It has been said that the NFL doesn’t really have an off-season. Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that April’s NFL Draft has become a three-day prime time must-see-TV event.
It is the culmination of a million mock drafts. It is where college football meets pro football. It is where every fan can dream of their team finding the next franchise player, building a fearsome defense, or adding a fast-twitch athletic marvel to its backfield or receiving corps. It is where the League’s next generation of hopeful stars are introduced to the fanbase.
Last year the Draft took on even greater significance. In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, with college and pro sports leagues all shut down, it was the first actual sports related event that fans got to watch for months. The format was adjusted to comply with social-distancing regulations, allowing fans to peer into the homes of our favorite GMs and coaches. The League also ran its first ever “Draft-A-Thon,” a telethon inspired fundraising event that took place during the Draft, to raise money for pandemic relief.
As we emerge from the pandemic and turn towards recovery, the tone of this year’s event – a modified in-person event in Cleveland, complete with “Fully Vaccinated Draft War Rooms” – is one of excitement and hope. Even more so than the Draft usually is. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s 2020 Draft night armchair was moved from his living room to the live stage in 2021, where a chosen fan for each team was allowed to recline before being called upon to announce their team’s first round pick.
Continuing its long tradition of giving back and community engagement in cities where they host events, in parallel with teams stocking their rosters with this year’s crop of top college players, the League again channeled its efforts and resources towards a series of community events focused on pandemic recovery and community building.
These efforts included several on the ground community-building initiatives in Cleveland during the week of the Draft, as well as financial support and fundraising through the return of Draft-A-Thon, a live streamed event during the Draft hosted by athletes and entertainers. The national fundraiser is broadly focused on pandemic recovery efforts and specifically focused on supporting the following four key areas: mental health, food insecurity, health disparities, and the Digital Divide.
In addition, at one of the local on-the-ground events in Cleveland, on April 30, the NFL partnered with Cisco on the Inspire Change Huddle Legacy Program focused on bridging the Digital Divide at The Cleveland Public Library by donating money and resources to upgrade their tech centers and computer labs. The newly upgraded facilities were unveiled this week.
This is part of a year-long program focusing on access to educational resources and the Digital Divide. Starting in Cleveland, and continuing in Kickoff, Pro Bowl and Super Bowl cities for 2021, the NFL Foundation and Cisco will each donate $75,000 to a community gathering space in the region to upgrade their tech centers and computer labs for the many children and families who use their resources after school for homework and other programs.
As NFL’s Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility, Anna Isaacson, explained why this is a critical area to focus on: “The Digital Divide is an issue we’ve been focused on for many months now. It was a social justice issue before the pandemic. It was exacerbated during the pandemic. And it hits communities of color and rural communities disproportionately. And this is an issue about education and about making sure that kids have access to technology and to the Internet, so they don’t fall behind. It’s a really big issue that is impacting millions of people across the country.”
The NFL is serious about supporting these “off-the-field” social causes.
As Isaacson explained, “These are American issues. They are elevated by athletes and by NFL players, but they are American issues that impact all of us. As an institution in this country, we feel a responsibility to give back to the communities that support us every day, including our fans, who are the lifeblood of the NFL. That’s a responsibility we take seriously. This is all about breaking down barriers to opportunity. And that is fundamentally at the core of what we are doing.”
A commitment to justice.
A pledge to be better.
A responsibility for change.
— NFL (@NFL) May 5, 2021
The Inspire Change program was launched during the 2018 season, showcasing the collaborative efforts of players, clubs, and the league to create positive change in communities across the country. In January, it was announced that the league and its clubs have provided more than $95 million in support of programs focused on four key areas: Education, Economic advancement, Police and community relations, and Criminal justice. These efforts contribute to the ten-year $250 million commitment by the NFL to social justice. This is a collaborative effort between the League and its players. According to Isaacson, “NFL players are leading on conversations relating to social justice and we [the League] are following their lead and supporting and putting strategy and execution around these efforts.”
Photo Credit: Aaron Doster, NFL (main image); The NFL (draft stage); AP/the NFL (Chomps)