In anticipation of the 2021 NFL Draft taking place in Cleveland, Ohio, we teamed up with the National Football League and their Inspire Change social justice campaign to curate a 21-Day Challenge around racial equity, social justice, and sports. In the weeks leading up to the draft, members of the NFL family will participated in the challenge; listening to podcasts, reading articles, and watching videos that deepen their understanding of topics such as racism and identity, systemic racism, and intersectionality.
Fans joined current players and Legends, NFL media talent, and executives as they challenge themselves to learn more, address social justice issues in their community, and truly ‘inspire change’ based on what they learned throughout the Challenge. Watch the NFL family’s reactions below and share your thoughts and reflections with us using the hashtag #NFLDraftChallenge and amplify your voice by tagging:
- @NFL (Twitter & Instagram)
- @YWCACleveland (Twitter)
- @YWCACle (Instagram)
- @Inspire Change (Twitter & Instagram)
The human genome project proved that there is no such thing as “race” by showing that we all share 99.9% of the same DNA. If race isn’t real, then how did we come to take the different “races” as we understand them today as truth? The first step to counter-acting systemic racism is to understand and recognize how it impacts our lives and the lives of those around us. Let’s focus on race as a social construct, how the concept of race originated, and how these centuries-old racist ideas continue to impact our daily lives through our thought processes, conscious and unconscious actions, and the larger systems in which we exist.
NFL Network Reporter Steve Wyche
— NFL (@NFL) April 7, 2021
1: Watch this video about how categories of race were created in the 1600s to justify slavery and colonialism.
2: Read this article about how race is socially constructed and changes over time. The racial categories to which we are assigned based on how we look to others, or how we identify ourselves, can determine real-life experiences, inspire hate, drive political outcomes, and determine the difference between life and death. But these important consequences are a result of a relatively new idea that was based on shaky reasoning and shady motivations.
3: Listen to this podcast to learn more about the origins of racial pseudoscience and skull analysis.
People of color suffer worse health outcomes than white people, even when controlling for income and other factors. Learn why these disparities aren’t about race, but racism. Let’s focus on talking about the impact of toxic stress caused by daily exposure to discrimination on the health of people of color.
NFL Legend Will Shields
“People of color can not escape racism and health disparities.”
— NFL (@NFL) April 8, 2021
1: Watch this TED Talk about how research has found that higher levels of discrimination are associated with a broad range of negative health outcomes such as obesity, high blood pressure, breast cancer, heart disease, and early death.
2: Listen to this podcast about the effect of chronic stress from frequent racist encounters on the health outcomes of people of color, featuring a case study on how a large-scale ICE raid in Iowa impacted the health of pregnant Latinx women across the state.
3: Read this article about how the mental burdens of bias, trauma, and family hardship lead to unequal life outcomes for girls and women and girls and women of color in particular.
Being “not racist” is not enough. Let’s discuss being anti-racism. Anti-racism does not require that we be perfect allies or have all of the answers; rather, we must recognize racism and bias in ourselves and in the world around us and work to disrupt and dismantle these systems of oppression.
NFL Legend Joe Thomas
.@joethomas73 also lays out steps to help eliminate racism.
— NFL (@NFL) April 9, 2021
1. Read this article defining Anti Racism and why the term is so powerful. If you are ready for a deep dive, you can listen to the podcast featuring historian Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to be An Antiracist.”
2. Watch this video about the difference between being non-racist and anti-racist. YWCA’s 21 Day Challenge will encourage you and give you tools to be an anti-racist because it doesn’t require that you always know the right thing to say or do in any given situation. It asks that you take action and work against racism wherever you find it including, and perhaps most especially, in yourself.
3. Read this article from Peggy McIntosh piece which emphasizes the need for subsequent action after recognizing white privilege (i.e. antiracism).
