CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Illinois football program announced how it will be promoting messages of social justice on their helmets and uniforms this season.
During the season opener at No. 14 Wisconsin Friday night (7 p.m., BTN), the Illini have replaced the orange and blue Block I helmet decal with the same design but in all black. The helmets will also a decal with a black fist in all games and players have chosen one of five phrases to appear on the rear bumpers of their helmets: “Black Lives Matter,” “I Fight Against Racism,” “Together,” “Equality” or “United.”
The uniform modifications were part of a preseason discussion among the team’s leadership, Illinois head coach Lovie Smith and Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman. Illinois will wear the white helmet with the black ‘I’ logo along with the traditional ‘Stormtrooper’ road uniform look of white jerseys and white pants.
“Our primary mission in Illinois Athletics is to educate the men and women who choose to join our program,” Whitman said in a university statement. “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.”
Smith, who is currently one of 11 black head coaches in Football Bowl Subdivision, hinted in previous media sessions that his captains had come to him during preseason camp and discussed with him potential signs of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, social equality and racial injustice in this country. Smith suggested this week his players will collectively participate in a sign of protest during the national anthem prior to the 2020 season opener at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., on Friday night.
“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,” Smith said. “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.”
The helmet changes come after members of the Illini football team, led by junior offensive guard Kendrick Green and senior defensive back Nate Hobbs, organized a peaceful march on Aug. 31 that attracted student-athletes from numerous sports and many members of the Illinois athletics department, including Whitman, Smith, head men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood and many other coaches.
In lieu of practice, the team led a peaceful march from Memorial Stadium to Champaign’s downtown police station. Illinois student-athletes have also been active users of their social media accounts to protest racial inequality and to promote social change.
“We wanted to show that we are aware of what’s happening in our country right now,” Hobbs said in a university statement. “We’re willing to take a stand, not as one, but as a unit.”