The Premier League returned on June 17 with players replacing the names on the backs of their jerseys with the message “Black Lives Matter.” The NBA may be doing something similar.
Via Marc J. Spears of ESPN.com’s The Undefeated, NBPA president and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul said that management and labor are working together to allow players to replace the names on their jerseys with messages of “personalized social justice, social cause or charity.”
As noted by Spears, this creates a wide variety of potential messages beyond “Black Lives Matter.” Players could display “I Can’t Breathe” or the names of persons who were killed by police officers.
“We’re just trying to continue to shed light on the different social justice issues that guys around our league continue to talk about day in and day out,” Paul told Spears. “People are saying that social justice will be off of everybody’s mind in Orlando. With these jerseys, it doesn’t go away.”
If the NBA permits alteration of the jerseys, the question becomes whether other sports leagues will do the same, specifically the NFL. The NFL tends to have a little OCD when it comes to the uniform, with the “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign becoming a fairly recent (and very limited) relaxation of the rules regarding shoes.
At a minimum, players should have the ability to wear messages on their cleats all season long. Another possibility would be jersey patches carrying the “Black Lives Matter” message. It would be a surprise if the NFL allows the names on jerseys to be altered — in large part because that could reduce the demand for the existing worldwide inventory of player jerseys with their names on the back.
In the unlikely event the NFL allows players to replace the names on their jerseys with social justice messages, the NFL surely would insist on approving the potential universe of names and messages. And then the NFL would be faced with multiple players proposing “Kaepernick” as the name on the back of their jerseys. And then the NFL would either have to let that happen, or deal with word getting out that the NFL slammed the door on that possibility.
Thus, from the NFL’s perspective, the door needs to be slammed on the possibility of replacing player names on jerseys well before it gets to the point of negotiating the specific messages that the NFL would permit.