Although conversations and coverage of sports are often dominated by men and male athletes, in recent years, there has been a movement to include more diverse voices. Today’s resources talk about the power of representation on the field and in sports media to uplift marginalized communities and tell new and impactful stories.
NFL Legend Leonard Wheeler
Next up is @LeonardWheeler7, who learned it takes courage to talk about creating change, as uncomfortable as it might be.
— NFL (@NFL) April 11, 2021
1. Watch this Ted Talk from Shireen Ahmed on the power of representation in sports and sharing the stories of marginalized athletes.
2. Read this article about the women who are blazing trails in the NFL and showing all of us what is possible.
3. Read this article about why LGBTQ+ representation in sports is so meaningful, particularly for young fans.
Deep dive into the history of voter suppression and how people of color were systemically kept from the ballot box and the challenges they had to overcome to exercise their right to vote. This will provide much-needed context for tomorrow’s challenge, where we will be showing how voter suppression has changed over time and how it is disenfranchising marginalized communities today.
NFL Network Reporter Jim Trotter
— NFL (@NFL) April 13, 2021
1. Read this article on the systemic barriers to voting that Native Americans face today and what steps are being taken to protect the suffrage of Indigenous people.
2. Read this article to learn about how social media, gerrymandering, access to polling places and other strategies have all been used to limit access to the ballot box.
3. As of March 24, 2021, there were 361 bills with restrictive voting provisions in legislatures across the country. Explore this website that is tracking the bills that are trying to restrict people’s right to vote.
Although segregation is often viewed as a thing of the past, its effects are still felt today. The following articles and podcast are a dive into how housing segregation was created and how it still exists in our country today, as well as the systems that create unequal access to housing and enable discrimination.
NFL Legend Tony Richardson
— NFL (@NFL) April 14, 2021
1. Read this article about how federal government policies created racial segregation.
2. Read this article discussing the systemic reasons why Indigenous people disproportionately experience homelessness and the high numbers of hate crimes they face.
3. Listen to this podcast that follows Gustavo Douaihi and Laura Smith as they navigate housing discrimination based on Gustavo’s Hispanic name.
Over the past 30 years, the trend of confining more women to federal, state and local correction facilities as exploded at an increase of 700%. The following material will discuss how anecdotal and antiquated healthcare policies, harsher disciplinary consequences and unmet needs, while incarcerated and post-release, perpetuates a cycle of generational imprisonment, poverty and trauma for women and families.
NFL.com Reporter Judy Battista
“Over the last 30 years, the number of women in correctional facilities … has gone up 700%. Most for nonviolent crimes.”@judybattista discusses the lopsided challenges women face in prison.
— NFL (@NFL) April 15, 2021
1. Read this article to see how prisons neglect pregnant women in their healthcare policies.
2. Listen to this podcast, which finds that in prisons across the U.S., women are disciplined more often than men and almost always for low-level, non-violent offenses.
3. Read this article on the cycle of poverty, trauma and the unmet needs of women in jail and after release, to understand how the criminal justice system exploits the poor and vulnerable.
The gender wage gap is well documented phenomenon, across almost all fields, women make less money than men. This is true in sports as well and prominent female and male athletes have stepped up to advocate for equal pay for women.
NFL Director of Football Development Sam Rapoport
Who will stand up for women? Who will continue to pave the road for equality, just as @BillieJeanKing has?
— NFL (@NFL) April 16, 2021
1. Watch this video about the recent push in women’s soccer for pay equity with men’s sports.
2. Read this article about the male athletes stepping up as allys for women in the fight for equal pay in sports.
3. Read this article that provides a deep dive on equal pay in sports and reveals that the wage gap is even larger than you think.
Although the 15th Amendment gave African Americans the right to vote in 1870, there were still major barriers to voting. Violence, intimidation, and the legal system were all used to keep people of color away from the voting booth. Learn about the history of the push for voting rights that the culminated in the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
NFL Legend Chester Pitts
— NFL (@NFL) April 17, 2021
1. Take this literacy test that was designed to disenfranchise people of color, as white men were exempt from the test. These tests were prevalent from the 1890’s to the 1960’s. You would have been given 10 minutes to complete this test, so make sure to set a timer before you start.
