As part of a larger shift in the NFL's approach toward supporting the efforts to fight social injustice, the league announced Friday that it will recognize Juneteenth as a league holiday.
Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19, represents the effective end of outright slavery in the United States. The date marks the moment when the American Civil War officially concluded in 1865, more than two years after president Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation that freed enslaved people and outlawed the practice.
"The power of this historical feat in our country's blemished history is felt each year, but there is no question that the magnitude of this event weighs even more heavily today in the current climate," the NFL said in a press release. "Juneteenth not only marks the end of slavery in the United States, but it also symbolizes freedom -- a freedom that was delayed, and brutally resisted; and though decades of progress followed, a freedom for which we must continue to fight.
"This year, as we work together as a family and in our communities to combat the racial injustices that remain deeply rooted into the fabric of our society, the NFL will observe Juneteenth on Friday, June 19 as a recognized holiday and our league offices will be closed. It is a day to reflect on our past, but more importantly, consider how each one of us can continue to show up and band together to work toward a better future."
After years of sidestepping or halting player protests over social injustice, the NFL has spent recent weeks openly supporting those causes. On Thursday, the league committed $250 million to charities and organizations designed to "combat systemic racism and support the battle against injustices faced by African Americans."
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH