CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Members of the Illinois football team have been using their voices and platforms throughout the year to promote racial equality and social justice. The team will continue to bring awareness to those issues throughout the season.
In the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin on Friday night, the Illini will wear black Block I decals on their helmets, replacing the traditional orange and blue Block I. In addition to the black Block I, the Illini will include a black fist decal on the back of their helmets, as well as one of five messages on the rear bumper. Players will choose between Black Lives Matter, I Fight Against Racism, Together, Equality, or United.
These changes come following a peaceful march on August 31, which was organized by Illinois players Kendrick Green and Nate Hobbs. As a team captain, Hobbs stated in September that the team would continue to use their platform in the season opener.
“We wanted to show that we are aware of what’s happening in our country right now,” Hobbs said. “We’re willing to take a stand, not as one, but as a unit.”
“Having the Black I on our helmets for this first game is a symbol of unity and that this team stands for the Black Lives Matter movement,” said senior linebacker Milo Eifler.
“What’s understood doesn’t need to be explained, but there are still problems out in this world with racism and unity,” said senior defensive lineman Jamal Woods.
We are trying to bring awareness to our communities to get people to do the right things.
The new helmet decals were chosen by Illinois players and approved by Illinois head football coach Lovie Smith, as well as Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman.
“To see our players come together in support of their teammates has been extremely rewarding and speaks to the culture we are trying to create in our locker room,” said Smith. “Our team’s leaders did exactly what we expect them to do, which was to bring their teammates together around a common voice and message.”
“Our primary mission in Illinois Athletics is to educate the men and women who choose to join our program,” said Whitman. “Much of this education occurs outside the four walls of the classroom as our student-athletes learn to interact with, and influence, the world around them. I am proud that they continue to wrestle with the hard issues facing our society and to use their platform for positive change. We remain steadfast in supporting their efforts, on the field and off, and I hope others will do the same.”
In a press release, Illinois Athletics stated that these initiatives are not supportive of any particular organization, but a belief in equality for all individuals.