2. View this interactive timeline of the history of the Voting Rights Act and see how access to the vote was expanded and restricted over time.
3. Read this article highlighting the role that the Voting Rights Act played in protecting Asian Americans’ voting rights. Until 1952, federal policy barred immigrants of Asian descent from becoming U.S. citizens and having access to the vote.
Have you ever been to the doctor who told you that the pain or discomfort you are feeling isn’t real or isn’t serious? Do you worry that unconscious bias could delay or deny you life-saving care in an emergency? If you are a person of color this is an all too common experience. Let’s talk about how a history of racism in American medicine combined with unconscious bias from health care professionals is impacting the quality of care that people of color receive.
NFL Legend LeCharles Bentley
How does unconscious bias show up in medical care?
— NFL (@NFL) April 19, 2021
1. Watch this interview with Harriet Washington, author of “Medical Apartheid” who talks about how, even though the worst medical practices of 18th and 19th centuries are over, there are still a lot of medical research studies that can be abusive.
2. Read this article about the dangerous racial and ethnic stereotypes that still exist in medicine today and how they impact the care that people of color receive from their healthcare providers.
3. Listen to this podcast about how unconscious bias becomes dangerous in emergency medical situations where providers are much more likely to default to making decisions based on stereotypes.
Many of us were taught that racism is a pretty simple concept. A white person hating a person of color because of their skin tone. We might also have learned that racism only manifests itself when a white person acts consciously and individually to harm a person of color.
This construction of racism as a personal failing has effectively stalled the conversation on racial equity for decades because such a framing masks the larger systematic engines of racism that continue to discriminate against people of color and perpetuate inequality. This material will define systemic racism and look at the existing power structures that ensure people of color remain marginalized, even as it becoming less socially acceptable for individuals to hold explicitly racist beliefs.
NFL Legend Chester Pitts
— NFL (@NFL) April 19, 2021
1. Watch this video on the various manifestations of racism and the importance of understanding these different categories of racism in order to combat their impact.
2. Listen to this podcast to learn about the basics of systemic racism and how it persists in our lives today.
3. Read this article to explore numerous charts that evidence the existence of systemic racism in America, from unemployment to lack of representation in positions of power to income and wealth inequality.
As a result of America’s perpetual segregation, exposure to environmental hazards–such as landfills, heavy industry, and lead–has disproportionately impacted communities color. Such exposure causes higher instances of serious health conditions, such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, and cognitive impairment. This reality did not happen by accident; it is a direct result of deliberate policy choices. These articles and video will talk about how we got here and how systemic racism has impacted the health of our communities.
NFL Green Director Jack Groh
— NFL (@NFL) April 20, 2021
1. Read this article about how systemic racism has led to an epidemic of lead poisoning that has had a deadly impact on children of color in formerly-redlined communities.
2. Read this article from medical ethicist Harriet Washington on how environmental racism is fueling the coronavirus pandemic.
3. Read this article about why toxic stress caused by racism and environmental factors are leading to a rise in Alzheimer’s for people of color.
We tend to think that homelessness and housing insecurity are caused by poverty, that they are simply due to a person’s inability to pay rent. Federal policies and practices such as gerrymandering, Jim Crow laws and housing discrimination have lead to stark difference in poverty and homelessness in many of America’s big cities. For example, African Americans make up 13 percent of the general population, but more than 40 percent of the homeless population.
NFL Network Reporter Colleen Wolfe
“The Black community makes up 13% of the general population, but more than 40% of the homeless population.”
— NFL (@NFL) April 22, 2021
1. Listen to this podcast featuring an open dialog between Jeff Olivet and Marc Dones, as they tackle the complexities and paradoxes of race as it relates to homelessness.
