Jaguars' Chris Conley Comments on NFL's Reported Decision to Play Black National Anthem

John Shipley

Editor's note: we have added more historical context of 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' and it's history. 

The NFL may be playing 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' before Week 1's games in 2020, a move Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Chris Conley commented on in a series of tweets on Friday. 

The league plans on playing the song, commonly known as the Black national anthem, prior to kickoff of its Week 1 games, The Undefeated's Jason Reid first reported on Thursday.

In response to the reported move, Conley took to Twitter to weigh in himself. Earlier this offseason, Conley helped lead a team-wide demonstration throughout Jacksonville with many of his teammates, coaches, and other team employees.

"The league taking the opportunity to play “Lift every voice and sing” (the black national anthem) is sweet. It’s a great way to honor those who started this movement year and years ago," Conley tweeted Friday.

"For those who aren’t familiar with it, this song seeks to remind us of our past as a country and to strive to be better. It speaks to all of us not just black people even tho it became a rallying cry for blacks in the Jim Crow era. It is a beautiful message birthed from pain," Conley continued. 

"To those claiming the song is decisive I ask which part? Much like America the Beautiful is played to honor, this song is the same. It’s isn’t for “just black people” it’s for all who acknowledge the past and press toward a better future."

The song has an extensive history since it's first inception as a poem in 1899. According to the NAACP, its lyrics were penned by writer and NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson (a Jacksonville native). It was eventually adopted for music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson. Years later, it was adopted by the NAACP as the organization's official song. 

The song was first performed in Jacksonville, at a school in which James Weldon Johnson was the principal, according to the NAACP. As part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1900, 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' was publicly performed by 500 school children at the Stanton School.

The move to play 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' comes on the heels of other recent actions by the league to increase its commitment to social justice and equality. 

Last month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gave one of the league's strongest statements yet in reference to social justice, which came as a response to a video released by players calling on the league to issue a revised statement on the issue of systemic racism and police brutality following a ill-received first statement.

"We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People," Goodell said in the video. "We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter."

The Jaguars have been near the forefront of a league-wide push to raise awareness for social justice and advocacy for equal rights following rampant examples of police brutality and systemic racism throughout the country. Running back Leonard Fournette hosted his own peaceful demonstration throughout the city, in addition to Conley and other players helping lead the Jaguars in a peaceful walk throughout the city.

“I think that the community can learn that the Jaguars can get behind each other. You know the past couple of days have showed that, even in our locker rooms, though they have been touted as places that there is no racism, that there is complete unity, but that’s just not true," Conley said after the Jaguars' demonstration as a team. 

"Being able to admit that we can grow is a hallmark of change and I think that needs to happen in locker rooms, as well. I don’t know the effect that this will have on the community, but I know that it will have an effect on the locker room. I know I can look at guys who were here today, I can look at them in the eyes and say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for wanting to know more,’ and I think that in it of itself makes an impact in our locker room and in this building.”