The NFL’s Long Journey to “Inspire Change”

Flag covered Field at NFC Championship Game

Here it comes…Super Bowl Sunday!

The biggest unofficial holiday in America!

Have you invited over your buddies?

Got your beer and chips and dips and wings on hand?

Are you psyched for the hype, the commercials…and Rihanna!

Oh, and by the way, there’ll be a football game.

Generald Wilson sings our National Anthem at AFC Championship Game

By some weird equilibrium of the metaverse, the older I get, the more politically I engage, the more radical my ideas become, the more I love professional football. Don’t seek the logic: there isn’t any. Chalk it up to my endless fascination with the dichotomies of America: all of which the NFL manages to champion.

I grew up wedged between New York and Philly; the Giants and the Jets and the Eagles. I cannot forget that brutally cold winter day, shivering in the concrete recesses of Franklin Field, watching little men in dark uniforms run around on the field below me. I didn’t understand a single thing going on, and didn’t care.

That didn’t stop me from joining freshman football; a feeble attempt to save face before my athletic brothers. I was chunky, uncoordinated, and therefore assigned to play guard. Field practice was gruesome. Blackboard sessions even more debilitating. I was supposed to be this academic whiz kid: why couldn’t I make any sense of the X’s and O’s, curved lines and arrows? Two weeks into the season—physically exhausted and mentally numb—my brother said, “You know there’s some cool kids in the band.” I quit football the next day, and spent happy high school years parading my Sousaphone up and down the field.

As an adult, I indulged in just enough football for Monday morning office water cooler chat. Until I had a son, who immediately and absolutely loved football. I wanted to be a good dad, I wanted to bond with my children, and so my eight-year-old tutored me on first downs and two-point conversions. Over time, I learned the difference between a shotgun and a wishbone, though I’m still kinda loose about slot receivers, wide receivers, corner safeties, and tight ends.

Dissected flag at AFC Championship Game

Being a New England Patriot’s fan in the early Aught’s was easy: they always won. My football season extended as long as the Pats were in the playoffs, as I had no interest in any other team.

I became enchanted with football as America’s premier cultural phenomenon—and our nation’s accurate mirror. The teams were virtually all owned and coached and quarterbacked by white guys. Yet a disproportionate number of Black men did the heavy lifting as our 21st century version of Roman Gladiators. I didn’t care for the militaristic patriotism the NFL promoted: field covered flags with fighter jets overhead; too many commercials to join the US Army. The NFL highlighted our bellicose tendencies. And yet, there was obvious comradery among teammates. And over time there were Black referees, female referees, whose word was law. Maybe there was more going on here than sonic booms.

As the Patriots have descended into the ranks of the mediocre, my football watching has actually increased. I still suffer through every Pats game, but also follow their better rivals: Buffalo; Cincinnati; Kansas City.

I also appreciate the equalitarianism creeping into the upper echelons of the league. What Colin Kaepernick endured would likely not play out today, when 11 of 32 starting quarterbacks are Black. There are also three Black coaches, though Brian Flores trials illustrate they still operate under separate and not equal rules. Team owners are still mostly a white man’s club, yet Kim Pegola (co-owner of Buffalo Bills) Shadid Khan (Jacksonville Jaguars), and Lewis Hamilton (co-owner of Denver Broncos) are making inroads there as well. Perhaps we will one day get to the point where we don’t feel compelled to enumerate QB’s, coaches, and owners by their native origin or skin color. After all, we are all Americans.

Which brings me to the most fascinating aspect of the NFL: how it balances its fundamental militarism with messages of social justice. Many players sport, “End Hate,” “Choose Love,” and “Black Lives Matter” on the back of their helmets. Helmets they then use to bash their fellow man. Goal posts are wrapped in the message, “End Racism.” And ends zones are lettered, “Inspire Change.”

“Inspire Change” is NFL’s official Social Justice initiative, complete with a cool logo and a Changemaker Award. At first I was turned off by the milquetoast slogan that can mean pretty much anything to anybody. We are all fans of change, in theory, but rarely fans of specific change, especially if it directly affects us.

But the more “Inspire Change” gets drilled into me, game after game, the more I realize it’s a perfect exemplar of the NFL as our national mirror. Anyone, of any political persuasion, can watch any NFL game and see what they want to see, hear the message they want to hear. From awesome fighter jets to love, every perspective is represented, all at the same time. We are tough and we are compassionate. And of course, each message comes with corresponding apparel available through

And so this Sunday I will watch the Super Bowl. I will be awed by the remarkable athleticism. I will be revolted by the aggression. I will be amused by the commercials. I will be uplifted by the noble slogans. I will be horrified by the blatant militarism. Nevertheless, I will watch. As this paradigm of our national values, in full regalia, unfolds.


About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA. My primary blog, is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition. During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question "How will we live tomorrow?" That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog,, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others' responses to my question. Thank you for visiting.
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