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NFL: Social injustice and COVID-19 in spotlight as kickoff nears

(Reuters) - With the start of the National Football League season just nine days away commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, outlined a long list of initiatives that will be rolled out to put the spotlight on social and racial injustice.

FILE PHOTO: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addresses the Economic Club of New York luncheon in Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

The NFL, which earlier said it would commit $250 million over 10 years to support social justice causes, said it was continuing discussions with all 32 teams about opening up their stadiums as polling centers for November’s election, while endzones will be stenciled with the phrases, “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us”.

Goodell said players would also wear decals on their helmets with names of victims of systemic racism and police brutality.

“The NFL stands with the Black community, the players, clubs, the fans and confronting systemic racism with tangible productive steps is absolutely essential,” said Goodell during a conference call. “We will not relent in our work, will redouble our efforts to be catalyst for urgent sustainable change that our society and communities so desperately need.”

Tensions rose in the U.S. last week, after a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back. In response, sport leagues and athletes across the country forced the postponement of games as they joined protests.

Several NFL teams showed their support by walking out of training camps with the league saying it would stand with players.

While the NFL says it is now fully behind player protests it was slow to acknowledge that right in 2016 when quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is Black, popularized kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before kickoff to protest police brutality.

As the league prepares to open amid a pandemic, Goodell also addressed COVID-19 health and safety protocols, with some teams preparing for spectators while others have banned fans creating what some view as a competitive imbalance.

The commissioner denied suggestions that teams with fans present would have a competitive edge. He added he hoped that before the end of the season all team would welcome back spectators.

“We do not believe it’s a competitive advantage,” said Goodell. “We do not see that.”

“We obviously have varying capacities across the league and from our standpoint, we want to invite our fans in if we can do it safely and we can do it with the full support of local officials,” he added.

“We think our fans want to come the stadium.”

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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