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Big Ten Football Teams to Don Social Justice Messages

Brock Fritz

A number of Big Ten Conference football teams are looking to promote social justice when they take the field for the first time this weekend.

Maryland, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin are among the teams that will display messages on their jerseys or helmets.

It’ll start with Friday night’s game between Wisconsin and Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. The host Badgers will “show their solidarity with Black and other underrepresented communities on campus” by wearing the university crest logo with a black “W,” while the Illini will wear all-white uniforms that “feature a number of uniform embellishments this season to promote social justice awareness.”

“For the season opener against Wisconsin on Friday night, the Illinois football team will replace the traditional orange and blue Block I helmet decal with a black Block I,” Illlinois’ announcement reads, noting that all uniform decisions were driven by student-athletes and approved by head coach Lovie Smith and athletic director Josh Whitman. “For all games, players' helmets will be adorned with a small rear decal featuring a black fist. In addition, players have chosen one of five messages to appear on the rear bumpers of their helmets: Black Lives Matter, I Fight Against Racism, Together, Equality, or United.”

"We wanted to show that we are aware of what's happening in our country right now," Illinois senior cornerback Nate Hobbs said. "We're willing to take a stand, not as one, but as a unit."

Maryland will give football players the option of making statements with their jerseys during Saturday’s game at Northwestern. According to Maryland’s athletic department, football players “will debut new name-plates on their jerseys, helmet stickers and warm-up shirts to make personal statements about the fight for racial injustice.

“On Saturday night at Northwestern, players will have the option to replace their names on their jerseys with various expressions of solidarity, including Equality, Unity, Respect, Justice and Empathy,” Maryland’s press release reads. “Players will also have the option to wear warm-up shirts with the same expressions and two others, ‘I Got Your Back’ and ‘Speak Up.’ A helmet sticker — designed by student-athletes — will express solidarity through the phrase ‘One Terp.’ These expressions were created directly by University of Maryland student-athletes and reflect a department-wide commitment to social justice.”

"At the University of Maryland we are focused on supporting our student-athletes, allowing them to start important conversations on critical issues and amplifying their voices," Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said in the announcement. "This Saturday we will introduce student-driven initiatives as our players will make personal statements about the fight for justice. It fills me with great pride to see the passion our student-athletes have, to take a stance and be vocal about issues that matter to them."

At Michigan, a student-athlete initiative led the athletic department to develop “two designs that reflect campus unity and diversity, to be worm on team uniforms, helmets and pregame warmups by all U-M varsity programs during the 2020-21 academic year.”

During Saturday’s game at Minnesota, the Wolverines will wear a “decal featuring the word ‘EQUALITY’ with six raised firsts, each depicting a skin tone to reflect the diversity represented in our community and express a campus commitment to unity.”

"Athletes wearing this decal demonstrates our role in our community," senior Kwity Paye said. "It is a chance for us to be able to contribute to increasing awareness about social injustice, and it's great for those watching to see our passion so they can be aware of it as well."

The Columbus Dispatch reported that “it is almost certain” that Ohio State, which opens the season at home against Nebraska Saturday, will wear a decal with the word “equality” in black capital letters on their helmets.

The messages became possible this summer, when the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved rules permitting patches or decals on uniforms.

Related content: Big Ten Games Canceled by COVID Will Be 'No Contest'

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