University of Michigan football helmets have featured a new look this season. In addition to the famous vintage maize and blue paint treatment, a round decal depicting raised fists of different skin tones above the word "EQUALITY" has graced Michigan helmets all season.
Within weeks of the Oct. 22 unveiling, the athletic department's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee — led by assistant director of athletic counseling Abigail Eiler — gave staff the option to add that imagery to their email signatures. Although a small gesture, Eiler believes that the committee’s decision presents an opportunity for the athletics community to demonstrate their unity on an important issue.
“Our goal as a department is [for] student-athletes, coaches and staff to be a unit,” Eiler told The Michigan Daily student newspaper. “To support one another, to extend and amplify each other’s voices. So I think it’s important that our messages are consistent.”
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel announced that it would allow programs to add patches or decals to their uniforms in late July. At Michigan, this news was taken to the Student Athlete Advisory Council and Wolverines Against Racism — two student-led organizations — to brainstorm ideas. They provided a list of social justice-related terms and phrases, which was then presented to all the student-athletes for a vote. "Equality" emerged with the most votes.
According to Eiler, there currently is no way to know just how many coaches and staff have chosen to include the decal in their signatures. Still, she thinks the decal is movement in the right direction, regardless of how many coaches and staff are signing off with it.
“I think the sign-off is an opportunity, a very small step in acknowledging we, Michigan athletics, believe in equality and that we are going to support all efforts and initiatives that align with both our school and our departments goals and objectives for year five and beyond.”