2. Listen to this interview on why homelessness hits black Americans hardest and the protective factors that make white people less likely to experience homelessness.
3. Listen to this podcast to understand the impact of where you live. Some of the most segregated big metro areas in the U.S. are places that did not have Jim Crow laws – Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston. The hosts of this podcast feel this is not accidental.
Intense or chronic stress can be toxic and derail a child’s healthy development. Unfortunately, racism is now recognized as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) – a toxic source of stress with the potential to disrupt a child’s ability to learn, relate, grow, play, communicate, and problem-solve. Racism experienced in childhood is especially concerning because it affects how a child perceives themselves and the world around them. Even indirect or implicit racism and discrimination can influence a child’s health when policies and practices lead to ACEs like poverty, neighborhood violence, and parental incarceration that disproportionately affect children of color. It is no surprise that children of color are more likely to experience racism in comparison to their white peers, and that their exposure to racism increases as they grow older.
NFL Legend & Executive Vice President of NFL Football Operations Troy Vincent
Direct and indirect racism can rob a young person of their childhood.
?@TroyVincentSr, EVP of @NFLFootballOps, sheds light on how we can have positive influence on youth and commit to their future. #NFLDraftChallenge
— NFL (@NFL) April 23, 2021
1. Watch this video that explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.
2. View this infographic that explains how ACEs, like racism and community violence, without supportive adults, can cause what’s known as toxic stress.
3. Read this article that shows how providing stable, responsive, nurturing relationships in the earliest years of life can reduce the impact of significant childhood adversity.
For generations, the impact of pollution and environmental damage has largely fallen on marginalized communities. However, the mainstream, white environmental movement’s often neglects the needs of Black and Brown communities and does not allow their voices to be represented in leadership. This lack of diversity has led to the misconception that people of color care less about environmental issues despite the Environmental Justice Movement’s roots in the Civil Rights Movement, the Indigenous Environmental Movement, and the Farm Workers’ Movement. Today we are looking at the environmental movement and the people pushing for change.
Destination Cleveland CEO Dan Gilbert
Who better to kick off Draft Week than David Gilbert, CEO of @TheCLE, who addresses the disproportionate effects environmental hazards have on people of color, and indigenous and low-income people. #NFLDraftChallenge
— NFL (@NFL) April 26, 2021
1. Use this interactive timeline to explore the history of the Environmental Justice Movement and the people who made an impact.
2. Read this article about the climate crisis’s disproportionate impacts on indigenous communities, and how indigenous people have been at the forefront of the fight against the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and other environmental injustices.
3. Watch this video featuring Indigenous rights lawyer and activist Sherri Mitchell explaining why all Americans should care about environmental justice and Indigenous issues.
NFL Legend DJ Shockley
“See people for who they are, not what they are.”
— NFL (@NFL) April 27, 2021
1. Watch this TED Talk featuring Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt on how we talk about bias, how we can address racial disparities, and each of our role in dismantling or upholding systemic racism.
2. Read this article on raising anti-racist kids and role modeling for them the values and actions we believe will create more equitable communities.
3. Read this article on how racist language around COVID-19 has increased bias against Asian Americans and what we can do to push back.
Pittsburgh Steeler Zach Banner
— NFL (@NFL) April 28, 2021
1. Read this article on the how busing within school districts was implemented as a way to break segregation’s stranglehold within education and it’s affect on generations of students. Find out how we find our schools once again segregated.
2. In this interactive data-set you can plug in your school system and those around you to investigate whether there is racial inequality at your school.
3. Watch this video which discusses how standardized tests were designed by racists and eugenicists.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
— NFL (@NFL) April 29, 2021
1.Read this article on the impact of skin color on sentencing.
2. Watch this video on the impact of mass incarceration and systemic racism on black men and families.
3. Formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of over 27% – higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression. Read this article which outlines the barriers formerly incarcerated people face when looking for unemployment.