although there’s no doubt former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been blackballed from playing in the NFL, again, he is confident in Jay Z’s ability to create a positive change alongside the NFL.
“You got to start somewhere; you got Jay Z, he’s a black person, maybe he can get them to change a little and get them to see things they didn’t see,” Bell said.
Meanwhile, several Twitter users voiced their displeasure with Crushers Club after tweets depicting Sally Hazelgrove, president of Crushers Club, cutting a black teen’s hair. Crushers Club’s timeline also included controversial political statements involving law enforcement officers and President Donald Trump just hours before the season opener.
Barrett called the photo of Hazelgrove potentially cutting a young black man’s hair “appalling” and said he will do more research on Crushers Club to learn about the organization’s activities.
“If that were my son, I couldn’t imagine my son’s dreads being cut like that,” Barrett said. “I would not stand for it. You know, that’s our culture right there.”
Bell said it’s beyond his control where the NFL and “Inspire Change” decide to donate their money, yet he stated “we have to speak out now to make sure it goes to the right people.”
In response to the criticism, the young man whose hair appeared to be cut by Hazelgrove defended the photoon Crusher Club’s Twitter page.
*Representatives from the NFL and Roc Nation did not respond to the Defender’s emails requesting more details concerning the financial goals of the “Inspire Change” campaign or online criticism.