When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared in a video in the days following George Floyd’s murder to declare the league’s support for Black Lives Matter—and to admit it erred in how it handles player protests—it marked a watershed moment for a league that had been sharply criticized over its handling of Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem kneeling. The June 2020 speech drew praise and criticism. But as described this week by the league’s top marketer, it was not a one-off-moment, but part of a long-term strategy put in place by the NFL to be more reflective.
“After the George Floyd murder and a string of senseless and horrific acts that were uncovered last year, we took steps to carefully consider our social justice program,” NFL Chief Marketing Officer Tim Ellis said Wednesday during a presentation at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing conference.
“We engaged in a companywide dialogue and had raw and emotional discussions about our past and our future,” Ellis said. “And it became clear to all of us including Commissioner Goodell that the NFL can and needs to do more. And that we should have listened to some of the powerful voices of our players, including Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid and Kenny Stills and many more. And we realized that we needed to step up and use the full power and influence of our platform to address and create true change.”
But Ellis during his presentation pressed a case for how the NFL has taken multiple steps to embrace cause marketing while doing a better job listening to its players. “It was important for us to work closely with the players to identify the things that they cared about,” he said. “In order to move ahead, you have to look back. You have to be willing to reflect and reassess, including decisions you made as an organization and steps you have taken that seemed right in that moment.”
The new attitude led to a seasonlong 2020-21 campaign from 72andSunny called "It Takes All of Us” that included an ad featuring NFL legend LaDainian Tomlinson's 2017 Hall of Fame induction speech.