Thursday's NFL: League returns social justice helmet decals, end zone stencils

Associated Press

NFL players can wear social justice messages on their helmets again this season and “It Takes All of Us” and “End Racism” will be stenciled in end zones for the second straight year as part of the league’s Inspire Change platform.

The league will also bring back the “Say Their Stories” initiative and for the first time, each team will highlight its social justice work during a regular-season home game in Weeks 17 and 18.

NFL players can wear social justice messages on their helmets again this season as part of the league's Inspire Change platform.

“We are committed to Inspire Change and the social justice work that inspires change for the long-term,” Anna Isaacson, NFL senior vice president of social responsibility, told The Associated Press.

The six messages players can choose from as part of the helmet decal program are: “End Racism,” “Stop Hate,” “It Takes All of Us,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Inspire Change” and “Say Their Stories.”

The end zone stencils will be placed on field for all clubs in all home games, except when another cause is being recognized. For example, during a club’s Salute to Service game, “End Racism” will be replaced with “Salute To Service” in one end zone and “It Takes All of Us” will remain on the opposite side.

This year’s “Say Their Stories” features will again be voiced by NFL players but will evolve to include social justice heroes who have been personally identified by players for their impact in this area, particularly those from their local communities.

For the final two weeks of the regular season, all clubs will receive the relevant banners, goal post wraps, stencils, helmet decals and video board graphics. The elements will continue to be featured during playoff games.

“That will provide a unified time frame for us to further amplify all of the work that our clubs are doing and that will lead into the playoffs where Inspire Change will continue to take center stage,” Isaacson said. “The key message for us as the season is starting, we are ramping up again in a big way with our social justice work.”

The league also worked with New Era and the Players Coalition to offer an Inspire Change knit hat that can be worn on the sideline during Weeks 17 and 18 by players, coaches and other personnel to add additional visibility to the cause. The hat will be sold at retail, and 100% of the league’s proceeds will be donated to Inspire Change grant recipients.

Bills stadium talk

The Bills won’t renew their lease with the state and county without a partially publicly funded agreement in place for a proposed new $1.4 billion stadium, leaving the team’s future uncertain beyond July 2023.

“No, we absolutely will not,” Pegula Sports and Entertainment senior vice president Ron Raccuia told Buffalo’s WBEN-Radio.

In saying the topic of relocation has not been raised during discussions with government officials, Raccuia didn’t entirely rule out that possibility by using the word “yet” when asked if the Bills might begin looking elsewhere once the lease expires in about 23 months.

“We’re not even focused on that, yet,” said Raccuia, who is chief negotiator in talks for PSE, the parent company which owns the Bills.

During a wide-ranging interview, Raccuia otherwise confirmed the cost, size and location of the Bills proposing to build a stadium in Orchard Park, New York, across the street from their current facility, Highmark Stadium, which opened in 1973.

At issue is how much the project would cost taxpayers in what Raccuia called a public-private partnership that would potentially include NFL funding. The expectation is the public will be asked to fund more than 50% of the cost.

Extra points

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is retiring from the NFL after 10 seasons, the first nine with the Titans and the last with Denver.

Casey was a five-time Pro Bowl pick, six-time defensive captain and a team two-time Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. His 51 sacks rank seventh in team history and are second only to Jevon Kearse’s 52 sacks since 1999 in the Titans era.

… The Colts had three starters back at practice after quarterback Carson Wentz, center Ryan Kelly and receiver Zach Pascal were activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list.

The Colts also put four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton, third-string quarterback Sam Ehlinger and receiver Dezmon Patmon on injured reserve.

… Former NFL player Keith McCants was found dead at his home in Florida after a suspected drug overdose, investigators said. He was 53.

McCants, a linebacker, was the fourth overall pick in the first round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Buccaneers. He played for three seasons in Tampa, followed by stints with the then-Houston Oilers and Cardinals before his football career ended in 1995. McCants was arrested several times for possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia over the years.

… Coach Bruce Arians said the Buccaneers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, making the reigning Super Bowl champions the second NFL team to announce they’ve reached that status.

… The Raiders added another proven veteran to bolster their banged-up linebacker group, agreeing to a one-year contract with K.J. Wright.

… The Panthers claimed running back Royce Freeman off waivers from the Broncos, giving them some veteran experience they lacked behind Christian McCaffrey.